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State of Emergency extension

…Charles Margai says it’s Controversial breech of constitution

August 12, 2015 By Alusine Sesay

In a strongly worded letter to the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, veteran lawyer-cum-politician, Charles Francis Margai has questioned the legal validity of the extension of the State of Public Health Emergency by President Ernest Bai Koroma in a public broadcast last Thursday, 6 August.

President Koroma removed widespread curtailment of fundamental freedoms, including public meetings, football matches and clubbing, almost a year after they were imposed as part of regulations aimed at curbing the spread of the Ebola virus.

Following their initial endorsement and subsequent extension by Parliament, the sole opposition party in Parliament with a significant majority, the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) indicated their unwillingness to support ruling party lawmakers extend the State of Public Emergency.

That left the president and his party with little option to maneuver. But while removing the bulk of the regulations last Thursday, he stated that, “I hereby proclaim another State of Public Emergency as by law provided.”

However, this has been challenged by the legal luminary of more than 40 years standing. In apparently a second letter to the “principal legal adviser to the Government” in less than a week, Mr. Margai argued that the president has no legal right to have proclaimed an extension of the State of Emergency, which he describes as “self defeating!”

He seems to suggest that the president should have invoked section 29(13) of the country’s constitution which reads thus: “A resolution of the Parliament passed for the purpose of this section [State of Public Emergency] shall remain in force for a period of 12 months or shorter period as may be specify therein: provided that any such resolution may be extended from time to time by a further such resolution, supported by the votes of two-thirds of Members of Parliament, each extension not exceeding 12 months from the date of resolution effecting the extension: and any such resolution may be revoked at anytime by a resolution supported by the votes of a simple major of all the Members of parliament”.

He noted that section 29(14), which the president invoked, was “convoluted” and that he should have sought an interpretation from the country’s Supreme Court as to whether an extension of the State of Emergency by him and not Parliament was legitimate.

“The position as I see, is that, Sierra Leoneans will be left in the ridiculous situation of Mr. President issuing proclamation after proclamation to address the continuous presence of Ebola in specific areas, even in circumstances not envisaged by subsection 1 of 29 aforesaid, as a spurious way of circumventing going to Parliament for an extension,” said Mr. Margai. “This is a very unsatisfactory state of affairs, as the people of Sierra Leone deserve much more than appears to be the case!”

The veteran politician and legal doyen said Attorney-General and Minister of Justice Franklyn Bai Kargbo has the onus “to proffer honest and meaningful advise” to the president and his government, as not every Sierra Leonean “is a fool and could be hoodwinked in swallowing whatever is presented, lock, stock and barrel.”

However, he said the president could not be absolved from responsibility to do the right thing as he was not doing a favour by lifting the restrictions because “there were no restrictions to be lifted, as the State of Emergency lapsed since Thursday, 6 August,” adding that only Parliament has legal authority to extend the State of Emergency.

He further opined that if anything, an extension should have been restricted to current affected areas, such as Kambia and Port Loko districts.

According to the veteran politician, the constitution makes no provision for a continuous proclamation of a State of Emergency.

He concluded by calling the attention of the country’s judges to what he described as “yet another breech of the constitution with impunity”, and “an audacious threat to close business, in the event of non-compliance with what I would call controversial move.”