March 1, 2021
By Jariatu S. Jusu
Thirteen aggrieved political parties have complained to Members of the Parliamentary Oversight Committee on Local Government and Rural Development that out of the 17 registered political parties, 13 were not consulted on the decentralization policy which will soon be taken to Parliament for approval.
The policy, among other things, entails the absence of constitutional provision for local governance; the continuous redrawing of territorial boundaries without taking into consideration historical, cultural, ethnic and social factors and also the conduction of local council elections on non-partisan basis.
According to the Chairman and Leader of the National Grand Coalition (NGC), Denis Bright, it would not be good to remove political parties from local council elections as it has to do with the relationship between the central government and the local council.
He cited Section 35 (1) of the National Constitution which permits political parties to shape people and disseminate information on political ideas, social and economic ideas of national character and to sponsor candidates for Presidential, Parliamentary and local government council elections.
He said Section 11(1) of the Political Parties Registration Act also speaks of why political parties are formed as stated in the national Constitution-to shape people’s ideas to participate in the Presidential, Parliamentary and local council elections.
“You are going to receive a proposal for enactment, something that we believe contravenes achieving the political will of the people-to disseminate information on political ideas, social and economic ideas of a national character and to sponsor candidates for the Presidential, Parliamentary and local council elections,” he said.
He said the proposal Parliament would be receiving for enactment do contravenes the national constitution and also the Political Parties Registration Act, adding that as lawmakers and principal authorities of legislations, no law should be brought before MPS that contravenes the national constitution.
“We are very worried about what is going to be presented to you especially that aspect that has to do with removing political parties from the participation of the local government elections. We are opposed to the brutality of the policy albeit there are some very good aspects but this particular aspect you have heard from us is very toxic and poisons the entirety of the country. As a multiparty democracy, we believe that it is very dangerous for us to indulge in the kind of liberties that we saw in Uganda which brought chaos within the political system,” he stated.
He noted that the issue of decentralization is profound and has nothing to do with political parties, but raised concern because it has to do with the relationship between the central government and the local government-whether the central government is honouring its obligations to the local councils or not.
“We believe that our main role is to draw your attention to Section 35(1) of the national Constitution and Section 11 (1) of the PPRC Act and just warn you that you will have to deal with it,” he reiterated.
Also, Acting Publicity Secretary, Sidie Yayah Tunis of the main opposition All People’s Congress (APC) said according to the consultant, the draft policy proposal emanated from consultations across the country and also from other countries across the world, but noted that as political parties, they saw the said proposal for the first time after it was approved by cabinet, and when the Local Government Minister had an interview on one of the radio stations in the country.
He said the minister read out certain provisions of the new draft policy, such as the removal of political parties from local government elections and also qualifications for people vying for Mayoral or District Council Chairmen positions and Councillors.
He said they were concerned as a political party because the proposal would have direct impact on their party’s activities at local council level and the lives of the people of the country.
He said they were also particularly concerned that they were not involved in the consultation process from inception, even when the concerns were raised in many occasions in the media that the consultations were not enough.
“We embarked on our own consultation nationwide and in the first place we realized that the bulk of the work was done during the Covid period-from March to December 2020, which was the period we were under the State of emergency and a period when the bulk of the country’s population was not allowed to gather together, coupled with the inter district lockdown. So, we were very much concerned about the consultations as to how the process went on,” he said.
He said they established that there were not extensive consultation done, although it was done at certain levels around the local council and parliamentary levels.
He said some stakeholders within the district councils were consulted with some within governance consulted as well, but that political parties were never involved in the process, neither were they involved in any process that led to the production of proposed document.
He said when they spoke with their membership and supporters in the communities, they have the same feedback that they were not aware that such process was carried out and that they were confused as to how the said document came into being.
He added that they also established that those who were consulted raised concern about specific issues,especially that of the removal of political parties, but that it was vehemently kicked against.
He said throughout the engagement in the media, the consultant made reference to countries that had gone through such process including Uganda, Ghana and Kenya.
He noted that such could not be feasible in Sierra Leone like in other countries where it never worked because it stifles development, especially in Ghana, at the local level.
He said the country’s democracy is strongly built on multiparty system which was designed for several reasons including inclusiveness, bipartisan approach towards the developing of the country, arguing that removing such will exclude bulk of the country’s population from participating in politics.
He added that in 2018, 17 political parties registered and that statistics showed that 75percent of political parties were able to fill in candidates at every local council, while only 25percent able to fill in for Parliamentary seats.
He said the above scenario demonstrated that the bulk of the implementation process of multiparty democracy is addressed at local council level.
Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee, Hon. Aaron A. Koroma, said the Parliamentary Standing Orders 18(5) gives the mandate that government policies should be presented to the whole House by a minister concerned for enactment and once that is done, they will do the needful as committee members.
He assured that as representatives of the people, the right thing would be done and also engagement will be done with those that are of concerned.