Gov’t urged to act on Justice Alghali’s Commission of Enquiry
By Jariatu Bangura
Lawyer Sonkita Conteh has urged the Government of Sierra Leone, through the office of the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice to expedite the process of producing the White Paper on the Justice Alghali Commission of Enquiry, in respect of paying end of service benefits to former seafarers employed by Sierra Leone Elder Dempster Limited and other shipping lines.
He said the Commission was set up by the Government of Sierra Leone in 1991 to inquire into the general complaints made by seafarers in particular for non-payment of end of service benefits to them by the Sierra Leone Shipping Agencies Ltd which was acting as agent of the defunct Sierra Leone Elder Dempster Limited and various shipping lines.
He stated that at the end of its enquiry, the Commission in 1992 produced and submitted a detailed report of its findings and recommendations to the Head of State for further action by the government.
The Commission, he said, uncovered widespread and systematic violations of labour rights of former seafarers by the Sierra Leone shipping Agencies and their principals.
He further stated that with respect to the seafarers, the Commission reported that they were entitled to benefits under the British Merchant Shipping Act for personal injury and death, as well as compensation under the British Workmen’s Compensation Act of 1925, among others. He said since the submission of the Commission’s report in 1992 and in spite of efforts by the seafarers, the previous government and all subsequent governments have failed, refused and neglected to take any action.
‘’As a result, their benefits and other entitlements have remained unpaid for over 20 years. They reported that their quality of life has massively deteriorated with many of them forced into a life of vagrancy and many have also died in despair,’’ he said.
Conteh urged the government to act fast as they would not be averse to pursing the issue at the ECOWAS Court of Justice, albeit adding that it would not be good for the aggrieved seafarers to commence litigation against the state.
Secretary-General of the aggrieved Seafarers, Nathaniel J. Mansaray said they were 852 in number and that over 600 of their colleagues have died due to shock, occasioned by a press release by the Tejan Kabbah administration, and a combination of depression, illness and frustration.
‘’The late President Kabbah held a meeting with us at the railway hall on the issue, but after assuming political power nothing was done in order to release the said White Paper despite the promises he made that our issue will be his first priority after the elections,’’ he explained. He added that they have had similar experience with President Ernest Bai Koroma, although late Abdul Franklyn Serry-Kamal was provided a ticket to investigate the issue in the United Kingdom, but failed to report because he was a 60% trustee to the company’s bank.
‘’All we need is justice, as justice delayed is justice denied. A lot of us have died, a lot have suffered and we cannot take it anymore. That is why we are calling on government to support us in regaining our benefits,” he said.
On his part, Executive Director of Center for Accountability and Rule of Law, Ibrahim Tommy, said their intervention was based on the fact that the issue under review constitutes gross violation of human rights and that a genuine case like this should not be neglected by any government.