January 27, 2021
By Hassan Gbassay Koroma
Members of the high table
Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law (CARL) has in a one day conference yesterday called for a speedy constitutional review process in Sierra Leone.
Speaking at the conference held at the Sierra Light House, Aberdeen in Freetown, Executive Director of CARL, Ibrahim Tommy, recalled that it has taken nearly 15 years since they started the review process of the country’s constitution, and that they as an organisation had hoped that it should have come to an end years ago.
He noted that the good thing though, was that the country has made progress over the years in the process, with a report on the outcome of an extensive consultation across the country, which gave birth to the Justice Edmond Cowan’s report.
He, however, stated that the white paper which was supposed to have followed the report never existed.
He said the rational for the conference was to remind the ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) that, when in opposition ahead of the 2018 elections, they made a manifesto promised that they will examine the recommendations of the Constitutional Review Committee (CRC).
He said less than a month after the SLPP government was elected to power, CARL wrote an open letter to the president, reminding him about his commitment including his promise to make progress in the constitutional review process, but that it has been nearly three years now without the current administration thinking of doing anything about the issue.
He said the goal of the conference was to hear from the government as to what they have been doing in the past three years, because citizens need to know the way forward in respect of what they wanted to see in the new constitution.
He further stated that the Justice Cowan Report was an excellent report to work with, but noted that there was also room for few more comments -to include some of the things citizens care for –hence they invited experts in women’s rights, the rule of law and accountability, social and economic right and others, to make presentations at the conference.
He said at the end of the day they will put all those presentations together and present them to the government.
European Union Ambassador to Sierra Leone, Tom Vens, said Sierra Leone has made notable progress in consolidating peace and democratic governance since the11-year civil war that ended in 2002.
He cited the successful administration of four elections, peaceful transfer of power in 2007 and peaceful presidential, parliamentary, and local council elections in 2012, and subsequently a peaceful transfer of power in 2018.
“However, a lot more remains to be done to address the underlying challenges in the country and solidify democratic norms,” he said.
He said the 2018 elections, while hailed as a milestone in the country’s consolidation of democratic governance, also demonstrated deep-seated ethnic-regional political factions with several potential flashpoints that could lead to the deterioration of social and political stability and the resumption of violence.
He said despite recently marked economic progress, young people who constituted the majority of combatants during the civil conflict and now comprise almost 70 percent of the population- face very high unemployment, which poses a fundamental challenge to the consolidation of peace.
He noted that such issues continue to colour the country’s political and social life and need to be politically, legally, and socially addressed.
He said Sierra Leone currently operates using the 1991 Constitution which signals an end to one-party rule and ushers in a new political dispensation of multi-party democracy, stating that the 1991 Constitution was ratified and approved three months after the civil war broke out.
He said subsequently, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), established in 2002, also urged the Government of Sierra Leone to give “serious consideration to the creation of a “new constitution” to contribute to human rights and to that end, a broad-ranging Constitutional Review Committee (CRC) representing different stakeholders in society, including political parties, democratic institutions, NGOs, the media, and critical independence, was instituted.
He said the European Union followed the constitutional review process to the letter unto to the presentation of the report to the then president by the CRC headed by Justice Edmond Cowan, stating that the then government published its official response to the recommendations of the Constitutional Review Committee (CRC) in a White Paper dated 10th November 2017 and made short work of the 680-page recommendation-laden report of the 80-person committee.
“As European Union, we are mindful of the importance or revamping the constitutional review process and we stand ready to provide inputs through our ongoing engagements and will equally be ready to support the follow-up of this process,” he said.
Also speaking, former Sierra Leone Bar Association President, Basita Michael, said in Lomé in 1999, the Government of Sierra Leone committed to review the constitution, and in 2002 the Truth and Reconciliation Commission called for a review of the 1991 constitution, but that the country is still way behind schedule.
“This is not to say that successive governments have not expressed their commitments for the review of the 1991 constitution. Almost every political party has pledged in their manifesto to review the constitution,” she said.
She said going by the strategic objectives and key policy actions mentioned in the Middle Term National Development Plan 2019-2023, there cannot be a better time to accelerate the review process and finalize it.
She said It’s difficult to imagine the kind of amendments that would effectively fix all of the flaws and loopholes of the 1991 Constitution, stating that they can easily revise it to give it a humane face and one that believes in the dignity of humans and that mirrors the needs of the nation that has grown not only in population but also in both its international.
Shed said it is reported that the government has already appointed a task force to look into the review process, which she said was commendable, but noted that the public have little knowledge about the task force and its exact purpose.
Representing the AG she said the government has set up at task force chaired by the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, stating that the government has key interest in reviewing the constitution and make it reflect the people as a country and promote equality and justice.