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Citizens laud Justice Cowan amidst campaign of calumny

December 13, 2016 By Abu-bakarr Sheriff

Following a press conference last week by the ruling All People’s Congress and seven moribund political parties, described as “dead” by a political analyst, many Sierra Leoneans have praised the courage and determination of Chairman of the Constitutional Review Committee (CRC), Justice Edmond Cowan, in the face of attempts to intimidate and tarnish his reputation after expertly superintending a committee of 80 handpicked by the ruling party.

Apart from proving his doubters wrong by delivering what is arguably the best constitution in the post-independence history of the country, the retired Judge and former Speaker of Parliament has been unjustifiably pilloried by a group of politicians with a vest interest in the process, although a good many took very little interest in the process until the final report was sent to the printers.

As the uncertain grows over the fate of the report, with billions of Leones spent on nationwide consultations and presentations by individuals and groups, the CRC chairman, who also doubles as the country’s Ombudsman, is being feted by well-meaning compatriots for his love for country and people, and determination to leave a proud legacy.

Executive Director of Centre for Accountability has added his voice to the apparent move to throw spanners into the work of the CRC at the very last minute.

Ibrahim Tommy spoke to Concord Times in an exclusive interview over the weekend as he added his voice to the seeming attempts to discredit the CRC chairman Justice Edmond, with a view to scupper a process his organisation monitored for the past three years and gave a clean bill of health.

He said: “On all matters that require direct public approval, such as electing public officials at general elections or adopting a constitution through a referendum, the voice or will of the people is far more important and powerful than that of a political party or a group of political parties.”

Although the APC and the other seven ‘dead’ parties [which collectively failed to garner one percent of popular votes in the 2012 elections or win a single ward] claim to be speaking on behalf of the people over the disagreement as to what should be in the revised constitution, the mood among majority of the public is that fundamental changes should be done to the 1991 Constitution, described by a constitutional expert as “a prototype of the one party 1978 constitution”.

Since its enactment in 1991, the result of international and local pressure on a despotic one-party dictator to democratise, the constitution has failed to pass many tests during the country’s short democratic journey so far. Significant among the loopholes identified is whether an elected president can sack his Vice President, with whom he was elected by popular ballots.

Although the Supreme Court in 2015 gave legal validation to the above constitutional question, many described it as a “faux pas” with a potentially serious ramification, if, they envisage, the same could happen to an elected President who loses his party’s membership.

Thus, in order to curb that anomaly, albeit validated by the apex court, the CRC traversed the entire country, seeking views from citizens, the majority of whom reportedly indicated by consensus that they were in favour of changing the phrase “supreme executive authority” to “chief executive authority”.

The CRC standpoint is that the phrase should confer title not power on the President as Head of State and Government, being head of the executive arm of government. Also, part of their recommendations include that losing party membership should not mean a President or his vice should vacate their elected post, as Parliament, and not the President, should have power to impeach the Vice President.

The above recommendations, which form part of 171 recommendations by the 80-man CRC empanelled by the ruling APC in 2013, have caused a major storm between the APC and some insignificant political parties which have persistently supported them on almost every national question, under the rather unapt name of All Political Parties Association, on the one hand, and the main opposition Sierra Leone Peoples Party and the Peoples Movement for Democratic Change, which have sided with the CRC.

Tommy further added that, “In the current political impasse between the APC and CRC, the final report prepared by the CRC, which has been vetted and approved by the people, carries far more weight than what a single party or a group of parties may think. Attempting to attach an appendix of fresh recommendations to the final report has the effect of re-opening submissions to the CRC, which were considered before preparing the final report. Unless the recommendations in the attachment can be subjected to the same standards of scrutiny like those in the final CRC report, no weight should be attached to it.”

Like majority of his compatriots, he praised the courage of the CRC chairman for standing firm with the people and country in the midst of vicious ad hominem attacks and applauded Sierra Leoneans for believing in the supremacy of people over party.

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