June 17, 2016 By: Winstanley.R.Bankole. Johnson
Recently and as if from out of the blue, Hon. Claude Kamanda of Constituency 93 dropped a clanger when he attempted to define for the public (especially many who never knew it before) those who are customarily entitled to prefix the names and offices with the title of “Honourable”.
Though he owed that much to us as a “People’s representative”, the Hon. Kamanda did not explain what irked him so much as to warrant the clarification, which to be fair to him was timely, as too many people – especially former Members of Parliament (MPs) and Cabinet Ministers – would appear to be relishing its uses, as if merely addressing them as “Honourable” adds stature or value to their personalities.
Hon Kamanda’s assertions were endorsed by statements attributable to the Hon. Clerk of Parliament in the Global Times edition of Wednesday 15th June that only the Vice President, elected MPs and Judges of the Judicature are entitled to be addressed as “Honourables”. “Cabinet Ministers are not entitled to that privilege” he said. And as if to add spice to it, the Hon. Ibrahim Sesay proceeded to educate the public further that only H.E the President and his Vice, the Central Bank Governor and Heads of diplomatic missions were entitled to drape flags on their official vehicles, “rubbing oil” again as it were on Cabinet Ministers and ignoring in the process the fact that Mayors as city heads are from time immemorial also entitled to fly the flags of their municipalities on their official vehicles.
The error of addressing Cabinet Ministers as “Honourables” – if indeed it is an error – would appear to have stemmed from the pre-1991 Constitution era when Cabinet Ministers could only be appointed from amongst MPs. The Hon. Clerk of Parliament did not stop there; he is further quoted to have asserted that to continue to wrongly arrogate the title of “Honourable” to oneself like Cabinet Ministers and other senior citizens are doing is a “criminal” act. But neither the Hon. Claude Kamanda nor the Hon. Clerk of Parliament cited the relevant constitutional proviso to validate their postulations, nor the penalty attached to a persistent commission of that “crime”.
I earlier days, the term “Honourable” was much less abused and hardly would a former MP or some ordinary citizens insist on being so addressed. These days, although it is not in our National Constitution, our former MPs claim that “once an Honourable; always an Honourable”, sometimes even insisting that they are entitled to be so addressed for life.
Well in a way yes; depending how unsullied they are able to sustain their characters and integrity after life in Parliament because to us lay persons, that’s in fact what makes one “Honourable”. A convicted former MP certainly cannot continue to claim that title, nor should ordinary citizens be addressing themselves as such.
As far as I understand things and unless constitutionally challenged, Vice Presidents (past and present), Judges of our Judicature and incumbent MPs are entitled to be addressed as “Honourables”. In the case of MPs, that designation should fall away after their Parliamentary incumbencies because at their present high turnover rates, nearly one in every 100 Sierra Leonean will be entitled to be so addressed in another 30 years.
As things stand, even without any legal justifications for that, MPs who have served more than two terms also believe they should carry the title of “Honourable” unto their graves, tying it as it were to their pensions, as if longevity in the Honourable House makes it a law to that effect. I do not begrudge our esteemed MPs being accorded eternal respect, but would rather we have clearly defined parameters on the issue of eligibility based on Parliamentary tenures rather than leaving its interpretation as loosely as it is now, on the moods of incumbent and former MPs.
The Hon. Claude Kamanda further stated that only sitting MPs and former MPs appointed into Cabinet Minister ranks from the House are entitled to be addressed as “Honourables”. That is to say Cabinet Ministers who were not appointed from the “Well” or had never served as MPs should not be addressed as “Honourables”. Sounds selfish!! And this is where I beg to disagree with the Hon. Claude Kamanda because there are many who are neither MPs, nor Judges or Vice Presidents, but are unblemished in character and “Honourable” in their dispositions that are worthy of that title.
Also to follow that path will sometimes mean utter superfluity of accolades when for example we would have to be addressing our present Ambassador to the Peoples’ Republic of China as “His Excellency the Honourable Ambassador…..” Or as I hear people addressing Vice President Dr. Foh: “Hon. Vice President Ambassador….” Sounds like utter confusion to me, because in either case, their present offices supersede all previous ones.
Again as far as I can recall, only two persons have been conferred with the titles of “Honourable” for life to wit: the Late Hon. J.C.O.Crowther and the Late Hon. Manna Kpaka, the repose of whose gentle souls continue to abide in eternal peace. I do not know the basis for that, but I suppose it had to do with their valuable services to their communities and country at large.
I’m informed Australia still practices a tradition where their House of Parliament can occasionally identify and bestow senior citizens with “Life Honourable” titles, especially to those who did not make the National Insignia list unto old age. Perhaps our Parliamentarians may wish to add that to their existing privileges; that is the power to confer upon senior citizens with unblemished track records the title of a “Life Honourable”, in recognition their services to communities and country, say annually on International Parliamentary Day, or at each new sessions of the House along the same lines as the Anti-Corruption Commission does on 9th December annually which is the International Anti-Corruption Day.
One good thing about the Honourable Claude Kamanda’s clanger is that it also brought to my attention a few other titles and accolades casually attached to other prominent office bearers as if they are either automatic upon their incumbencies, or were accorded in perpetuity such as for the Deputy Chairperson of our APC Party, Mayors, former Military personnel below the rank of a Captain and former Ambassadors. In fact in the latter case (former Ambassadors) it is common for them to be addressed or referred to as “Your Excellency” even long after their recall. How can we possibly be having two “Excellencies” in the same country? I have no objection to them being “courtesied” as such, but the “Excellency” aspect of it would seem illogical to me.
With regards to the Deputy Chairperson position of our APC Party, our 5th December 1995 Party Constitution amply specifies the correct designation of all incumbents to that post to wit: National Deputy Chairman. In other words, unlike Sec. 6.11.1 (i) (a) of the same Party Constitution which provides for a National Chairman cum Leader, Sec. 6.11.1 (i) (b) provides only for a National Deputy Party Chairman. Full Stop!! There is nothing like “/Leader” appended to that office. So with all due respect to the present holder, by persistently adding “/Leader” to the post means we are either not helping to educate new memberships about the correct hierarchical structure of our revered Party or might be insinuating an undue advantage to successive incumbents. The original framers of that sacred document were sensible enough to avoid insinuating presumptive connotations.
Another fallacy is that the title “His Worship” is automatic upon anyone assuming the office of a Mayor. No it isn’t!! The tradition of addressing Mayors as “Your Worships” dates back to olden times when Mayors of Municipalities were required to sit as co-Magistrates in the dispensation of justice. To enable them perform that role, the Governor General (now His Excellency the President) would at his wish, pleasure and prerogative confer upon them the title of a “Justice of Peace” (JP), not only to add respect to their offices, but also that a Mayor can, together with another JP constitute a formal Magistrate Court as it is happening throughout our Judiciary to this day. That is why in fact the title “Your Worship” is not applicable to Mayors appointed JPs only, but to all other Justices of Peace throughout the country. The President also has the prerogative to revoke that JP title from any holder if he so desires.
Unlike former MPs and Ambassadors however, a JP title or references to the holders as “Your Worships”, like the “Honourable” title for Vice Presidents and Judges of the Judicature is perpetual. But that title first has to be conferred by H.E the President, failing which they will all remain “Mr”. or “Mrs” Mayor.
Finally in the case of former serving military personnel, only those retired at the rank of a Captain and above (i.e. up to Lt. Generals) are eligible to retain their ranks into retirement. E.g. Capt. (Rtd.). The rest of retired service personnel below the rank of a Captain should be addressed as “Mr”, “Mrs” or “Miss”.