January 17, 2022
By Alfred Koroma
Highlighting the challenges previous constitutional review processes have faced, the Speaker of Parliament, Dr. Abass Bundu, has called on government to maintain the 1991 Constitution for now, while the review process would be ongoing.
The Speaker made the above observation while making a statement on behalf of Parliament during the launch of the Government White Paper on the Constitutional Review Process.
“I would say that the challenges faced by our nation today are as alive as they were in 2008 and 2017 and they behoove us all to maintain for now our unflinching fidelity to the 1991 Constitution and allow it to grow and mature to full blossom,” he said.
If approved, the new constitution is expected to provide fixed date for general elections, separate the Office of the Attorney General from the Minister of Justice, reeduce the percentage of votes needed to win an election from the current 55 percent to 50+1 percent and introduce a proportional representation for voting Members of Parliament. It will Increase women’s representation and participation in governance; and promote human dignity and fundamental human rights.
But the speaker asserted for the entire content of the thirty-years old 1991 constitution be maintained until the favourable circumstances prevail before any alteration could be made, explaining that except for a few ordinary mundane provisions that can galvanise a common interest for change amongst political parties represented in Parliament.
The veteran lawyer cited the legal processes involved in reviewing the constitution and the implication of not following them, saying that making a new constitution or altering any provision in the existing 1991 constitution involves difficult procedural requirement that must be satisfied and strong reasonable reasons must be given for any alteration of the sacred document.
He said the bill in which the alteration is proposed will only become law based on the approval of Parliament and backed up with a valid referendum by the people of Sierra Leone.
He therefore noted that it is a treasonable crime to alter, suspend, or repeal the constitution without the authority of Parliament.
Despite the Speaker’s desire to maintain the 1991 Constitution, there have long been calls from civil society groups and historical documents for changes to be made in the constitution.
Civil society groups have on several occasions calls for amendment of obnoxious sections of the constitution.
Article X of the 1999 Lome Peace Accord advised for a review of the constitution. Similarly, the 2002 Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) recommended for the Government of Sierra Leone to give serious consideration to the creation of a new constitution to contribute to human rights and democracy in the country.
Three attempts have been made to amend the three decades old Constitution since its proclamation in October 1991.
The first attempt was in 1993 by a Commission set up by the NPRC under the chairmanship of the late Ahmad Tejan Kabbah and the second was in 2008 by a Committee led by Dr. Peter Tucker.
The previous one was the costly commission established by former President Ernest Bai Koroma in 2013, headed by Justice Edmund Cowan. Unfortunately, Koroma’s government rejected over 100 of the 134 recommendations submitted by the Committee he established.