December 14, 2017 By Ishmael Sallieu Koroma
Ex-chairman of the 80-man Constitutional Review Committee (CRC), Justice Edmond Cowan, has charged that the Government White Paper on the report doesn’t reflect the views of the people as “What is in the government White Paper was not our recommendation, it has nothing to do with us[the CRC,” he said.
Justice Cowan, who was speaking on Radio Democracy’s “Good morning Salone” programme yesterday said the government White Paper which was gazetted on 10th November, 2017 clearly points at lack of political will on the part of government even though huge money was spent on the process.
The government and donor partners reportedly spent a little more than US$5 million on the process, which was largely participatory and sought views from Sierra Leoneans from all facets of society, with committee members also visiting Ghana and Kenya on a study tour.
The respected former Speaker of Parliament and Ombudsman noted that those who contend that the committee had usurped the powers of the Attorney General have no insight of the Terms of Reference spelt out in CRC mandate.
“Our TOR were to ascertain from the people of Sierra Leone their views on the operations of the 1991 Fourth Republican Constitution and in particular the strength and weaknesses of the constitution, articulate the concerns of the people of Sierra Leone on amendment required for the comprehensive review of the 1991 constitution and make recommendations to the government for consideration and provide a draft bill for possible amendment to the 1991 constitution,” he said.
He said the government’s action to reject the peoples’ views in the White Paper was premeditated because by the time the committee concluded their work, representatives of the ruling All Peoples Congress and seven smaller political parties declined signing the draft document.
“I’m not surprised because the day we signed the final document the APC National Secretary General wrote to the CRC bringing out certain things and went on to say if we don’t include them in the report they will not accept the document,” he told listeners.
Justice Cowan lamented over the fact that the government rejected all but few insignificant recommendations of the whole CRC document without given rational consideration to the ramifications, adding that Cabinet butchered work for which they spent over five million dollars in three years.
When asked what such blatant interference with the peoples wish meant for the country’s democracy, Justice Cowan said: “The content of the White Paper doesn’t mean well for our democracy. The people are not considered in the equation, rather the ministers and those in governance.”
According to outspoken retired Judge of the Appellate Court, the Constitution is supreme and the people are sovereign, thus the reason why President Koroma gave the 80-man committee the mandate to meet the people and collate their recommendations as to what should be in the new constitution.
He said the Attorney General and Minister of Justice had also raised some objections and submitted a list of concerns.
When asked about changes they made with respect to vacancy in the office of the president, Justice Cowan said the committee recommended that loss of party membership shall not nullify or cause the removal of the sitting president from office, which the White Paper rejected.
He opined that the ramification of a political party removing a sitting president because of loss of party membership could lead to chaos, especially if the president is popular, adding that the removal of a Vice President by the president could also lead to chaos.
He alluded to Zimbabwe, where ex-President Robert Mogabe removed his vice, an action which triggered his ouster by the military.
Justice Cowan noted that the committee recommended that the phrase ‘Supreme Executive Authority’ should be replaced with ‘Chief Executive’, adding that the government White Paper argued that the recommendation was ‘superficial and a poor attempt to whittle down the constitutional authority of the president.’
“I am really sad about the whole process. Those people that worked on the White Paper have deprived President Koroma of the most important legacy that he would have left with us, that is the rule of law. President Momoh has died long ago but we can’t talk about the 1991 Constitution without mentioning him. Any society that lacks good laws would not progress. And so I am really sad,” he said.
The CRC chairman promised to advise the next president to look at the draft document again and apply patriotism, which according to him was not just about shouting it.
“This is a national issue and not sectional. So anyone that wins the next election please, please look at this document once more. You can never have a better document again than this one,” he warned.
The review of the 1991 Constitution was part of recommendations proffered by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report.
President Ernest Koroma, in July 2013, launched the Constitutional Review Committee (CRC), which received huge financial and moral support from the United Nations Development Programme to help carry out series of activities, including inclusive civic education, stakeholder consultations, consultative dialogue, workshops and expert meetings on national issues of prime importance.
During the presentation ceremony of the final report to President Koroma on 24th January, 2017 Secretary to the President Emmanuel E. B. Osho Coker described the presentation ceremony as a milestone in the journey to achieving modern constitutionalism.