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Monday, May 23, 2022

How State Opening of Parliament happens

By Jariatu S Bangura & Alfred Koroma

The president opens the fifth session of the fifth Parliament tomorrow.  One of the constitutional mandates of every sitting President of the Republic of Sierra Leone is to open a new session of Parliament every year. It’s an important ceremony that marks the end of an existing session of the legislative house and the beginning of a new one.

This is the fifth time President Bio will exercise the constitutional mandate since he took over State House in 2018. And it will be the last session of the Fifth Parliament of the Republic of Sierra Leone. The next session will be Sixth Parliament and it begins next year after the election. 

As his five-year term ends next year, this might be the last time President Bio performs this function as President. However, the President is re-contesting for another five-year mandate in the next general elections in June 2023. If he is reelected, he continues for another five years.

The State Opening of Parliament is when the President reads the carefully scripted Speech written by the government. The speech normally entails government achievements in previous years and sets out its agenda and key legislative plans.

 It is ceremony that converge the three arms of government in the House – the Legislative, the Executive and the Judiciary which represents oneness among the arms of government.

The event is slated to start at 10:00 am. But before the Presidential Speech, at around 9:35 am, the Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF) mounts the Guard of Honor with the Military Ban. MPs move in to occupy their sits. The President eventually enters the House after the Chief of Defense Staff, the Deputy Defense Minister have arrived, and all other guest sited. 

When the President leaves after delivering his speech, a new parliamentary session begins and Parliament gets back to work. MPs debate the content of the speech and vote on it. Normally government does not lose in such voting. It’s just a procedure.

The Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC), the country’s oldest broadcaster, and other media institutions broadcast the State Opening live on TV and on radio. Content of the Presidential speech is also published by various newspapers in the country, using multiple angles.

The current Sierra Leone Parliament has its origin from colonial constitutional developments dating as far back as to 1863 when attempts were made by the British colonial authorities to put in place Legislative and Executive Councils.

The Executive Council constituted the Governor, the Chief Justice, Queen’s Advocate (Attorney-General), Colony Secretary and the Officer Commanding Troops. These were known as the Official Members. The unofficial members were known as Charles Heddle, a European African and John Ezzidio a Sierra Leonean. Both the official and unofficial members constituted the Legislative Council which was responsible for enacting Laws for the colony.  After independence in 1961, Sierra Leone Parliament evolved completely into an elected body.

Presently, Sierra Leone operates on a Hung Parliament with a total membership of 144 Members. The ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) 58; the main opposition All People’s Congress (APC) 57; Coalition 4 Change (C4C) 8; the National Grand Coalition (NGC) 4;  Independents MPs 3 and 14 Paramount Chiefs.

As per the 2018 election results, the main opposition APC got the majority votes with 68 elected MPs but 10 of them were removed by a High Court verdict for electoral malpractice. The court verdict slightly propelled the ruling SLPP to a narrow majority, but still encounters challenges in commanding the support of majority of the MPs. 

Since the removal of the 10 opposition MPs in 2018, political tensions remain stagnant among MPs and activities of the Fifth Parliament has been marred by increased tensions and walked out protests.

Hon. Quinton Salia-Konneh , Independent MP  representing the people of Constituency 007 Kailahun in the East of the country believes the Fifth Session of  Parliament  started on the wrong footing, saying that the starting of the session was decorated by a lot of fighting between the ruling and opposition parties over the election of the Speaker,  walkout protests  and non- participation in debates mostly by the main opposition MPs. “It was initially so sluggish and uneasy,” he said.

Despite the tensions, the business of the House has been going on, though sometimes peacefully and sometimes controversially.

The Forth Session of the Fifth Parliament coming to an end tomorrow was able to pass into law 15 bills out of 39 bills tabled in the House with the remaining 25 pending for enactment by the next Session. The House approved a total number of 44 Presidential nominees to serve in various government capacities.

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