State capture: IGR criticises conduct of Bar Association elections

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IGR Boss addressing the media on the outcome of the Bar elections

By Yusufu S. Bangura

The Executive Director of the Institute for Governance Reforms (IGR), Andrew Lavalie, has expressed his displeasure over the conduct of the recent Sierra Leone Bar Association elections.

Speaking at the IGR office on Spur Road, Lavalie described the election as unfortunate and troubling.

Addressing the media on the topic of “Understanding the Capture of Civic Space in Sierra Leone,” Lavalie noted that the outcome of various elections in the country has often been questioned.

He warned that if current issues are not addressed, the future consequences could be regrettable for everyone.

Commenting specifically on the Bar Association elections held over the weekend, Lavalie stated that what transpired on Saturday was particularly unfortunate, as the Bar Association is expected to uphold high standards.

He pointed out that the chaos during the election illustrated a broader problem of political interference and the capture of unions, networks, NGOs, and community groups by political parties in Sierra Leone.

The heavy presence of state security at the election hall in Kenema, he noted, was indicative of how democratic processes are being undermined not only through overt violence but also through the subtle capture of civil society and independent organizations.

Lavalie criticised the decision to advance the voting start time by three hours, which prevented many of the 1,200 registered lawyers from voting. He stressed the importance of an independent and strong Bar Association, especially given its constitutional mandate to appoint members to 15 influential government boards and committees.

He said the leadership of the Bar is strategically important, particularly with a major constitutional review process pending.

Lavalie expressed concern that the Bar Association election was influenced by party politics, with contenders having connections to the governing SLPP and the main opposition APC.

He said the contentious election result, which declared Tuma Adama Gento-Jabbi as the winner, reflected low integrity and heightened concerns about the capture of civic space in Sierra Leone.

He attributed the chaos to both government institutions and the candidates. Lavalie shared that female lawyers had expressed concerns to him about their careers being adversely affected by their political affiliations.

He emphasized that the Bar Association should be independent and not politically aligned, recommending that the government take steps to depoliticize civil society.

On the broader issue of civic space, Lavalie stated that it is essential for citizens to have the freedom to voice their needs and hold the government accountable. He highlighted various factors, including the government, opposition, CSOs, and media that hinder institutions from effectively representing the public.

Lavalie noted that Sierra Leone was considered a free country from 2012 to 2019, but its status has since declined. He emphasized the importance of restoring media freedom and civil society space to their previous levels, warning that the credibility of these institutions is at risk if freedom of assembly and expression is not protected.

“The media freedom has improved, but we have not yet returned to the level of freedom seen in 2012. Civil society space, in particular, has been significantly constrained, reducing their credibility by 50%. If we do not improve our freedom of assembly, our credibility will continue to suffer, and our free space will be further restricted,” Lavalie concluded.

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