April 5, 2017 By Jariatu S. Bangura
After a heated debate among parliamentarians, Office of the Attorney General & Minister of Justice, the National Electoral Commission (NEC) and Civil Society Organisations, it was yesterday resolved that the Ward and Constituency Boundary Delimitation Instruments, which were tabled in parliament on March 16, 2017, be withdrawn, while the voter registration exercise should go ahead.
Majority of MPs present in parliament voted for the continuation of the voter registration process, taking into consideration the public interest and posited that the ward and boundaries delimitation instruments were not properly before the House, hence agreed for their withdrawal pending their fixation by NEC and the office of the Attorney General and Minister of Justice (AGMJ), before the approval of Parliament.
Late last week, opposition lawmaker, Hon. Sualiho M. Koroma of constituency 67, Bo district moved a motion to debate the statutory instruments on the ward and constituency boundaries, on the basis that the voter registration process was illegal since the said instruments have not been ratified by the House.
On Monday, Parliament summoned the NEC boss, N’fa Alie Conteh, who admitted that there was a procedural breach in the voter registration process, but noted that it was done as a result of the tight electoral calendar.
On his part the newly appointed Majority leader, Hon. Leonard Fofana, stated that the statutory instruments would be expunged from parliament’s file since the House had asked NEC to withdraw them.
Minority Leader, Hon. Dr. Bernadette Lahai, observed that since the four statutory instruments that were tabled on the 16th March, 2017,were to be withdrawn, it would be necessary to use the 2012 instruments which had already became law and were used during the previous elections, albeit that would not be possible with new constituencies already added.
“We can no longer continue with the old statutory instruments based on the constituency and boundary delimitation. Earlier, we had 4 provinces, 14 districts including Western Area, and 149 chiefdoms before the de-amalgamation. We can no longer go back and use those documents because we have the 2015 census figure,” she said.
Dr. Lahai stated that since lawmakers did not want to derail the registration process that has already begun in the country, which the people were clamouring for, they should and can amend the existing new document.
“We agreed that they should withdraw the two documents and prepare new administrative boundaries so that the voter registration will not be disrupted,” she said.
Speaker of the House, Hon.Sheku B.B. Dumbuya, questioned the potential implications the withdrawal will attract, noting that withdrawing the instruments might have some unpalatable implications because NEC has accepted that they were wrong, which implied that the instruments were not properly laid before the House.
“As a parliament, we stand for what is correct and right but not at the expense of what is right to the government. There are so many implications. I’m in favour of the continuation of the voter registration but in the process, I hope we take time to be seen making the law,” he said.
Deputy speaker, Hon. Chernoh R.M Bah, said in the interest of the public voter registration should be paramount and must continue as agreed but they should be careful for future challenge.
“If we fail to follow the law then we should remember that there are people that might challenge us in the future. We do not amend documents that have not been passed into law,” he said.
On his part, Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Joseph F. Kamara, admitted receiving the documents since 2016, but noted that has to go through legal procedures before it could be taken to parliament for discussion.
He said Statistics Sierra Leone submitted their census report to them in January, 2017, which also has to take time to be included in the report to be tabled, and that they have to wait for the proclamation of election date by the President.
“The proclamation was made on the 14 February, 2017, and the constitutional instruments were laid before the House on the 16th March. We have to follow procedures; we don’t need to boycott them. That is why it takes us a month to bring it to parliament,” he said.
He said the registration questionnaire clearly has civil and voter registrations on its heading, and, if the instruments were to be withdrawn, then the process has to be removed in order for it to have the constitutional requirements.
“I agree with parliament for the withdrawal of the documents, but it will distract the registration process and it will raise questions from the public. If the two documents were to be withdrawn and allowed NEC to go back and wait for the process to take place, that will not be done until November which will affect the election calendar. What will happen or what will the people say about us,” he asked.