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SIERRA LEONE GOVERNMENT RELEASES TO PARLIAMENT WHITE PAPER ON CRC REPORT

BY CLARENCE ROY-MACAULAY
Deputy Minister of Information and Communications Cornelius Deveaux has disclosed at the last Press Conference of the Ministry of Information Thursday August 10, 2017 that “the Cabinet has RELEASED the Government White Paper on the Report of the Constitutional Review Committee (CRC) on the 1991 Fourth Republican Constitution of Sierra Leone to Parliament which has the ultimate responsibility to accept or reject what is in the White Paper and there will be a Special Press Conference to brief the Press and the public on the contents of the Government White Paper. This will be followed by the Ministry of Information and Communications going on an Outreach exercise to popularize the contents of the White Paper.”

Cornelius Deveaux explained that the issue of a Referendum on the Constitution is for entrenched clauses in the 1991 Constitution which cannot be changed with a simple majority of the Members of Parliament but will require amendment by a two-thirds majority of all the Members of Parliament to be followed by a national referendum. He mentioned two such clauses, namely, the qualifications for the President and term of office for the Presidency.

The Deputy Minister debunked, as he put it, “some ill motivated critics of the Government who attempted to create in the minds of the public that the reason for the Review of the Constitution was to tamper with the tenure of Office of the Presidency so as to make it possible for President Ernest Bai Koroma to run for a third term” He re-iterated what President Ernest Bai Koroma stated at State House during the press conference at the end of the two-day official visit of the President of La Cote D’Ivoire Alassane Quattarra on Monday 31st July, 2017 that “there will be no change in the term of office for the Presidency.,” as stipulated in the 1991 National Constitution

The Constitution of Sierra Leone is the Supreme Law of the Land and the Fountain from which all other Laws flow. President Ernest Bai Koroma is “the Guardian of the Constitution”, reference section 40 (subsection 3) of the 1991 Constitution, and on 30th July, 2013, an 80 – member CRC under the Chairmanship of Honourable Justice Edmond K. Cowan was inaugurated and sworn in by President Koroma and the Constitutional Review process officially launched.. It was tasked to work for a period of three years, but the mandate was extended from March 2015 to September 2016 due to the impact of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) on the exercise.

At the inauguration ceremony, President Koroma acknowledged that “the 1991 Constitution needs to be modernised” and stated, among other things, “our Constitutional history has its low point of compromising statutes, acrimonious debate, and democratic deficit and all must be done to avoid the dark days in the history of Sierra Leone.”

President Koroma made reference to “the gaps in the 1991 Constitution which undermined the rights of women and gender equality, youths and the physically challenged and expressed the need for the new Constitution to be inclusive and seen to be the true voice of the people of Sierra Leone in the true spirit of modern constitutionalism.” He further urged the CRC to “address all ambiguities, cumbersome and bureaucratic red tape that would hinder a successful review process.”

The Terms of Reference of the CRC were to:-

“(a) Ascertain from the people of Sierra Leone, their views on the operation of the 1991 Fourth Republican Constitution and, in particular, the strengths and weaknesses of the Constitution;

“(b) Articulate the concerns of the people of Sierra Leone on amendments that may be required for the comprehensive review of the 1991 Constitution: and

“(c) Make recommendations to the Government for consideration and provide a Draft Bill for possible amendments to the 1991 Constitution.”

On Tuesday January 24, 2017, Chairman of the CRC Justice Edmond Cowan presented the final CRC Report to President Koroma at a Special State House ceremony which was well attended by a cross section of the Sierra Leone community including Vice President Victor Bockarie Foh, Cabinet Ministers, the Chief Justice Honourable Abdulai Cham, Heads of Diplomatic Missions and International Organisations represented in Sierra Leone, Members of Parliament, top Government Civil Servants and Parastatals, Representatives of Civil Society Organisations, the Media, and Members of the CRC, among others.

On Monday July 31, 2017, on the second day of the two-day official visit to Sierra Leone by the President of La Cote D’Ivoire Alassanne Quattarra, while responding to a question by this Writer at a special decoration and press conference ceremony at State House in Freetown, “whether the President’s time line of end September, 2017” for the conduct of a National Referendum for the proposed new Constitution for Sierra Leone still stand, President Koroma stated, among other things, that following the submission of the Report of the Constitutional Review Committee (CRC), the Cabinet Sub Committee which has been considering the CRC recommendations under the Chairmanship of the Learned Attorney General & Minister of Justice Honourable Joseph Fitzgerald Kamara, has made certain proposals which were before the full Cabinet for consideration.

President Koroma added “the Cabinet will soon present to the public a Government White Paper” based on which the Legal Draftsmen in the Law Officers Department will prepare the Amendment Bill to the 1991 Constitution for Parliament to debate and enact into Law with a two-thirds majority of all the Members of Parliament, to be followed by the National Referendum.

On February 14, 2017, in announcing the date for the Presidential, Parliamentary and Local Council Elections, President Koroma said, among other things, that the Referendum on the Revised Constitution would be held “before the end of September, 2017,”

The Head of State pointed out that “from the look of things we are pressed for time and the final decision will be left with Parliament, ” which stands dissolved on 7th December, 2017, after its five-year constitutional term, according to the time table of the National Electoral Commission (NEC) published on 19th July, 2017 for the conduct of the March 7, 2018 Presidential, Parliamentary and Local Council Elections. However, President Koroma added, “we still have enough time.”

The Government White Paper is supposed to contain the recommendations the Government AGREES and DISAGREES with in the CRC Report for the information of the general public. President Koroma has said that the issues in the White Paper are not controversial.

The Review exercise of the 1991 Constitution has been a joint project undertaken by both the Sierra Leone Government and the International Community represented in Sierra Leone by the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) on which the amount of 4.1 (four point one) million US Dollars was spent, partly funded by the Sierra Leone Government and partly the UNDP.

It is expected that the proposed press and public briefing will be done by the Learned Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Honourable Joseph Fitzgerald Kamara and Chaired by the Minister of Information and Communications Honourable Mohamed Bangura.

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