Tuesday, 10 March 2015

OF CONSTITUTIONAL REVIEW COMMITTEES, AMMENDMENTS AND TENURE ELONGATIONS IN POLITICAL OFFICE

A VIEW FROM MY WINDOW : SL IN FOCUS:- 'OF CONSTITUTIONAL REVIEW COMMITTEES, AMENDMENTS AND 'TENURE ELONGATIONS' IN POLITICAL OFFICE .
Now that the deafening cries of war, threats of anarchy and Armageddon, songs of "after u na u" in Sierra Leone have simmered down, I , through the very frosted glass of my windows simply want to look at a bigger picture of why we, Africans distrust sitting Presidents initiating National constitutional review processes simply based on the inherent powers of the presidency.
Issues of constitutional reviews in Africa will always be sensitive. We distrust most constitutional Review processes with good reason: Many African leaders have used the process to keep themselves in office beyond their constitutionally allowed tenures and herein lies our distrust , as Sierra Leoneans, of the on-going constitutional review process by EBK.
Constitutional Review processes are not in themselves negative but its timing and purpose is altogether critical, too critical for the process to be trusted when its timing and purpose coincides with Presidents already running out their full terms of office and having to supervise a 'fresh' election .
We (Africans) have watched, and sometimes listened as a collective people , to the stories of great nationalists, men who championed the struggles for independence -- men whose names and overwhelming shadows bestrode the corridors of our political space -- men who were gods to us mere mortals-- we have watched and listened to the stories of their exploits, and then again we have also watched and listened to the stories of their slide into the abyss of disgrace --we have watched the dance of shame in the market square -- we have seen disenchanted people cast aside their garments and dance nude invoking the wrath of our indigenous gods, baring all to confront and efface our collective corpus simply to squeeze out the pus from the festering wound called tenure elongation. May Sierra Leone never experience such. May we never sink into this abyss.
Before we examine the expediency of starting a constitutional review process initiated by an African government well into its second term in office and preparing for an election two years away let us first of all ask why are Sierra Leoneans so restless about the so-called third term agenda inspite of the fact that spokespeople for the President have come out to say that his Excellency is not interested in any third term bid ?
I believe the answer is simple. First of all we as Africans believe there is no smoke without fire. Infact we believe there is no semblance of a smoke without any semblance of a fire -- somewhere close at least . Second: We have seen these games played out in a lot of countries (Nigeria, Cote d'voire , played out and still playing out in Zimbabwe). We have witnessed situations where a sitting President first says he is not interested in a third term bid and then some so called supporters of his, from seemingly nowhere, emerge and start a campaign on his behalf for a third term. In some cases these supporters go on to print posters, do TV commercials and Radio jingles, all on behalf of a very 'unwilling', 'uninterested ' candidate.
So is it expedient for any sitting President to initiate or engineer the review or amendment of entire constitutions especially when their tenures are near ending? I hardly think so.
How then can a constitutional review process be initiated? From my very layman's window of view, I believe any credible review or amendment of a constitution should derive from the very constitution itself and the process may evolve in one of two ways:
 1) From the very elected members of parliament who "we the people" have elected to represent us. Put very simplistically, the members of parliament should first see the need for a review of the constitution, but since the constitution is of such importance that it must not be left to the hands of only a few people , the members of parliament should then put forward an "optional referendum" in which a specific majority of voters must give assent to the request for an amendment or review of the constitution before the process of amendment can become official and then commence.
2) A second way in which the process can achieve credibility is through a "petition referendum" in which "we the people" have truly found need for the constitution to be amended and a lawful percentage of registered voters have signed up that the need for a review of the constitution be put to vote and a particular majority percentage must vote for the process before it can be validated that a review or amendment of the constitution must go on.
This is the way it happens, I believe, in better climes and from my very lay point of view this I believe is the way it should happen in our African Countries too. I also believe these are fine points that Students of government and students of Law, and most of Africa's vibrant lawyers should take up in their arguments against sitting presidents who by fiat engineer a National constitutional review process.
So the salient questions that should arise in the case of Sierra Leone are these:
1) Is the present conference or review committee established by virtue of any law hitherto fore enacted by Parliament?
2) Is it's convocation, composition, functions, and modus operandi catered for by  law.
I hope some constitutional lawyers in Sierra Leone and indeed the government of Sierra Leone through its minister of Justice can put us out of our misery with answers to these.
From a media practitioner's point of view every action, or inaction sends a message and this should be very important to any Presidential Adviser on political matters. What message is a sitting president sending to his people when he initiates or engineers a constitution review process during his second term in office deriving only from the "the inherent powers of the office of the Presidency"?
Two simple answers immediately spring to fore:
1) He wants to stay on for yet another term by any means possible.
2) He does not believe parliament knows what it is doing and does not trust parliament to ever want to review or amend the constitution as it is.
But for one moment let us play the devil's advocate. The President is indeed a bona fide citizen of the country and may indeed have a very plausible reason to want a review of the constitution. What is he to do?
And once again the answer is simple: Send a bill to parliament. Let parliament vote and then take it to the people. Only if the lawful majority of registered voters give assent to the bill for a constitutional review to commence should parliament begin the review process.
I believe that any sitting President that does not have any hidden agenda will willingly subject himself to this procedure and the way majority of us, less informed people look at this is that any President who is unwilling to subject himself to this procedure , indeed has some hidden agenda.
The honourable thing to do is for President Ernest Bai-Koroma to protect his good name and discard the on-going "abridged" process and follow due, transparent process.
But if His Excellency fails to do the honourable thing, "we the people" should resist the urge to take up arms. "We the people" should mobilize our cream of constitutional lawyers, to challenge not just the outcome of such a process, but the procedure (modus operandi) of the process itself.
The challenges with this option though, would be:
1) "Do we the people really have '' locum standi' to bring such an action to court?
2) Even if we go all the way to the supreme court for ajudication, the supreme court may well declare "rex non potest peccare"[The King can do no wrong].However we must not for fear of losing the war, sit back and refuse to fight the battle.
 This post was written on 9th June 2013 after the heat of the debate on the validity/ value of convening a constitutional conference in Sierra Leone.

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