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Position Paper On Revised Draft Chieftaincy Bill, 2008
May 12, 2009, 17:02
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In a recent position paper on the draft chieftaincy bill, 2008, the Civil Society Platform on Chieftaincy Reform expressed concern over the following issues:

The draft bill continues to maintain an electoral college system for the election of Paramount Chiefs; an arrangement that is undemocratic, unrepresentative and prone to political interference and manipulation;
The bill further gives the Local Government Ministry charge over the conduct of Paramount Chieftaincy elections instead of a professional electoral body like the National Electoral Commission (NEC); and
Furthermore, the bill grants excessive powers to the Local Government Ministry to the exclusion of even the Court in the management and determination of matters arising from the conduct of Paramount Chieftaincy election;

In a related television discussion jointly paneled by the Local Government Ministry and the Civil Society Platform, and a subsequent engagement with the Ministry, it was agreed that the draft bill will be revised; taking onboard the concerns of the Platform, before submission to Parliament for the necessary legislative procedures.

Civil Society whole heartedly welcomes the proposed amendments of sections 28 and 29 of the Bill. Section 28 now makes the National Electoral Commission (hereinafter called NEC) as the Body charged with the conduct and supervision of all polling in all chieftaincy elections. This although appreciable, is still demands further consideration geared towards giving NEC real control over the conduct of Paramount Chieftaincy elections in their entirety. As it currently stands, NECs total involvement in the process is only limited to polling on Election Day. That is, NEC only has conduct and supervision of the voting on election day and has nothing to do with the counting and announcement of results, as polling in its strict and ordinary sense is only limited to voting. Also NEC virtually has nothing to do with all preliminaries to polling for instance the registration preparation and verification of voters list that is in this case chiefdom councillors list. All of these are done by the P.S. NEC only conducts and supervises the voting full stop. The rest is with the P.S. The word polling is therefore carefully, calculatedly and selectively used in section 28 of the Bill and the Proposed Amendment thereto, to limit the involvement of NEC in the whole process. It is therefore recommended that section 28 of the Bill be amended to read as follows:

"All chieftaincy elections shall be conducted and supervised by the National Electoral commission in collaboration with the Office of the Provincial Secretary

In this way NEC would have been given total conduct of the elections without undermining the P.Ss role to monitor the process as Head of Administration in the provinces. But as it is now, with all the Proposed Amendment NECs involvement in the process is largely limited to polling day and virtually nothing to do with the process before and after polling.

The Proposed Amendment to section 29 of the Bill is the most serious attempt at addressing the concerns of Civil Society. Thankfully, by the Proposed Amendment to that section, the entire section is deleted, repealed and replaced by a brand new section, that sets out and outline in a general sense, the functions of Paramount Chiefs. The function of Paramount Chiefs were hitherto inadvertently left out in the Bill and their inclusion by way of amendment and the deletion of the previous section 29 is most appreciated and reassuring, Civil Society has however learnt with greatest dismay that nothing of legal significant was done to the remaining issues in the bill which the Ministry promised to address in the review. The bill seems to emphatically cement the Provincial Secretarys overwhelming influence in chieftaincy elections and impliedly ignoring Civil Societys very loud call for a limitation of his involvement in those elections. The bulk of the Amendments are geared towards achieving legislative certainty as regards to all references to the Provincial Secretary in the Bill.

For example, a new sub-section (i.e. sub-section 4 of section 4) altogether makes the revision of the councilors list the responsibility of the Provincial Secretary with only the collaboration of the National Electoral Commission. Sections 5, 6 (1) (c) and 6(2) delete the words "Presiding Officer in the Bill to be substituted by the words "Provincial Secretary". This of course is with a view to fostering clarity and certainty. So instead of editing the Provincial Secretarys overwhelming involvement in the process; some of the Proposed Amendments are making his involvement clearer.

Furthermore, Civil Society notes with regret the retention of Section 8(1) (b) in the bill. As it is now, this section makes illegitimate children with paternal lineage to Ruling Houses eligible to vie for chieftaincy elections, whereas illegitimate children with maternal lineage to Ruling houses are excluded from the process. We view this to be gender insensitive and at variance with contemporary thinking.

Moreover, Section 9(d) of this revised draft bill disqualifies all Adopted children from contesting for paramount chieftaincy elections. As we stated in our earlier position, this is discriminatory in nature and thus contravenes our national constitution in that regard. The revised bill has not only ignored our call, but has gone further to cement that subsection by prefacing it with the phrase "notwithstanding any other provision of law". This is clearly intended to forestall any legal challenge of that subsection in any Court of Law.

Section 10 at the moment says the Provincial Secretary (hereinafter called "the P.S.") is the presiding officer, whilst the Proposed Amendment intends to change that nomenclature to Declaration Officer. In our view, the only difference this Proposed Amendment would occasion is terminological in effect. The P.Ss involvement in the process largely remains unaltered and unaffected by these Proposed Amendments. He continues to prepare revise and verify councilors list, he verifies and vets Aspirants on Declaration Day, effectively nominate Assessor Chiefs, plays a vital role in the removal of chiefs, declares chieftaincy election results etc. It matters not therefore by which nomenclature he is referred to in the Bill, Presiding Officer or Declaration Officer. What is of relevance here is his involvement in the electoral process and this continues to be uncomfortably overbearing. It is this involvement we expected the Ministry to have watered down.

The revised draft bill has again maintained a seven day period for the filling of electoral petitions by aggrieved parties. Seven days as the time limit for the filing of a petition is practically impossible and potentially stampeding. We recommended at least one month after publication of the Results in the Gazette. For a Proposed Amendment of that sub section to completely ignore that aspect of our concerns is regrettable.

In conclusion whilst the Proposed Amendments speak to a few of Civil Societys concerns, they are still a far cry from the public expectations and aspirations. There is therefore the need for the Ministry to take a second look at the bill; taking into consideration the earlier concerns raised by Civil Society, before presenting it to Parliament for the necessary legislative procedures. Finally, we continue to applaud the Ministry for the steps taken so far in addressing the concerns of Civil Society.

© Copyright by Awareness Times Newspaper in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

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