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An Unfortunate Letter from Sierra Leone's Executive Arm of Government
By Sylvia Olayinka Blyden
Aug 31, 2009, 23:48
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An important element of modern day democracy is the separation of powers. The Judiciary should be upheld as distinct and totally independent from the Presidency and the Executive. All possible effort must be made by those concerned, to maintain this separation of powers, in deeds, words and writings. Any action that gives the impression that the Executive has influence over the intrinsic, inherent powers of the Judiciary should be discouraged.

It is in this light that I want to condemn the contents of the 28th August 2009 Presidential Letter from State House  which, unequivocally informed of the expected time the Judiciary will be giving a long-awaited ruling on a constitutional interpretation.

"His Excellency the President has instructed that you be informed that the judgement on the matter of interpretation and repeal of the Criminal and Seditious Libel Law of the Public Order Act of 1965 will be delivered when the Supreme Court resumes sittings by mid September, 2009."

If we go according to the above extract of the Presidential Letter addressed to Journalists (of all people!!), the Executive arm of Government is now telling the world that it can predict expected moves of the Judicial arm of Government by stating the exact time a ruling will be given even before the Judiciaryís Registry publicly states this time. What a blight on our democratic credentials!

Sources at State House have last weekend tried to assuage my concerns by stating that all what the President did was to transmit to the Journalists what the President had been told when his Office wrote to the Judiciary on the matter and the Judiciary responded back with information that the ruling would be delivered in mid-September. All well and good but in the interest of Separation of Powers, the Letter to Journalists should not have been written as if it was the Executive that was dictating the expected time of ruling.

If even the Presidentís Office was trying to pacify the Judiciary-Journalists debacle by giving an assurance that the ruling would be soon delivered, for the sake of Posterity, the letter should have been differently worded. It should have stated in clear, clear terms that the Office of the President has been informed by the Supreme Courtís Registry that the said Ruling would be delivered in mid-September.

For the Office of the President to publicly abrogate to itself the originating authority to tell journalists exactly when the Supreme Court will be issuing out a Ruling, when there is a Supreme Court Registrar whose duty it is to issue out such a date, is extremely worrying! For the Presidentís Office to have failed to cite a Judicial source for such an assertion they penned down, is a serious cause for concern to observers of democratic credentials; a most unfortunate development that definitely clouds our democratic credentials.

Personally, since back in July, I have severally expressed to the leadership of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) that whilst their action of writing to complain the Judiciary to the President, might be seen as acceptable for now, when it will be reflected upon in the future, questions will surely be asked as to why did SLAJ not write directly to the Judiciary (Supreme Court Registry) for an answer but by-passed the Judiciary and went to the Executive who then proceeded to do what the Journalists should have done in the first place:- Executive wrote to Judiciary, got a response back from Judiciary and transmitted the response to the Journalists. What a needless merry-go-round!

As members of the Fourth Estate, we should be seen as not only agitating for the Constitution to be upheld but also for the Separation of Powers to be rigorously upheld. There was no justification for SLAJ bypassing the Judiciaryís Registry and writing to the President. SLAJ should have first given an opportunity to the Judiciary to correspond with them but they never did. Surely, they did not expect the Judiciary to react to a publicly issued Press ultimatum?

In the case of the Sierra Leone Police, I totally agree with SLAJ that the Police should be cited for abuse of authority despite the defence of their actions by the Executive. Anyway, the Police is supervised by the Executive and is expected to be defended by the Executive. No Problem. What I have a very serious problem with is the perception that the Judiciary is now being subjected to Executive supervision. This latter scenario implies that we are not living in a modern democracy but in a barefaced dictatorship. This State House letter must be condemned and condemned in no uncertain terms.

The Unfortunate Letter from the Presidency

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