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NEWS : Politics  

A Passionate Appeal to All Bonafide SLPP Members
By Dr. Bu-Buakei Jabbi, Grand Chief Patron, SLPP.
Oct 23, 2009, 17:34
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True to the SLPP's pristine spirit and image of democratic constitutionalism, and as a vigorous test of its present internal compliance and conformity with that image, the issue of the coming into force of its Revised Constitution (as ratified at its National Convention in March 2009 and as thereafter compiled by the National Secretary-General in May 2009) has recently become a subject of sustained public debate in the press. It is amazing how much media coverage it has received over the past 3 months up until well into October 2009.

In brief, the issues are as to the text of various provisions of the New Constitution as revised and ratified at the said National Convention, as to whether the May 2009 issue of that ratified revision should be (or have been) immediately submitted to the Political Parties Registration Commission (PPRC) in that form without any further substantive amendment or alteration, as to whether the National executive and other non-Convention organs of the Party have any power or authority to delay (or to have delayed) its submission to the PPRC in order to ensure that certain amendments are first effected in it, or whether they indeed have the power or authority to effectively suspend its submission to the PPRC until another National Convention of the Party re-considers and re-ratifies it or otherwise.

Meanwhile, of course, the Party's 1995 Constitution remains in force and effect. And the Party continues to operate and work in accordance with it until a duly ratified replacement comes into force in accordance with the relevant provisions of the National Constitution 1991 and the Political Parties Act 2002.

It now seems clear that such issues are to be put before the meeting of the Party's National Executive Council (NEC) slated for 31st October 2009. So it would be useful if they are clearly aired out for the purpose of adequately capacitating the members of NEC and of the Party generally in their knowledge and understanding of the issues before that meeting comes up.

Genesis

The genesis of the public debate seems traceable to certain comments and concerns on various provisions in the Revised Constitution emanating from individual National Executive members and addressed to the National Secretary-General (NSG) in June 2009. They were then submitted to the Party's Constitutional Review Committee (CRC) for consideration and appropriate advisory responses. The CRC did a detailed and systematic joint analysis of those concerns and submitted it to the Executive in advisory form.

Since the issues in the public debate are likely to be on the agenda of the NEC meeting, it would be extremely helpful if balanced summaries (or preferably full copies) of the National Executive members' concerns and the CRC's responsive advisory analysis are made available to delegates well in advance of the meeting. They will then be able to adequately understand and digest the issues that may be put to them in the meeting. Indeed, some of the articles already appearing in the newspaper seem quite well informed on the various submissions, even sometimes extensively citing one or other of them verbatim, though without express acknowledgement.

The Debate

Before presenting the essential content of the ongoing debate in the press, some regrettable aspects of it so far may be pointed out, with a plea that such features be avoided by all concerned in all further discussions on the issues, whether in the press or among members generally or indeed at any meeting of any organ(s) of the Party.

One such feature is that some writers are so over-concerned with the personal leadership aspirations or ambitions of some individual or group that all objectivity or sincerity is thrown to the wind and suspected contrary views are merely seen as indicating opposing personal aspirations for the same coveted position. This then leads to sheer abusive or intemperate language and a virtual vendetta of personal accusations or insinuations against the others, and sometimes even against the "framers" of the new law. In the interest of peace, decent controversy, and the general welfare, development and success of the Party as a whole, member are urged to avoid such freaks and tendencies and focus on the real issues.

Allegations

One side in the debate has made allegations mainly as to the authenticity of the text of certain provisions of the Revised Constitution and their ratification process at the National Convention.

Two such articles are by one "Soko Bana, Class Six Pupil, Gbinti Primary School", the first of which (New Vision 06/10/2009, at p. 11) opines as to the need "to weed out the numerous mistakes, inconsistencies, clash of interest and juxtapositions some people inserted into [the Revised Constitution] after the Kenema Convention [and] very grave corrections that need to be looked into before we consider taking the Constitution to PPRC". But the article itself does not cite or set out any such specific provision or clause. In the other article (New Vision 08/10/2009, at p. 7 and Democrat, 09/10/2009, at p. 8), a large chunk of similar allegations are set out twice over in the same piece, referring to some of them as "so constitutionally heinous", but again without any specific examples.

But Kangbai's Beef (New Vision, 08/10/2009, at p 9) specifically mentions at lease two provisions of the Revised Constitution, the stipulation that all SLPP local councilors are to be automatic delegates at its National Conventions (clause 3.2.3 (iii) and that barring the Party's National executive members from its Flag bearer elections within a specified time frame (clause 4.4.5), referring to the latter as a "crazy clause".

Ndor-mui Hindowa has so far contributed two articles to the debate. In the first one, in the 12/10/2009 issues of Democrat (p. 5) and New vision (p. 2), he alleges that the revised Constitution contains "provisions which were objected to and were not voted for" at the March 2009 Convention, i.e. clauses 2.1 ("categories of membership"), 3.2.3 (iii) (SLPP local councilors as Convention delegates), 3.12 (Diaspora branches as regions), and 4.4.5 (ineligibility of National Executive members for Flag bearer elections within a specified time frame). He also mentions so-called "fraudulent insertions", in that two of the functions of the National Chairman (clause 3.6.7 (I) and (d), which were allegedly not shared with the NSG in the Draft put before the Convention, but are now assigned to the latter as well in the revised Constitution (clause 3.6.7 (III) (i) and (j). he then prescriptively predicts that "Recourse to the due process of a National Delegates Conference to address this problem is a foregone conclusion".

In his second article, in New Vision (p. 2) and Global Times (p. 6) of 19/10/2009, Ndor-mui Hindowa affirms this "inevitability of a recourse" to a Convention; but he concentrates there almost exclusively on clause 4.4.5 for the purpose. And he proposes (and even commences) a new substantive "debate on the merits and demerits" of clause 4.4.5 in anticipation of the proposed Convention, proffering an explanation not only of why or how "members of the current executive are in no way affected" by that clause but also of its being " a product of fear" the latter explanation being strongly reminiscent of the original substantive debate that had led to the emergence of this clause and its eventual submission to the March 2009 Convention for ratification.

But in his first article, Ndor-mui Hindowa also sincerely affirms or admits that two other clauses "were put to the vote" at the Convention, i.e. the one "that the election of the Presidential candidate be done not earlier than one year before the Presidential elections" (clause 4.4.2) and the other that "a Presidential candidate and his running-mate to be elected together on the same ticket by the Conference" (clause 4.4.4).

To PPRC

The other side in the debate is essentially affirming that, at its March 2009 session, the highest governing and decision-making body in the SLPP, the National Conference or Convention, did ratify the Revised Constitution in its present substantive content and form as issued by the National Secretary-General in May 2009, barring possible editorial (as distinct from substantive) oversights or errors, and that it is therefore a duty and obligation for him and the National Executive to submit it to the PPRC within a reasonable time after the convention and without any substantive amendments.

Dr. Abass Bundu's letter to the Party's National Secretary-General (NSG), dated 7th September 2009 (Global Times, 01/10/2009, p. 3; Awareness Times, 02/10/2009, p. 5, among others) is in that vein. It argues in brief that, like the entire Revised Constitution itself, such fundamental provisions as to all SLPP Local Councilors being automatic delegates at National Conventions (Clause 3.2.3(iii)) and members of the National Executive being ineligible at its Flag bearer elections for a specified time frame (Clause 4.4.5) were indeed ratified and adopted at the March 2009 Convention, and so ought to have been submitted to the PPRC long before. No other clauses of the Revised Constitution are specifically mentioned in the letter. But he expressly affirms having read both the concerns of certain members of the National Executive and the CRC's responsive analysis.

Dr. Bundu's introductory and concluding issues are crucial matters of general principle and procedure arising from the National Convention being "the supreme decision-making organ" of the Party. And so he submits, firstly, that its adoption or ratification of the Revised Constitution "signified a mandate that all perfunctory administrative acts necessary to bring the Constitution into force shall on carried out". So that the NSG should have forwarded the Revised Constitution to the PPRC soonest possible after the March 2009 Convention and that, "save for purely editorial and cosmetic changes, no substantive change is permissible" in it.Secondly, Dr. Bundu also submits that, since Clause 4.4.5 bars all members of the National Executive from the Party's Flag bearer elections, there was an obvious involvement of self-interest in their having to deliberate on the authenticity or otherwise of such a provision after the Convention. And so, that "considering the fundamental precept barring any person from being a judge in his/her own cause, one may be forgiven for questioning whether the National Executive is a proper forum for consideration of the new provisions."

And finally, that in case of continuous non-compliance or non-conformity with the foregoing matters of principle and procedure, "there are other peaceful avenues or redress, not least being an application to the courts", though without stating whether or when or by whom specifically such court action would be undertaken.

Dr. Fred Hassan Konteh, in his contribution to the debate (Global Times, 13/10/2009, p.7), also expressly admits direct knowledge of one of the expressions of concern originally emanating from within the National Executive, as indicated above, and then debunks various submissions in it. For example, the need for a new Party Constitution and the fact that such crucial new provisions as Clauses 3.2.3(iii) and 4.4.5 must have been ratified at the Convention, contrary to the allegation that they "were not put to a vote". He also strongly endorses both provisions, though with a slight misgiving as the time frame in the latter.

In the same issue of Global Times, 13/10/2009, at p.6, Abass Collier, a former SLPP Minister, takes up the issue of Clause 4.4.5 all over again, traces its historical background and political rationale from 1995 up until 2007, and the compelling justification now for "creating a new position for combining the offices of Chairman and Leader devoid of that for the office of Presidential Flag bearer" so as to "eliminate opportunistic, fly-by-night Flag-bearer seekers who predictably might be tempted to use the office of the Chairman/Leader as a bully pulpit to advance personal political ambition". He then concludes that "partially flawed in letter and time frame as Clause 4.4.5 might be, the spirit and intent of the delegates who approved it in Kenema was to consciously and deliberately forestall opportunists from holding the Party hostage in future".

Abass Collier then pays a brief tribute to those members who "could have equally pitched into the 2009 Chairmanship/Leadership bid" but instead "conducted themselves with dignity, respect and honesty by abstaining from the race and other national party offices in deference to the relevant constitutional provisions" and are now "quietly and consistently working toward a realization of their leadership bid goal", for which they "deserve to be highly commended."

Professor Septimus M. Kaikai, in his regular column "At Large" (Global Times, 07/10/2009), merely gives an overall summative advice that it is too early and merely distracting or even detracting to seek to amend the new Constitution before it comes into force. "Diddling over the nuances of a six months old Constitution is a misplaced effort. Don't fix it if it is not broken."

And "the Editorial Desk" of Awareness Times, in its issues of 5th and 6th October 2009 (pp. 7 and 9 respectively), puts it all to "the members of the National Executive who might be eyeing Flagbearer and Running-mate positions." And then it urges: "We suggest you RESIGN NOW even before the proposed Emergency National Convention so that you can stand in front of the National Convention as ordinary members and articulate whatever it is that you are trying to now articulate about the Flagbearer Clauses, but as ordinary members and not as Executive members. RESIGN NOW.

Plea

The present advocate of this Plea to All SLPP has been an active member of its Constitutional Review Committee (CRC) which had been set up since June 2005, and participated in almost all of its meetings and drafting exercise, its submissions to the January 2008 NEC meeting in Bo and to the March 2009 Convention in Kenema, and also in all its post-Convention review sessions and its responsive analysis of the concerns emanating from certain members of the National Executive.

The re-structuring and governance recovery bid of the SLPP towards 2012 has been the main focus of the Party in all its activities and endeavours since 2007, and must continue to be so until its attainment of ultimate success in 2012. Sheer personal orientations and aspirations must remain subordinate to it. Indeed, the whole constitutional review exercise was inspired and closely guided by those objectives. We must all be honest and sincere in our participation in the Party's pursuit of them.

It is from this perspective that one must emphasize here that, with the exception of perhaps only one of the clauses of the Revised Constitution which have been expressly alluded to in the current debate, almost all the others were substantively engaged in the several deliberations since 2007 before their submission to the March 2009 Convention, especially such as Clauses 2.1, 3.2.3(iii), 3.12, 4.4.2, 4.4.4 and 4.4.5, and were all part of the overall constitutional document that was submitted to and ratified at the March 2009 Convention by 296 out of 364 delegates (81.3%). And the concerns expressed about them by certain members of the National Executive after the Convention were systematically answered in detail by the CRC in its respective advisory analysis submitted to the Executive entitled "Answering Concerns on the New Constitution" (ACNC). For the respective clauses in seemingly serious contention, see the following paragraphs of ACNC: for Clause 2.1, paras. 21 - 22; for Clause 3.2.3(iii), paras. 31 - 34; for Clause 3.12, paras. 23 - 23; and for Clause 4.4.5, paras. 35 - 42. More particularly, paragraphs 39 - 40 of ACNC pellucidly clarify the text, content and meaning of Clause 4.4.5 and extensively set out its political objectives and rationale.

And so all the relevant clauses were indeed fully voted on and ratified as part of the comprehensive constitutional instrument put before the Convention; and all this was after a long period of substantive debate on them from 2007 to March 2009. Having been so ratified, the next step is the submission of the complete instrument to PPRC, and there really is no need at all to submit it again to even the Party's National Executive Council (NEC) (not to talk of another National Convention, emergency or otherwise) before it comes into force after submission to PPRC. The ruse of denying their having been voted on and ratified must not be used to obstruct this process, which has safeguards against any objectionable.

However, the concern over Clauses 3.6.7 (III) (i) and (j), which assigns some of the National Chairman's functions to the NSG, seems quite legitimate. That assigning was explained to the CRC as resulting from the cut-and-paste hazards of computer printing. And the CRC dealt with it in paras. 28 - 30 of ACNC, proposing that the two sub-clauses could easily be dropped from the NSG as an editorial exercise.

Hence the CRC's advice that the new Constitution be submitted to PPRC without delay and without substantive amendments, apart from "editorially sanitizing and perfecting it as best as possible before that submission" (paras. 44 of ACNC)...


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