My earlier piece, Plea to All SLPP, concluded that, barring the mistaken assigning of two of the National Chairmanís functions to the National Secretary-General (NSG) (Clause 3.6.7 (III) (i) and (j)), that the entire Revised Constitution of the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP), as ratified by an 81.3% majority vote at its March 2009 Convention and as compiled by the NSG in May 2009, ought to be (or to have been) submitted to the Political Parties Registration Commission (PPRC) within a reasonable time following the Convention, and without any substantive amendments, alterations or additions, though with purely editorial sanitising for formally perfecting it before the submission.
With the reported interview of the NSG in the Exclusive of 22/10/2009, it is now fairly clear that the SLPP National Executive Council (NEC) meeting slated for 31st October 2009 will be dealing with, among other things, mainly the Revised Constitution and related issues. With such complex issues of grave importance being put to such a high level meeting at a relatively short notice, it would be useful to help as much as possible in airing out the issues involved, with a view to enhancing the delegatesí and other membersí knowledge and understanding of the relevant issues and impinging perspectives.
State of Play
Following the ratification of the Draft Proposed Constitution of the SLPP at its MARCH 2009 Convention and its subsequent compilation as the Revised Constitution, quite a few developments have taken place in relation to its status, text and course of possibly coming into force or effect. Firstly, in June 2009 comprehensive sets of concerns touching on a wide range of issues were expressed by certain members of the new National Executive elected at the Convention after the ratification process. Upon submission to it for due consideration, the Partyís Constitutional Review Committee (CRC) did a detailed advisory analysis of the relevant concerns and submitted it to the National Executive, entitled Answering Concerns on the New Constitution (ACNC).
Then, after a few months of presumed further consideration of the Revised Constitution by one or other Party organ of sub-Convention status, a member of the Policy Council wrote to the NSG on 7th September 2009, observing that too long a time had elapsed since the Convention without submitting it to the PPRC (Global Times of 01/10/2009, p. 3; and Awareness Times of 02/10/2009, p. 5). He highlighted two provisions dealt with in both the concerns emanating from the National Executive and the CRCís advisory analysis, i. e. the provisions making SLPP Local Councillors delegates at its future Conventions (Clause 3.2.3(iii)) and the other limiting the eligibility of National Executive members as Flagbearer (Clause 4.4.5). He explained, in particular, not only the history of substantive considerations of those provisions at District and Regional levels, but even the ratification process as well at the March 2009 Convention. He wondered whether the NSG or the National Executive or any other organ of sub-Convention status had power or authority to effect any substantive amendment of the Revised Constitution or to otherwise delay its submission to the PPRC for any reason whatsoever. And so he urged that it be submitted to the PPRC now without further delay.
The publication of that letter in the press sparked off a sustained media debate (See the summaries in Global Times, 22/10/2009, p. 3; Awareness Times, 23/10, pp. 1, 6, 7). On the one side, it is basically alleged that "numerous mistakes, inconsistencies, clash of interest and juxtapositions" were inserted into the Revised Constitution after the Kenema Convention; that there are "provisions which were objected to and were not voted for"; and that they all "need to be looked into before we consider taking the Constitution to the PPRC." With various provisions cited in that regard, it is then prescriptively assumed that there is thus "a foregone conclusion" or an "inevitability of recourse" to a National Convention to address the situation.
On the other side, it is affirmed that all the provisions cited, except perhaps the one assigning certain functions of the National Chairman to the NSG (Clause 3. 6. 7 (III) (i) and (j)), were indeed duly voted on and ratified at the Convention; and that it is now meet, or even possibly long overdue, for the Revised Constitution to be submitted to the PPRC without further delay and without any substantive amendment or alteration, apart from "editorially sanitising and perfecting it as best as possible before that submission" (ACNC, para. 44). A comprehensive list of necessary editorial amendments is even set out in ACNC para. 17. This side even wonders whether the denial of certain provisions having been ratified at the Convention and the allegations of insertions after the Convention are not a deliberate ruse for seeking to justify the rejection or modification of the relevant provisions.
The presumed approach of the National Executive was revealed by the NSG in a recent press interview (Exclusive, 22/10/2009, p. 2). According to him, it was decided to call a NEC meeting because of concerns expressed by certain National Executive members about the ratification process at the Convention and about certain provisions in the Revised Constitution. These included the provisions on SLPP Local Councillors as Convention delegates (Clause 3.2.3 (iii)), the timing for the Flagbearer election (Clause 4.4.2), the method of electing the Running-mate (Clause 4.4.4), and the all-important limitation of the eligibility of National Executive members for Flagbearer elections (Clause 4.4.5). But he notes that "it is not likely that those clauses will be changed", except for Clause 4.4.5. In an ominously revealing utterance, the NSG is purportedly directly quoted as saying: "On reflection, some of us believe that the timing of election for Flagbearer agreed in the Kenema Convention is too short. I will personally move that the election for Flagbearer be brought forward". And yet, he is still directly quoted as admitting that the Draft Constitution "went through the ratification process at the 2009 Kenema Convention". Is that to say that, notwithstanding the provisions of the Revised Constitution having been duly ratified by the National Convention, members of the National Executive and of NEC would still move for the amendment or alteration by NEC of a provision after its ratification by the Convention?
The members of NEC are of course fully au fait with their own powers, duties, functions and responsibilities under the current 1995 Party Constitution, including their obligations and responsibilities vis-ŗ-vis the supreme governing organ of the Party, the National Conference or Convention, and its decisions. Nonetheless, in their magnanimity they may not be averse to some recital here.
According to the 1995 Constitution, "the work of the Party shall be under the direction and control of the Party Conference, which itself shall be subject to the Constitution" (Clause 4 A 1); and, among other functions, the Conference or Convention shall also both "determine the programme to be adopted by the Party" and also "nominate a candidate for the Presidential elections" (Clause 4 A 3(b) and (i)).
On its own part, NEC as the principal administrative organ of the Party "shall carry out the programme and policy determined by the Party Conference" (Clause 4 B 3) and it shall exercise the powers vested in it "within the spirit and intendment of this Constitution" (Clause 4 B 5(i)), including its function to "propose to the Annual Party Conference such amendments to the Constitution Ö.. as may be deemed desirable" (Clause 4 B 5(e)) and its power to fix the date for any non-annual or emergency meeting of the National Conference or Convention (Clause 4 a 1). And Clause 10.2 must be observed: i. e. "All proposed amendments to the Constitution shall be forwarded to the NEC, which shall circulate them to all regional branches of the Party at least three months in advance of the next Party Conference".
It is submitted that, under these provisions of the current 1995 Constitution, NEC is required as "the principal administrative organ" of the Party to regard the further processing of the Revised Constitution ratified at the March 2009 Convention as a "programme and policy determined by the Party Conference" and to thereby ensure that it is submitted to the PPRC without delay and without any substantive amendments or alterations. It is further submitted that the function of "proposing amendments" to a National Conference under Clause 4 B 5(e) of 1995 is applicable only to a Party Constitution already effectively in force, and not to a merely ratified draft awaiting the validation process through the PPRC. So that no substantive discourse on any aspect or element in the Revised Constitution is allowed to be undertaken at the NEC meeting. And that whilst NEC may indeed fix the date for an emergency or non-annual meeting of the National Conference, it has no power by itself to "nominate a candidate for the Presidential elections" at its own meeting.
And the supervening force and relevance of such national statutory provisions as sections 34, 35 and 76(1)(h) of the 1991 National Constitution and, in particular, sections 6, 14, 24 and 27 of the 2002 Political Parties Act (PPA) should always be borne in mind in all operations and activities by a political party and its organs. Section 24 (1)(a) of the PPA, for instance, stipulates the mandatory requirement that when a Party "intends to alter" its Constitution, "it shall notify" the PPRC accordingly. Taking the ratification of March 2009 as "the intended alteration" by the SLPP, is NEC not under obligation to make the mandatory "notification" to the PPRC under both this section and Clause 4 B 3 of its own 1995 Party Constitution?
In view of its foregoing powers, the members of NEC will obviously take only those decisions that are strictly within the terms, spirit and intendment of the current Party Constitution and relevant national statutory provisions. With such clear warnings that have been sounded as to there being "peaceful avenues of redress" like seeking relief through the Courts (Global Times, 01/10/2009, p. 3; Awareness Times, 02/10/2009, p. 5), NEC and the entire membership of the Party should ensure that nothing is done or left undone that may expose the Party to another round of litigation for now. We have already lost several months merely "diddling over the nuances of a six months old Constitution in a misplaced effort" (Global Times, 07/10/2009, p. 3), taking valuable attention away from such urgent tasks as a vigorous membership drive.
We cannot afford the detracting distraction of any litigation on such matters, especially between stalwart members and against the Party itself and/or any of its executive organs.
As far back as 1996, at the beginning of some 11 years control of State governance by the SLPP, a Constitutional Review Committee, of which the present advocate was an active member, compiled a Draft Constitution to replace the 1995 Party Constitution which had come into being during a rather hasty transition from a military regime. Although submitted to NEC, it never saw the light of day throughout the 11 years. That Draft has now been used in compiling the 2009 Revised Constitution, which has now greatly improved upon the crucial shortcomings and inadequacies of the 1995 instrument. Are the same tactics of delay and executive ruse going to frustrate such a proactive instrument, even after ratification by the highest authority?
Members are urged to make themselves fully conversant before the forthcoming NEC meeting with the systematic analysis of the various issues by the CRC. For responsive analysis on the respective clauses of the Revised Constitution to which attention has been drawn, see the following paragraphs of ACNC: for Clause 2. 1 (categories of Party membership), see paras. 21 Ė 22; for Clause 3. 2. 3 (iii) (Local Councillors as Convention delegates), see paras. 31 Ė 34; for Clause 3. 12 (Diaspora branches as regions), see paras. 23 Ė 24; for Clause 3. 6. 7 (III) (i) and (j) (NSG sharing certain functions of the National Chairman), see paras. 28 Ė 30); and for Clause 4. 4. 5 (limiting the eligibility of National Executive members for Flagbearer elections), see paras. 35 Ė 42, with 39 - 40 thereof pellucidly clarifying its content, meaning, objectives and rationale. No concern had been raised by then about either Clause 4. 4. 2 (the timing of the Flagbearer election) or Clause 4. 4. 4 (the mode of selection of the Running-mate), both of which (according to even one apologist for the Executive concerns), "were put to the vote" at the 2009 Convention (Democrat, p. 5 and New Vision, p. 2 of 12/10/2009). Indeed, but for only one of these provisions, all the others were voted on and ratified at the Convention and cannot now be amended or deferred by NEC or any other sub-Convention organ of the Party. It is irretrievably mandatory that they be immediately submitted to the PPRC in their present form and content. The submitting process even has its own safeguard against objectionable features, and in any case subsequent Conventions may still amend it when it has come into force.
Otherwise, let no one shove off the talk of legal action as empty bluff. We all remember the two actions taken in the Supreme Court in 2005 Ė 06 by Chief Hinga Norman, with the present advocate of these Pleas as his Counsel and both of them as grand chief patrons of the Party at the time. But for the deference shown by the Supreme Court to the Party being then in power by dodging the substantive issues, the action would have succeeded; and its success at the time would have redounded to the much greater political advantage of the Party at the subsequent 2007 Presidential elections, which we so dismally "lost".
Similar litigations may not be implausible now if appropriate corrective actions as outlined above are not taken by NEC and the National Executive, e. g. seeking various applicable reliefs like declarations, mandamus, injunctions, etc, which will certainly be of grave detriment to the organisational and recovery strategies of the Party in its 2012 bouncing back agenda. Can the Party possibly benefit now from any judicial preference for dodging substantive issues when it is in the Opposition? And yet, the Party stands a better chance of bouncing back without fail in 2012 only if it can now fast-track the coming into force of the ratified new Constitution and concentrate on going up the other rungs of the agenda. NEC and the present National Executive will bear the greatest blame if these historic hopes are frustrated.
By Dr. Bu-Buakei JABBI
Grand Chief Patron, SLPP
Freetown, Sunday October 25th 2009
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Newspaper in Freetown, Sierra Leone.