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The Constitutional Review Process: How far, looming fears and media role
By Kef Dukulay (076-654-347)
Mar 21, 2014, 17:06
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The process to review the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone has finally taken off grounds with the Constitutional Review Committee (CRC) now fairly equipped with the requisite logistical and technical support from both the Government of Sierra Leone and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). This progress so far made towards the constitutional review process needs commendation, considering the fact that most often than not the political will to implement pertinent projects in Sierra Leone for the general good has always been problematic.

 

In their progress report from its inception in July 2013 to January 2014 read out to media practitioners in a one-day engagement at their Miatta Conference Secretariat on Tuesday 11th March 2014, the CRC Executive Secretary, Augustine Sheku disclosed that in addition to the CRC having a well equipped running secretariat, they have been also provided with mobility and initial funding for their activities. Though it is nearly six years since President Koroma received the CRC report, yet it is a demonstration of a political will by the APC led government to actualize the implementation of Article X of the TRC Report. The previous SLPP led government of the late President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah had already, through a Government Notice on the 11th January, 2007 made commitment to the review process by setting up a Committee to review the Sierra Leone Constitution of 1991 with a view to recommending amendments that might bring it up-to-date with the economic, social and political developments that have taken place nationally and internationally since 1991 as provided for in Section 108 of the 1991 Constitution and in tandem with the TRCs recommendation. The Committee submitted their report in 2008 to Kabbahs successor, Ernest Bai Koroma. The 2008 CRC Report proposed 36 amendments to be made to the 1991 Constitution, among which are 15 entrenched clauses. 


Kef Dukulay
   

 

Progress on their part as a committee according to the executive secretarys report is also encouraging.  As a committee comprising of people from diverse backgrounds and strata of society, the first task has been to bring together all the eighty members to be fully orientated to have reasonable knowledge about what they are required to do as individuals representing various shades of society. Among the membership are the high and the low, the educated and the illiterate, the entrepreneur and the lay farmer, youth and women etc. But more important is that all registered and functional political parties in Sierra Leone have representations at the CRC. At least the ten political parties account for more than 50% of Committees composition, with the two main political parties-the APC and SLPP-having six representatives each. The other eight parties also have equal representation of four members each.  

 

With a reasonably balanced composition the members have formed themselves into nine thematic sub-committees covering areas that need attention in the review process. The committee members will now have the task to reach out to the wider Sierra Leonean society to consult with them and work together for an inclusive and people-centred approach to the various amendment proposals to be considered for the review process.  The aim of the review process, as rightly put by the UNDP Deputy Country Director at the Media forum is to enhance the peace process and strengthen the culture of democracy.

 

For this reason he said the process is a unique opportunity to Sierra Leoneans to make their voices heard.

 

But already, within both the informed and uninformed circles, there are fears that the presidency has belatedly decided to pay attention to the review process only because he has the hidden agenda to protect his office and the political party he is heading.

 

There is the question as to why President Koroma did not act on the CRC Report as soon as it was submitted to him in 2008 until more than a year into his second term in office. 

 

Some people insist that President Koroma may want to interfere with the terms of office of the president from five years to seven; others speculate he may prevail on the committee to manipulate certain clauses that deal with the extension of the presidential terms from two to three and give more powers to the president among other things. This set of people has already concluded that the CRC chairman and other stakeholders have already been bought by the presidency.  This group has no trust in our Members of Parliament either.  Their fear is borne out of the fact of what is ensuing in the House with MPs behaving more like praise singers than law makers; and the opposition SLPP members most often than not failing to thoroughly scrutinize bills but rather blindly support most of those brought forward by government.   

 

On the other hand, there is that group of pessimists that see nothing good in the process at all. To these Doubting Thomases, it will all end up in business as usual, with the government having its way and the real target groups sidelined. This group thinks the issue is not the drafting of the constitution but the implementation of the instruments therein. Sierra Leones problem, they say has always been that of implementation.

 

Whatever claims and suppositions held by people against the review process cannot be tenable considering the composition of the Committee.  If anything, all the representatives will not agree to allow any political interference into the process, considering their numerical strength and the diverse backgrounds they were drawn from.

 

That is why full participation by all members cannot be overestimated.  According to the UNDP Chief Technical Advisor to the CRC Sana Baloch, a constitutional review process is not a government project but most important means by which citizens can participate in determining the states democratic future For that reason, he said the process must ensure the complete elimination of bad practices of constitutionalism such as exclusiveness, particularity, ambiguity and power-grabbing in place of participatory, inclusive, people- ccntric and power sharing process.

 

On a cautionary note, the UNDP Deputy Country Director, Mohamed Abchirs emphasis at the Media forum is for the process to be managed well by all Sierra Leoneans, including the high and the low. In his view, if the review process is managed well, it will help strengthen the culture of democracy and help to develop the tradition of the rule of law and meaningful participation in decision making.

 

But to quote the CRC Chairman Justice Edmond Cowan, communication strategy is one of the key deliverables if the process is to succeed. What is meant by this is that the CRC will collaborate with media practitioners to ensure the process is popularized, allay the fears of the citizenry and to encourage them to own the project and have trust in the Committee. Very soon, the various sub-committees set up will embark on civic education and public consultation nationwide on the thematic areas identified.

With complete knowledge of the process and citizens full participation, there will surely be no room for presidential or political manipulation.


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