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COMMENTS & OPINIONS  

Dr. Sylvia Blyden's Opinion on Appointment of a New Vice President
By Sylvia Olayinka Blyden
Mar 23, 2015, 12:03
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Let me start by congratulating the new Vice President of Sierra Leone, Honourable Victor Bockarie Foh. Like the great President Nelson Mandela, our new Vice-President was once branded and locked up in jail as a terrorist. He has come a long way in life. Along his life's journeys, I am sure our new VP has learnt many lessons which he will be able to apply in helping President Koroma to lead our beloved country.  About the ongoing debate as to whether the procedures of removing the former Vice-President, are constitutional or legal, I am going to give a layman's viewpoint keeping it short and simple. Let's leave out all the legal jargons which end up being pedantic. One does not need to be a long-winded lawyer to talk sense you know.

 

Now, our Constitution was written to be read as a holistic document and not piecemeal. Reading it holistically, an over-riding emphasis on political party control over elected politicians is visible throughout the Constitution. Those who crafted our constitution wanted elected politicians (President, VP & MPs) to be subjected to some form of control of the citizenry and the best way they saw to do this is through placing elected politicians under the full control of the membership of political parties that they got elected under.

 

In furtherance of such control by membership of their parties is why we have subsections (k),(l) and (m) of Section 77.

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Sub-sections 77.(k).(l).(m) of Sierra Leone Constitution concerns Tenure of Members of Parliament and they say:

77: A Member of Parliament shall vacate his seat in Parliament if -

k.) he ceases to be a member of the political party of which he was a member at the time of his election to Parliament and he so informs the Speaker, or the Speaker is so informed by the Leader of that political party; or

l.) by his conduct in Parliament by sitting and voting with members of a different party, the Speaker is satisfied after consultation with the Leader of that Member's party that the Member is no longer a member of the political party under whose symbol he was elected to Parliament; or

m.) being elected to Parliament as an independent candidate, he joins a political party in Parliament

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This form of party control becomes of even more importance for the Presidency. This is why although an MP can be elected as an independent candidate, nobody can ever dream of being elected as President of Sierra Leone if you do not have a party backing your candidacy. The reason is simple. The powerful executive Presidency MUST be under some form of control of the masses; in this case, the Presidency is under the full control of the members of the All Peoples Congress (APC).

 

This is one of the most critical elements in the 1991 Democratic Constitution; the ability for the sitting President to be under some control by his party's membership. Democracy means “Of The People; For The People & By The People!” Clearly, democratic tenets come in many forms. Those who crafted our constitution gave the POWER to control the Presidency to the people of the political party which elected the Presidency.

 

Without any gainsaying, I insist that is the reason why the requirement of Section 41(1)(b) is obviously a continuous requirement and NOT a one-off requirement as my highly learned and hugely respected Dr. Abdulai Conteh would want us to believe. I have so much fondness and huge personal respect for Dr. Conteh, my versatile senior APC Comrade but this layman strongly disagrees with him that Section 41(1)(b) is not a continuous requirement.

 

I want to humbly and with utmost respect put it that every single qualification listed down in Section 41 is a continuous one. For example, Section 41(1)(a) requires you to be a citizen. So should a sitting Vice-President denounce his citizenship AFTER he gets elected, he automatically is no longer our Vice-President. Simple. No need to go to Parliament for that. The position is now automatically VACANT. Same with when you lose membership of the party under which you were elected. It is automatic. You are no longer Vice-President! No need to go to Parliament for that.

 

To those saying the President should have waited 30 days for the VP to file an appeal, let me just say that all court judgments are subjected to appeals but unless the Judge suspends the sentence with a leave to appeal, an offender sentenced to jail immediately starts serving sentence. If not, those sentenced will refuse to go to jail saying they are not going to start their sentences until their appeals are heard. That was a most illogical argument from the so-called ‘Accountability & Rule of Law’ Center.

 

I also want to say that the concept of Supreme Executive Authority is not an arbitrary one neither a literal waste of space on pages of written Constitution. Not at all. Every single word included in the Constitution was included for a purpose. To imagine otherwise to suit our contemporary purposes is unfortunate.

 

To the former Vice-President, Chief Sam-Sumana and his lawyers, my advise will be that just like was done when the SLPP's President Tejan Kabbah (may his blessed soul rest in peace) was accused of bastardising the Constitution in 2002, when he refused to send his Justice Minister for parliamentary approval, I am very hopeful that you will indeed take this matter to Supreme Court for an interpretation. In 2002, those who accused Tejan Kabbah of abusing the Constitution, went to Supreme Court and the late President was proven as having done the constitutional thing. So, I want this case taken to Supreme Court because I am very confident that my arguments will hold sway. Though the governing structures of Sierra Leone & South Africa are different, the manner in which President Thabo Mbeki lost his position as President of South Africa is an interesting case example to read up on.

 

So taking the matter for Supreme Court interpretation is all good and outcome will set a precedent and will surely strengthen our democratic credentials. But just like SLPP’s Kabbah did not wait for Supreme Court when he started using a Justice Minister not approved by Parliament, so also should President Koroma not wait for those threatening to go to Supreme Court before he appoints a new Vice-President.

 

To end, let me reiterate two points. First, since the moment the former Vice-President was expelled, he lost the ability to be controlled by the APC.  Second, the Constitution clearly does not want a President, a Vice-President or Party Parliamentarian who cannot be subjected to control of the political party under which he or she was elected. That is why we now have our new Vice-President who is a bonafide member of the APC. May the Almighty guide the Honourable Vice-President Victor Bockarie Foh as he goes about his duties in the executive arm of Government. Amen.

 

Readers can feel free to SHARE these thoughts of mine. I stand solidly by them.

 

Dr. Sylvia Olayinka Blyden

United States of America

Thursday 19th March 2015.


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