From Awareness Times Newspaper in Freetown

NOTICES & DOCUMENTS
Presentation By SLPP’s John Oponjo Benjamin To U.N. Sec-Gen Ban Ki Moon
By
Jun 16, 2010, 17:12

Your Excellency, Mr. Ban Ki-Moon,
Secretary-General, United Nations
Executive Representative of the Secretary-General
Other Members of the Diplomatic Community
Colleagues of other Political Parties
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen

1. Welcome

On behalf of the national executive and entire membership of the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), let me welcome you to Sierra Leone and thank you for extending invitation to our Party to meet with you and your team.


Your Excellency, the SLPP is pleased to note that the peace and stability the last administration worked so hard to establish in a honest and committed manner, with the help of the United Nations and other development partners, is still here notwithstanding critical challenges.  


We all could recall that on two occasions during the last SLPP administration, between 2002 and 2007, the Secretary-General of the United Nations visited Sierra Leone to follow up on the previous Government’s progress towards peace building in Sierra Leone. Your Excellency, this third visit to our country by the UN Secretary-General in less than 10 years is a manifestation of how much interest the United Nations has for Sierra Leone. We are much pleased about your visit at a time we are consolidating peace.


2. Appreciation

The Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) would like to extend appreciation to you for the invaluable role of the United Nations in peace building, humanitarian assistance, national reconstruction, peace consolidation and development in Sierra Leone.

We are also cognisant of the role of the United Nations as the principal moral guarantor of the Lome Peace Accord. The opening of the United Nations Mission to Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL), the subsequent deployment of 17,500 troops (the largest UN troops then), the supreme sacrifice by 193 UN Peace Keepers from 26 countries, the disarmament and demobilization of over 70,000 fighters, support to our reintegration efforts and undeniably, the strong political commitment from the SLPP administration which all helped to end the 11- year brutal conflict in Sierra Leone and eventually the establishment of peace.     


Through the United Nations Office for Peace Building in Sierra Leone (UNOPSIL) and now the United Nations Integrated Office for Peace Building in Sierra Leone (UNIPSIL), the United Nations has made remarkable efforts to consolidate the peace in Sierra Leone. In particular, UNIPSIL has mobilised other donors to contribute to the Peace Building Fund. Additionally, UNIPSIL is in constant engagement with Political Parties and political institutions on peace consolidation and promoting democracy. In 2009, UNIPSIL facilitated the negotiation and signing of the Joint Communiqué by the ruling All Peoples Congress (APC) and our Party, the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP). Further, through other agencies, the United Nations continues to support our development efforts in almost all sectors.


Your Excellency, we would like to thank your team led by Michael Von der Schulenburg, Executive Representative of the Secretary-General for his fortitude, serenity and valor in implementing the mandate of the United Nations. 


3. Joint Communiqué

Your Excellency let me now come to the Joint Peace Communiqué signed with the ruling Party on April 2, 2009 following the fourth attack on our Party Headquarters on March 16, 2009 during which some of our female members were raped and others physically assaulted.

(a) Commission of Inquiry and Forensic Facility

Among other things, the Communiqué provided for the establishment of an Independent Commission of Inquiry to investigate allegations of rape and sexual violence against our women. The Commission completed its work and reported its findings to Government.  Your Excellency, the SLPP finds the contents of the report inadequate and incredible because it established physical assault and maltreatment of our women and yet failed to state whether there was rape. According to the report, rape could not be established because of lack of forensic testing facility in the country. Your Excellency, since then, rape has been on the increase in several parts of the country and in almost all cases, the courts cannot confirm the truth because of lack of this facility, therefore perpetrators of this heinous crime which brings indignity to our women have gone unpunished. It is therefore imperative that we provide forensic testing facility in the country to scientifically verify the several reported cases of rape.         

(b) Independent Review Panel 

Your Excellency, the Communiqué furthermore provided for the establishment of an Independent Review Panel to investigate the incidents of political violence in various parts of the country in the month of March 2009. After nearly a year after the Communiqué was signed, the Panel started work only in February 2010 and was to last for six weeks. Several of our members testified in February and March 2010. We note with dismay that the Panel is yet to make public its findings. 

(c) Independent Police Complaints Board

Your Excellency, in the Joint Communiqué, all parties agreed on the important role of the Sierra Leone Police in upholding the rule of law and maintaining peace and security throughout our country. We therefore agreed for the establishment of an Independent Police Complaints Board. This board is supposed to be independent and should address excesses and human rights abuse by the Sierra Leone Police. We are also disappointed that for over a year now, nothing is heard of this Board. We would like to urge the Government through your good office to speed up the establishment of this Board independent of the Office of the Ombudsman.

(d) Youth unemployment 

Your Excellency, the Sierra Leone People’s Party considers the growing youth unemployment not only a human development issue but a high security risk. Both Parties agreed in the Joint Communiqué to develop a bi-partisan approach to overcome youth unemployment and to work together in implementing various programmes that benefit Sierra Leone’s young men and women from an idle into a productive force of society. We are looking forward to working with the Government and our development partners to fight mass youth unemployment. We therefore call on the family of the United Nations to support the Government and people of Sierra Leone in tackling this issue with a view to providing sustainable livelihood support to the hundreds of thousands of our youths.

(e) Consultations for Confidence Building

Your Excellency, there are provisions in the national constitution and the Joint Communiqué for consultations between the ruling Party and the Opposition on the nominations of persons to democratic institutions. The spirit for this is for consensus building and confidence building. We are very much concerned that consultation with us here has only been merely for information and not consensus building. For instance, recently, we raised some concerns about the appointment of a Commissioner (East) and the re-appointment of the Chairperson, both of the National Electoral Commission. We are disappointed to report that that the President directed Parliament to approve the Commissioner (East) without respect for our opinion. In a similar manner, we are disappointed to learn that, the appointment of the Chairperson has been sent to Parliament for approval without further discussion on the matter or regard for our view as a Political Party. In spite of protest from SLPP Members of Parliament on the Appointment Committee on procedural grounds, we are reliably informed that the nominee was forced through the Appointment Committee. In a similar circumstance, during the last SLPP administration, the then Opposition APC rejected the President’s appointee for the same position. In deference of the Opposition’s opinion, another person was appointed.


Your Excellency, we would like to remind you that the success of multi-party democracy is greatly dependent on the effective performance of the ruling and the Opposition Parties. We would like to appeal to the United Nations to act on time to ensure that democracy is not used to destroy democracy. It is incumbent on the Government to take on board the concerns and views of the Opposition Parties which may be the voice of the silent majority.

(f) Independent National Broadcaster       

Your Excellency, the Communiqué also provided for the transformation of the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service (SLBS) to the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC), as an independent national broadcaster. This led to the banning of our Party’s radio station. We are pleased to note that the change of name of the institution has been effected.

We heartily congratulate you for formally handing over the equipment of the UN Radio to the newly established Corporation.

Your Excellency, we hope that as soon as the board is established and becomes functional, a level playing field will be provided for all Political Parties in the use of this service.


4. Proposed Inquest 

On Thursday May 27, 2010, the Minister of Information and Communication during Government’s weekly press briefing, informed the public of Government’s decision to investigate the extra judicial executions of former Inspector General of the Sierra Leone Police (Bambay Kamara) and 28 others during the military regime of the National Provisional Ruling Council in 1992.


Your Excellency, the Sierra Leone People’s Party strongly condemns human right abuse in all its forms and firmly believes in the observance of the rule of law and justice for all. During the war period (1991-2002), there were several cases of abuse of human rights. All these were extensively addressed by the United Nations (UN) backed Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission ((TRC).  The Lome Peace Accord signed in 1999 granted amnesty and pardon to all for all forms of human rights abuses. This was domesticated into our laws as the Lome Peace Agreement (Ratification) Act No. 3 of 1999.


Your Excellency, there are officers in the current Military who served the then military regime and have been doing so professionally since the end of the war and the advent of democracy. This could be provocative with a penchant to stir insecurity and instability once again into an institution that has been reformed to serve and defend our fledgling democracy.


Your Excellency, the proposed Inquest has the potential for further mistrust among us, widening the already polarized country, reversing national reconciliation, undermining national cohesion, peace and stability which the United Nations has invested so much in.


Your Excellency, from the various pronouncements and publications by the Government, it is now clear that the action of Government regarding this matter is not genuine and does not aim at addressing impunity but a political witch-hunt and intimidation of the Opposition.


Your Excellency, we implore you and the rest of the international community to use your good offices to advise Government to do otherwise.


5. Democracy   

Your Excellency, democracy depends on the effectiveness of Political Parties. The capacity of Political Parties should be enhanced and a level playing field created for all Political Parties to function. In our context, Opposition Political Parties do not as of now benefit from capacity building support funded from local and external sources. In the case of the ruling Party, Officials are made to act as advisers to the President or serve in other capacities and paid salaries using donor resources.  Also, the special Diaspora Office created in the Office of the President partly funded by the UN is only a means of compensating members of the APC. During the last administration, we had in place a special programme aimed at attracting Sierra Leonean experts living overseas to come home and serve their country. This Programme was managed by the UNDP and supervised by the Ministry of Development. Your Excellency, with these developments, our Party believes the playing field is not level. The Opposition views this as an indirect support to the ruling Party and hence creating an unlevel playing field for true democracy.     


6. Independence of State Institutions        

Your Excellency, perhaps more disturbing is the continued political interference into the management of state institutions, notably the Police, the Judiciary, the University, Electoral Commission and many others. We have ample evidence of dismissals not in accordance with laid down rules and recruitment at variance with laid down procedures. Your Excellency, I would not like to bother you with the several examples. I will only refer to one such case. Following the assumption of power by the APC, ex-combatants who were involved in gross human rights violations during the 11-year war and in particular during the era of the illegal and unrecognised Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), (May 1997-March 1998) have been recruited into the Police by dictates from State House and are part of the President’s Close Protection Bodyguard. Your Excellency, these bodyguards of the President continue to violate human rights with impunity and bring shame to our country.


7. Support to 2012 Elections

Your Excellency, our party would wish to see the forthcoming elections conducted fairly and transparently with the opposition parties allowed the required political space. Whilst we are preparing for those elections, we wish to express our concern over the National Electoral Commission’s conduct of training for elections officials for which exorbitant charges are being levied which only the political party in power can afford, even though provision is being made for such training by the international community and the UN. This clearly creates an unlevel playing field which is not good for our democracy.


Your Excellency, for Sierra Leone to maintain its success story in the conduct of elections, we wish to request the participation of the UN in the forth-coming elections in a way that would ensure the maintenance of security and free and fair elections since the majority of our citizens have lost confidence in the Sierra Leone Police who even now are depending on the military to oversee the conduct of bye elections.


8. National Unity and Reconciliation

Your Excellency, the patterns of dismissals, appointments, promotions and transfers within the public service are perhaps the single most important factor threatening our democracy, national reconciliation and cohesion. Most of those dismissed from public service are those perceived to be SLPP, largely from the South and East of the Country. Over 80% of the appointments into the Public Service (including cabinet, missions and parastatal) are members of the ruling Party, mostly from the North. I am leaving with you the appointments into major public service by region of origin by the ruling Government and that under the last SLPP administration.


Your Excellency, national characterisation of appointments into Public Office is a needed ingredient for good governance and unity.


Your Excellency, let me remind you that in 1956 you were chosen to read a public message to the then UN Secretary-General, Dag Hammarskjold. In that message, you urged the UN Secretary-General to help the people of the far away Asian country in their fight for Freedom and democracy based on your understanding that indeed the UN was there for help in time of need.  Today, the lot befalls me to ask you on behalf of the people of Sierra Leone, to help our country to consolidate peace and stability for our country.

 

Once again, let me reassure you of our commitment as a responsible Opposition Party to lasting peace in our country, Sierra Leone.


Let me also on behalf of my Party, wish you a safe return to New York.

I thank you.



© Copyright 2005, Freetown, Sierra Leone.