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Sierra Leone Parliament Amends Anomaly within 1991 Constitution: President will Assent to Speaker Bill
By Mohamed Azonto Kamara
Nov 20, 2013, 17:22

“A Judge can still become Speaker of Parliament but let him first resign from the Judiciary, contest for elections, win those elections and get elected in to Parliament. Following this, let him then patiently sit and dutifully learn all our parliamentary processes and procedures for a period of five to ten years; Then and only then should such a Judge, having been now tutored, versed and well trained in the ways of Parliament, be qualified to be elected as our Speaker. You see, a Judge is used to giving Orders & expecting his Orders to be instantly obeyed without question. However, MPs are trained to cajole and appeal to colleagues to see their own side of things.”

Hon Ibrahim Bundu (Deputy Leader)


 

APC Leader Will Assent to Speaker Bill

 

By Mohamed Azonto Kamara

 

On 19th November 2013, the House of Parliament has amended the criteria for who can be elected to be Speaker of Parliament. It can be recalled that a major concern over any 21 year old being eligible for election as Speaker in the initial gazetted constitutional amendment concerning criteria for Speaker of Parliament, had been explained as a printer’s error.That expressed concern raised brought about the discovery that there in fact, had been a major loophole in the 1991 Constitution we had been using.

 

The Speaker of Parliament is second in line, after the Honourable Vice-president, to succeed the President.This means the Speaker can act as President of Sierra Leone if the President and VP are both unable to do so. This is where the 1991 Constitution had a shortfall. The 1991 Constitution had said any lawyer with just ten years experience at the Bar (i.e: eligible to be High Court Judge), can be elected as Speaker.This means someone in their thirties who had spent only ten years at the Bar, is automatically qualified to be Speaker.

 

However, the same 1991 Constitution had said you can only be qualified to act as President if you are past 40 years. Fortunately, the members of parliament have now corrected that significant error by including that before you can be Speaker, you should have first attained age of 40 years. I must commend the MPs for listening to our concerns.

 

Furthermore, another lacunae in the 1991 Constitution was that you cannot be qualified to act as president unless you first belonged to a political party. Both Speaker Cowan and Speaker Stronge have acted as President without being party members. That anomaly has also been now rectified. Basically, you can no longer be a Speaker if you do not belong to a political party.

 

Another concern raised was that a Speaker presiding over the making of laws, should be legally minded. In response, MPs have explained that Parliament, even with a legally minded Speaker, still relies on lawyers from Law Officers Department of the Executive Arm of Government to draft, peruse and advise on bills to be passed into law. MPs also say the enacted Parliamentary Service Commission will have the Directorate of Legal affairs to now look into legal issues surrounding the drafting of laws independent of Executive arm of government. At the time the 1991 Constitution was being drafted, there was no Parliamentary Service Commission in existence.

 

Now, I note some unfortunate comments especially a learned lawyer, Emmanuel Saffa Abdulai Esq. He condemns the amendment passed yesterday and says: “Parliament cannot take upon itself to amend such an important section of our constitution…”

 

It is clear that Emmanuel Saffa Abdulai Esq. oversighted Section 108 of the Sierra Leone Constitution which says Parliament CAN take upon itself to amend ANY section of the constitution that is not an entrenched section.

 

Section 108 deals with Alterations of the Constitution (i.e: how the Constitution can be amended). It tells you the sections that CAN be amended by Parliament without needing to go to a national referendum and also tells you the sacrosanct sections that are basically UNTOUCHABLE by MPs alone and which can only be amended if citizens vote for it to be amended at a national referendum conducted by Electoral Commission. The UNTOUCHABLE sections are what are described as the “entrenched” sections. They are as follows:

 

(a). Section 108 itself

(b). The entire Chapter III (Human Rights Sections)

(c). Sections 46, 56, 72, 73, 74(2), 74(3), 84(2), 85, 87, 105, 110-119, 120, 121, 122, 123, 124, 128, 129, 131, 132, 133, 135, 136, 137, 140, 151, 156, 167.

 

Now, the two Sections that have been amended yesterday are Sections 79 and 80. Both of them do not fall within any of the aforementioned enshrined and untouchable sections. As long as a minimum of two thirds of elected MPs voted for those two sections of the Constitution to be amended, it has been amended.The amendment is only now waiting for His Excellency the President to assent to it.

 

I do note the call by some civil society organisations calling on the President to refuse to assent to the Act.Well, there were at least 100 Parliamentarians (APC and SLPP) who unanimously passed that Bill. So why will the President get himself on a collision course with elected MPs?

 

And there is Section 106.(8) which makes it rather futile for the President to try to block this particular Amendment Act. That section basically says that if the President refuses to assent to a bill passed by Parliament, the MPs can force the bill into law all on their own WITHOUT PRESIDENTIAL ASSENT by simply re-voting on it and if at least 2/3rds of elected MPs vote again in favour of the Bill, then the bill is automatically passed into Law - with or without the assent of the President!

 

So why will the President risk his good relationship with the MPs by engaging in such futility of refusing to assent to the Bill? Afterall, criteria for Speaker are NOT entrenched provisions.

 

Frankly speaking, The APC Leader has no option but to assent to this Bill; especially as it has rectified two anomalies in the 1991 Constitution (age limit and membership of a political party). I held a different view before I spoke to Honourable Ibrahim Bundu but I have now changed my mind and agree with the need to amend the Constitutional criteria for Speaker. Only a fool does not change his mind and this writer is not a fool.

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For Reference Purposes, here is what Section 106.(7) and 106.(8) say:

106.(7) Where a Bill has been passed by Parliament but the President refuses to sign it, the President shall within fourteen days of the presentation of the Bill for his signature cause the unsigned Bill to be returned to Parliament giving reasons for his refusal.

106.(8) Where a Bill is returned to Parliament pursuant

to subsection 106.(7) and that Bill is thereafter passed by the votes of not less than two-thirds of the Members of Parliament, it shall immediately become law and the Speaker shall thereupon cause it to be published in the Gazette.



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