SIERRA LEONE: OPPOSITION MP QUESTIONS LEGITIMACY OF COVID-19 MEASURES

Posted on  May 29, 2020  by  Pnafrica

The Coalitions for Change (C4C) political party started as a movement in the year 2016 and was formally established as a political party in December, 2018, three months ahead of Sierra Leone's March, 2018 general elections. 

This came following the expulsion of the C4C party Presidential candidate, Alhaji Chief Abubakarr Sidikie Sam Sumana from the then ruling All People's Congress (APC) party.

Sumana was the democratically elected Vice President of Sierra Leone until his controversial sacking by former President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma in 2016. Dr. Koroma is still serving as the Leader and Chairman of the now main opposition APC party. 

The C4C party has been described as the fastest growing political party having won the swing District of Kono in the eastern province of Sierra Leone. 

At present, the C4C controls the Kono District Council, having clinched the Mayoral seat, thirty nine out of forty-one Council seats and Eight Members of Parliament seats in the current Fifth Parliament of the Second Republic of Sierra Leone.

 

Nearly three years on, the outbreak of COVID-19 has posed some serious and unique political and legal challenges mainly having to do with the legitimacy of some of the current measures being taken by the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) Government albeit the State of Public Emergency (SoPE) approved some two months ago by Parliament.

 

Honorable Sarh Charles, Member of Parliament (MP) Kono District, said his party and other opposition political parties are not comfortable with the prevailing legal climate of COVID-19 actions of the Government.

Speaking in an exclusive interview, Hon. Charles said, "We have a position as a party regarding the current State of Emergency (SoPE)."

He said when the House unanimously enacted the SoPE into law, the House's Leaders convened a press conference in the Chamber of Parliament.

 "The Leaders of all the political parties in Parliament made a request that the rules and regulations as provided for in Section No.29 of the Constitution of Sierra Leone Act No.6 of 1991 be table within two weeks," He said, registering that all of the MPs were bitter and had reservations on why having a twelve month SoPE which members of the public were not happy about saying that a one year SoPE was too long and Parliament should have started with three or six months.

"But we took solace in the fact that it was not the SoPE that we were particular about but the rules and regulations that should be observed during this period," Hon. Charles said.

However, just after Parliament approved a one year SoPE on 26th March, 2020 following its declaration by President Julius Maada Bio under Sections No. 29(3) of the Constitution of Sierra Leone Act No.6 of 1991, the Government declared the first phase of three days (5th - 7th March, 2020) national lockdown that coincided with the adjourned date (6th March, 2020) of the plenary sitting, thus the House could not meet.

 

After the three days lockdown, the Clerk of Parliament Hon. Paran Tarawally announced an indefinite suspension of all sittings of Parliament which angered the opposition Leaders of Parliament who said that it was not done in consultation and the Clerk had no such mandate. 

Apparently, the Government also declared a two weeks inter district lockdown which has since been extended until further notice. A raft of other measures have been instituted.

"We are seeing series of regulations and measures being put in place that did not come to Parliament for ratification. We did asked the Attorney General and Minister of Justice that we should meet and look at the regulations that should be observed during this coronavirus pandemic. It was agreed that these regulations should be reviewed quarterly, that every three months we should come back and look at the regulations to either tighten or soften them. That was agreed but not followed, these are concerns. Presently we are all under a 9:00pm to 6:00am curfew, we are not against all of these things but what we are saying is that the Government should present these things in the form of regulations to Parliament so that we will look at them holistically and then decide what to do," Hon. Charles said.

 

However, Hon. Matthew S. Nyuma,  Leader of Government Business assured the opposition MPs that the Business Committee of the House will look into the concerns when they meet at the Speaker's Conference Room, but weeks have elapsed with nothing much said or  known about the outcome.

Dr. Priscilla Schwartz Attorney General and Minister of Justice when asked about when she will be laying the SoPE's rules and regulations by a Civil Society Activist Abdul Fatorma just after the first phase of national lockdown told a press conference at State House that there are already existing rules and measures of the SoPE and that they only need to be extended after a three months expiration period. Her statement provoked a furry from Leaders of the APC, NGC and C4C political parties who cited the comments as a variation to what was agreed upon during the ratification of the SoPE. The Attorney General and Minister of Justice has ever since not appeared in Parliament despite being slated on the Order Paper in two occasions to table two government motions for which  she has absent without giving any excuse.

 

Hon. Charles said as MPs they are raising the issues because they do not want to erode their own integrity in the eyes of the electorate whom they have assured that they will not have an open ended SoPE.

 "The rules and regulations are what guides all of us during this period of SoPE and we promised to review these rules after every three months, that has not been done and we owe it to the people of Sierra Leone," He said. The MO from the diamond rich Mono district, Hon. Charles   continued that the new COVID-19 measures being introduced by the Government lacked parliamentary legitimacy because all of the measures are not being presented to Parliament for approval or disapproval.

 

A raft of measures are daily being introduced by the Government with   some making the use of face mask compulsory, inter-district lockdown extended indefinitely, etc.

Asked what fears are there on the part of the opposition political parties if the Government fail to present new measures to Parliament, Hon. Charles said: "if these measures are not presented to Parliament, it is like leaving the President at the mercy of doing what he feels like doing. Every Jack and Jin will introduce their own COVID-19 measures that do not have legitimacy. We want the Government to present the rules to Parliament so that we will agree on what we think will help in the fight against coronavirus."

Sierra Leone's opposition political parties say they will support the President in the fight against coronavirus pandemic but this they will do within the confines of the law.

 

They insists that the legitimacy of every regulations being presently introduced lies within the purview of Parliament and anything to the contrary has a questionable legitimacy. 

Hon. Charles however urged members of the public to exercise patience and reminded the Government that Parliament is still waiting for the holistic regulations.

Asked whether the Sierra Leone Parliament made a mistake to have approved a twelve month SoPE without the rules and regulations, Hon. Charles muffled, strenuously saying that, "I will not look at it as a mistake as such. I will just say we miscalculated a bit, you understand, because we could have looked back and said well we are ready to approve the SoPE but go back and bring the rules and regulations under which the SoPE can operate for the first three months. I believed had we done that, the Executive could have rushed in with the regulations but as it is now, we have declared a twelve month SoPE that has become legal. We all know the powers conferred on the Executive/President through the SoPE."

 

However, the opposition political parties said the President has abused the SoPE arguing that their fears of abuse are not just   mere.

 Hon. Charles said: " Well some of the measures have been abused by the Executive for example the imposition of the curfew, military and police personnel beating people on the streets, forcing people to wear masks, prolong detention of opposition politicians without charges or trials, etc. We know that all these are preventive measures but they must put it in the form of a legislation and present them to Parliament at the end of the day as the constitution demands that is all that we want from them."

The Sierra Leone Parliament stands adjourned without a date (sine die) and there are no signs that the Executive is ready to meet the opposition MPs demand in the second session as the third session is expected to commence on 28th May, 2020.

Generally, there has been public compliance to the COVID-19 measures being instituted by the Government although some quarters of the public are calling for the  relaxing of some of the measures, others have been also calling for  tougher actions as the COVID-19 escalates and the Government  remain attentive to the contrasting views currently being peddle by a divided public opinion.

 

 Story By Melvin Tejan Mansaray

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