Sierra Leone Citizens’ response to threats by majority leader in Parliament

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Press Release from the Citizens’ Campaign for Acountability and Justice on the growing threats to civil liberties and accountability in the wake of the audit of Ebola funds. Most especially comments and threats made by the Parliament’s majority leader, Honorable Ibrahim Bundu.

Freetown- 19th February, 2015.

We note with grave concern the pronouncements of some Members of Parliament prohibiting public debates in the media with regards the Auditor-General’s Report on the management of the Ebola funds.

We wish to draw Parliament’s attention to the fact that the Standing Order (SO) 75 is to preserve the integrity of proceedings in Parliament and not to restrict the people’s constitutional and human rights; and that SO 75 does not in any way supersede constitutional provisions as the Constitution is the supreme law of the land from which Parliament and the Executive derive their powers.

We therefore hold the view that the interpretation of SO 75 by some Members of Parliament is flawed and arbitrary and amounts to an attempt to silence the people’s right to freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

In view of the above, we wish to refer to the 1991 Sierra Leone Constitution which protects freedom of expression and the press. Section 25. (1) states that:

Except with his own consent, no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment of his freedom of expression, and for the purpose of this section the said freedom includes the freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference, freedom from interference with his correspondence, freedom to own, establish and operate any medium for the dissemination of information, ideas and opinions, and academic freedom in institutions of learning.

We also wish to draw the attention of Members of Parliament to the fact that Sierra Leone’s Constitution is one of few in the world that obligates the mass media to promote accountability and responsibility in governance. Section 11 expressly states that:

The press, radio and television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this Constitution and highlight the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people

We would further like to refer to the following provisions contained in Chapter 2 of the Constitution – Fundamental Principles of State Policy. Chapter 2 starts with Section 4 which states that:

All organs of government and all authorities and persons exercising legislative, executive or judicial powers shall conform to, observe and apply the provisions of this Chapter.

Some of the key provisions that Section 4 is referring to include the following:

Section 5 which states: (1) The Republic of Sierra Leone shall be a State based on the principles of Freedom, Democracy and Justice. (2) It is accordingly declared that —a. sovereignty belongs to the people of Sierra Leone from whom government through this constitution derives all its powers, authority and legitimacy. Section 6(5) states that [t]he State shall take all steps to eradicate all corrupt practices and the abuse of power.

The cumulative effect of the above provisions is that the Government –the Executive, the Legislature and Judiciary must observe the principles of Freedom, Democracy and Justice in the administration of the day to day affairs of the state and must prevent corruption and abuse of power.

It is therefore very clear that the pronouncements of some Members of Parliament which includes threats against media reporting on issues arising out of the Auditor-General’s Report on the management of Ebola funds, are in contravention of the above constitutional provisions.

In light of the above, we strongly condemn the statements by the Honorable Ibrahim Bundu in a recent radio interview in which he attempted to construct Section 119 of the Constitution in a manner that will prevent the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) and other bodies from acting on the matters raised by the Auditor-general’s report.

Honorable Bundu maintained that the report is the “property of Parliament” and the ACC does not have the mandate to conduct a parallel investigation. Such an interpretation is not only flawed but has the potential to undermine the Chapter 2 provisions outlined above. Section 119 states:

(4) The Auditor-General shall, within twelve months of the end of the immediately preceding financial year, submit his report to Parliament and shall in that report draw attention to any irregularities in the accounts audited and to any other matter which in his opinion ought to be brought to the notice of Parliament.

(5) Parliament shall debate the report of the Auditor-General and appoint where necessary in the public interest a committee to deal with any matters arising therefrom. Section 119 does not in any way exclude or prevent the ACC and other bodies from conducting a parallel investigation.

In his radio interview Honorable Bundu stated that since ACC was created by parliament it is therefore subject to control by parliament. We would like to remind all Sierra Leoneans that the ACC is not a parliamentary committee but an independent body responsible for the prevention, investigation, prosecution and punishment of corruption and corrupt practices.

We would like to further remind our parliamentarians that Sierra Leone has signed and ratified several international human rights instruments/treaties that protect freedom of speech. For example, both Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and Article 9 of The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights Article (ACHPR) expressly guarantee freedom of speech. As a signatory to these treaties, Sierra Leone is under obligation to respect the provision of such treaties and to not undertake any action that undermines the objects and purpose of such treaties.

Article 27 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties clearly states that “[a] party may not invoke the provisions of its internal law as a justification for its failure to perform a treaty”. This simply means that Members of Parliament cannot use Acts or Rules of Parliament to undermine Sierra Leone’s international obligations.

As citizens, we are concerned about the misuse and lack of accountability of our national resources and so we will continue to hold debates and discussions on this issue.

Finally, we take this opportunity to encourage all Sierra Leoneans to work within the ambit of the law but also ensure that all state institutions charged with oversight responsibilities be allowed to discharge such responsibilities in the interest of all Sierra Leoneans and that those found wanting be made to face the full penalty of the law.

Signed:

NAMES OF CAMPAIGNERS

Mrs. Memunatu Pratt

Amadu Lamarana Bah

Valnora Edwin

Sirajin Rollings-Kamara

Amasara Jalloh

Adams Bangura

Ahmed Sahid Nasralla

Abu Bakarr Turay Esq

Abu Bakarr Kamara

Murtala Mohamed Kamara

Sheriff Mahmud Ismail

Andrew Lavalie

Abu Bakarr Orkailkail Bangura Esq

Bockarie Sama Banya

Asmaa James

Jeneba Sesay

Emmanuel
Saffa Abdulai Esq

Lawrence Spencer-Coker

Ibrahim Tommy

Dr. Omodele Jones

Prof. Dr. Jimmy Kandeh

Marcella Samba Sesay

Joe Rahall

Mamadi Gobeh Kamara

Abdul Rahman Jalloh

Saffiatu Sheriff

CONTACT Amadu Lamarana Bah
citizenscampaignsl@gmail.com
+23276560068