8 civil society groups in Sierra Leone say VP removal unconstitutional
Civil Society Calls on his Excellency the President to follow Due Process
Freetown, 19th March 2015: We, the undersigned organisations working to promote accountable governance in Sierra Leone, have seen a press release from the Office of the President issued on Tuesday March 17th, 2015 stating that the Vice President has been relieved of his duties.
According to the press release, the Vice President was relieved of his position for having “sought asylum from a foreign embassy, demonstrating willingness to abandon his duties and office as Vice President”, and that he no longer belonged to a political party. The press release from State House further states that the President has relied mainly on Section 40 (1) of the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone to remove the Vice President from his position.
In light of the above, we hereby make our position on this matter as follows.
- It is clear that Section 41 does not apply to the executive branch. Section 51 specifically lays out the procedure for removing a president or vice president. This is clearly the intention of the constitution, and also the specifics. A parliamentarian vacates his office when he ceases to be a member of the party that elected him/her. A different procedure is laid out for President and Vice President and that must govern. Indeed, Section 41 does not expressly state that membership of a political party must be a continuous requirement for a sitting Vice President to remain in office. This therefore makes the decision of the president inconsistent with the constitution.
- Sections 50 and 51 of the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone give directions on how to remove a sitting president, the same which goes for the vice-president, and these sections stipulate only for mental and physical incapacity and misconduct, none of which was the reason for the President’s decision. Whether or not the Vice President was removed based on any of these grounds or on the grounds of his lack of continuous membership of a political party, we believe that he should have been allowed to use the option open to him of challenging the decision to expel him from his party within 30 days as provided for by the Constitution of the ruling party to which he had belonged.
- While we agree that the President carries immense executive authority in the state, we however believe that the removal of a sitting Vice President is a constitutional matter and should not be dictated by a single official of the state, or be influenced by the activities or a state of affairs within any political party. Section 5 of our Constitution makes it clear that
sovereignty belongs to the people of Sierra Leone from whom government through the constitution derives all its powers, authority and legitimacy. We urge the President, the guardian of the constitution, to fully respect its provisions.
- There is a potential unintended consequence to using Section 41 to remove the Vice President, and that is establishing a precedent whereby a party can disown a sitting president or vice-president and force one or both from office. That is clearly not the intention of the constitution.
- There are examples on the continent, including South Sudan, where the controversial dismissal of the Vice President by the President has led to political instability. Sierra Leone has made significant progress in consolidating peace and democracy since the end of our brutal civil conflict, and everyone has a responsibility to ensure that the foundation of democracy and stability – including respect for rule of law and due process – is enhanced.
We believe that this decision is not consistent with the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone. We therefore call on His Excellency the President to reverse the decision relieving the Vice-President of his position and seek the due process of law. The 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone is the supreme law of the land and should be correctly followed in all aspects of governance and in all matters relating to the use of public office or authority. We wish to emphasize that we are more concerned about the process rather than the outcome.
We urge the President to reverse his decision in order to ease the rising tension this action has generated. Whilst, we plead with the public to remain calm as we embark on a nationwide consultation with the masses to seek a peaceful resolution.
Advocacy Movement Network (AMNET)
Campaign for Good Governance (CGG)
Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law (CARL)
Centre for the Coordination of Youth Activities (CCYA) Institute of Governance Reform (IGR)
National Election Watch (NEW)
Network Movement for Justice and Development (NMJD) Network movement for Democracy and Human Rights (NMDHR) Society for Democratic Initiatives (SDI)
West African Civil Society Forum National Platform Sierra Leone Chapter (WACSOF)