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Sierra Leone Parliament: A Blessing Or A Curse

By Chernor Ojuku Sesay

The citizens of this beleaguered West African nation called Sierra Leone will always remember James Jonah for one thing: the introduction of the Proportional Representation (PR) system in the political set up of this country.

At first, since it was a novelty, the people welcomed it. The reason advanced by Jonah and his cohorts was that the security situation prevailing in the country was not conducive for the conduct of constituency elections. Then, it was just impossible for the potential candidates to enter their proposed constituencies to carry out any effective political campaigning as the rebels were hitting almost anywhere and any time.

The other reason advanced was that the PR system would give a national outlook to the House of Representatives, meaning that the present bulk of parliamentarians will work in the national interest and not only concentrate in advocating for their various constituents and constituencies.

This system has turned out to be a farce, a total failure and a big blunder on Jonah. The present bulk of parliamentarians who accidentally entered the noble House claiming to be representatives of the people are a total mess. They seek their personal interest, that of the ruling government and nothing else.

Taking a keen look at some of the so-called MPs, it is not a surprise to most of us. There are some who had tried unsuccessfully to enter Parliament time without number. The people rejected them. Some were so poor that they could not even boast of living in a decent rental apartment. They had nothing. They were therefore extremely happy to welcome with open hands the PR system. They were seen carrying bags, cleaning shoes and ironing the clothes of the their political leaders for their names to be slotted among the top.

Compare the debates in our Parliament to those of, say, Nigeria. The latter are people to be proud of. We read and heard how the Speaker of the ruling party was kicked out of office despite his party having the majority in the Senate. President Obasanjo is always on his toes and his bills are always thoroughly scrutinised before they are passed. Some are even rejected.

But this is not the case in Sierra Leone. All government bills are rubber stamped. One can’t imagine this Parliament having rejected Dr. Sama Banya when he was first nominated member of the Lotto Board of Directors and approving the same Sama Banya as Minister of Foreign Affairs. The same Parliament approved an Electoral Commissioner who conducted their elections for a ministerial post, kicking aside the constitution. The same parliament approved rebels as ministers. The same parliament approved a budget which failed to include elections’ expenditure. The same Parliament jailed a journalist for criticizing them but failed to bring to book a colleague of theirs who was exposed for demanding bribes.

The same Parliamentarians can stand up to condemn other Heads of State but cannot condemn theirs for assuring the people that the war will end in December 31, 1998 just for the rebels to occupy Parliament building on January 6,1999. The same Parliament cannot question the president why he lied that the RUF rebels had handed over all UNAMSIL weapons last year at the opening of the Sierra Leone Commercial Bank Branch along Congo Cross, just for the same rebels to keep handing over carcasses at intervals.

The list of the ineptitude of these parliamentarians is endless. Go to the offices of cabinet ministers and see how MPs keep flocking there, begging for a bag of rice or cash. This is disgraceful.

Some of our MPs have no ethics. No principles. They’ve dumped everything at Bormeh, eking out a living.

I am yet to believe that Hon. Osman Kamara of PDP Sorbeh will accept the post of Minister of Lands, Housing and Country Planning in the next cabinet reshuffle as it is widely rumoured. If indeed the rumour comes to reality, then I know President Kabbah is a master in rendering useless his political opponents. That ministry marked the downfall of Abdul Rahman Kamara and Haja Hafsatu Kabbah, all of PDP-Sorbeh. So Hon. Osman Kamara is the next victim.

What was more disheartening and frustrating was the speed the MPs took to pass the bill extending the life of this government to six months. If MPs passed the bill with no reference to the ordinary people who they purport to represent, I wonder the kind of representatives they are. They consider themselves hoity-toity to the people who voted them in. They don’t care what the people might feel or say as long as it is to their advantage. The views of the people are not necessary, but the same people are important when it comes to mobilising them to face the bullets of rebels and soldiers. This is a shame to the MPs and a big disappointment. May God rescue this nation.


The Special Court For Sierra Leone

There is an age-long belief that man should bear the cross of his activities, whether good or bad. This simply means that people are responsible for their own actions; so they should bear the consequences.

When the talk about establishing a special court for this country to try all those who committed serious crimes against their fellow human beings, hell was let loose. As expected, some people voiced out their reservations about such a court when the war is still on.

Others believe both could go together: trying those that are already in detention and disarming those in the bush. For the former, they believe that it is both inconceivable and preposterous to be talking about disarmament and court trial at the same time.

One of the voices that have expressed such reservations is that of the Chairman for the Commission for the Consolidation of Peace, Johnny Paul Koroma. He made it categorically clear that the two things may and cannot work in this present situation. He therefore asked the government and the United Nations to put on hold discussions about the establishment of the Special Court.

We as a press lend our support to the CCP Chairman’s suggestion. We cannot really fathom the idea behind the bringing to trial just a few RUF big guns now in detention while the most dangerous and deadliest are still wielding guns, machetes and other dangerous weapons right in the faces of our people.

We believe things should be done in an orderly manner and not in the haphazard way the government and the international community, especially Britain, want to do them. At this point in time, our priority should be the disarming of all combatants, be they RUF, kapras, gbethis or kamajors, so that Sierra Leone will once again be a gun-free nation.

We do not want to know what happens afterwards as long as there is peace. The government can go ahead and try the whole lot of them as long as our people can go back to their towns and villages and do their work.

But it seems as if the government has what is called “misplaced priorities" on its plate. We are not saying that the culprits should not be brought to book. No, far from that, as peace and reconciliation without justice are meaningless. We are merely saying: “Give the people the long-cherished peace first, and later try those responsible for their miseries". But if the government decides to put the cart before the horse, then we will definitely go nowhere. Those in the bush may be reluctant to surrender their weapons for fear of prosecution.

We are therefore joining the call for the suspension of discussions on establishing a Special Court until all combatants are disarmed.

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