By Fatmata Jengbe
On Thursday 14 November 2019 Sierra Leone’s Parliament debated and committed a Bill entitled: “The Electronic Transactions Bill 2019” to the Legislative Committee for consideration and further scrutiny.
The Bill is seeking to provide for the recognition of the legal effect of electronic transactions including electronic signatures; provision for the admissibility of electronic massages in evidence; the validity or enforceability of contracts executed in electronic forms and to provide for other related matters.
Presenting the Bill prior to committal, the Deputy Minister of Information and Communication, Mamadi Gobeh-Kamara highlighted the importance of the Bill relative to courts and business transactions in the country. The Deputy Minister also said that the court would rely on the Bill when enacted into law for the purposes of electronic evidence. She said that the Bill would be divided into six parts, including the legal effect of electronic information and electronic transactions, validity of electronic transactions, consumer protection, and the validity of service providers among others.
In his contribution, Hon. Sheku M. Turay, Deputy Chairman of the Committee on Information and Communication in Parliament welcomed the initiative of the Government aimed at reforming businesses and the court system in respect of electronic transactions; adding that “it is non-controversial”, as other countries like Nepal, Tanzania and Uganda had passed it into law.
Hon. Hindolo M. Gevao of SLPP commended the Bill and said that it would permit lawyers for the first time to use electronic evidence in court. He went on to underscore that, the Act would make room for lawyers to print evidence from social media in electronic form and use it as evidence in the court of law. “It is a new dawn for Sierra Leone,” he stated. He acknowledged that the Bill would add value to the justice system.
Hon. Joseph Williams-Lamin of SLPP said that the Bill would further strengthen the country’s status in the global village in light of creating a positive difference in every electronic transaction in Sierra Leone.
Hon. Abdul Karim Kamara of APC reiterated that, the Bill “is non-controversial”, whilst calling on NATCOM and the Ministry of Information and Communication to further institute strict regulations on how sim-cards are sold relative to effective registration and other uses. He also informed the House that the telecommunication system is not accurate and advised that the telecommunication operators are to ensure that sim-cards are sold at specific points; instead of selling them at random places.
Hon. Abdul Latiff Sesay of APC called on compatriots to brace up for such novelty in the communication system, whilst suggesting that the system must have the requisite professional security to access signatures and to detect the authenticity of such signatures. He also advised the Ministry to empower SALCAB in order to conform to the new trend.
Hon. Sahr Charles of C4C spoke about people who had been victims of electronic fraud and urged the authorities concern to put modalities in place to punish law breakers. He also admonished the authorities not to use the law wrongly against the masses.
Reacting to the Bill, the Rt. Hon. Speaker, Dr. Abass Chernor Bundu raised concerns that the Bill has not made provisions for penalties for scammers who might want to take advantage of the situation. “Before now there were no scammers but now they are now in control of the cyber space”, adding that the Ministry of Information and Communication should swiftly ponder on what penalty should be levied on scammers. He also underscored the point that the Bill “is good” and that it would address certain lacunae in the current court system relative to electronic transactions once approved.
The Opposition Whip, Hon. Hassan Sesay speaking as the Acting Leader of the Opposition said that the Bill was overdue for enactment, and described it as “non-controversial”, whilst assuring the Deputy Minister of their support. He also supported the position of other MPs for another Bill to be brought to Parliament to address issues relating to cyber security, before calling for a committal of the Bill for further scrutiny.
In concluding the debate, the Leader of Government Business, Hon. Sidie M. Tunis commended the MPs for their brilliant contributions and reiterated the point that the Bill “is non-controversial” and that it would protect consumers who are involved in electronic transactions. He pleaded for the Bill not to be sent to the Legislative Committee because it has been deemed “non-controversial”, and urged the Ministry of Information and Communication to later furnish the House with a Cyber Security Bill in the next three months.
Responding to the debate, the Minister promised that a Cyber Security Bill would be brought to Parliament for enactment, adding that concerns raised by MPs would be addressed by the relevant MDAs of Government.