By Foday Moriba Conteh
In a recent development, the leadership of the All People’s Congress (APC) Party has in a Press Statement, dated 6th September, 2023, voiced serious concerns related to the purported Constitutional Review process of the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone, initiated by the Government of Sierra Leone.
While the APC acknowledges the significance of genuine legal reforms aimed at strengthening democracy in Sierra Leone, it however holds the view that the current environment is fraught with a profound lack of trust and a highly polarized political climate, making it unsuitable for such a crucial undertaking.
The APC leadership characterizes the aforementioned constitutional review process as a deliberate and heartless attempt by the regime to incite a constitutional crisis, thereby endangering the peace and security of the State. In that light, the Party strongly condemns the action and urges the Government to immediately halt the process.
The situation surrounding the Constitutional Review process remains a matter of deep concern and its implications for the future of Sierra Leone’s democracy are being closely watched by political observers and citizens alike.
In another development, Basita Michael, a prominent female lawyer in Sierra Leone, former President of the Sierra Leone Bar Association, and Founder and Governing Officer of the Institute for Legal Research and Advocacy for Justice (ILRAJ), has voiced her deep concerns regarding the ongoing constitutional review process in the country.
In a statement, Basita Michael expressed her appreciation for the necessity of revising the 1991 constitution but emphasized that the current circumstances are far from conducive to meaningful reform.
Sierra Leone currently faces a plethora of pressing challenges that cast doubt on the prospects of a fair and transparent constitutional review. These challenges include frequent and systematic violations of fundamental rights and liberties, a lack of transparency in the electoral process, and a growing perception that the Judiciary lacks the necessary independence to uphold the rule of law.
Against this disconcerting backdrop, Basita Michael’s concerns revolve around the potential exploitation of the constitutional review process by the incumbent Government to further solidify its hold on power.
Furthermore, the Government’s nearly two-thirds majority in Parliament grants it an exceptional advantage within the constitutional review process, enabling it to push through constitutional amendments without the checks and balances that a robust opposition presence would provide. This raises serious questions about the fairness and inclusivity of the process.
Another worrisome aspect of the ongoing review process is the role of the Electoral Commission for Sierra Leone (ECSL). The ECSL has faced allegations of opacity and bias in recent elections, eroding public trust in the institution. Consequently, there is a legitimate question as to whether the ECSL can be entrusted to conduct a genuinely fair and unbiased referendum on any proposed constitutional changes.
Taking into account these multifaceted concerns, Basita Michael strongly contends that the current constitutional review process does not serve the best interests of the Sierra Leonean populace.
She earnestly implores the Government to exercise prudence and consider postponing the endeavor until a more favorable political and social climate emerges.
The process, she asserts, should prioritize inclusivity and fairness, with the aim of crafting a new constitution that benefits all Sierra Leoneans, rather than serving the interests of a single political party. A constitution of such significance, she argues, should be a unifying force, not a divisive one.