By Amin Kef Sesay
Contrary to earlier news making the rounds on different news outlets that Parliament has decided to withdraw the Public Order Act from its table and such has created disillusionment amongst media practitioners in the country, the country’s Ministry of Information and Communications has challenged that assertion.
In a Press Release issued by the Ministry on the 4th June,2020 it was categorically made known its attention has been drawn to the withdrawal of the bill entitled “The Public Order (Amendment) Act, 2019” that was tabled in the Well of Parliament on 14 November 2019.
It furthered that such was only made known to the Ministry through the media by the Leader of Government Business and Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Appointment and Public Service Hon Mathew Nyuma.
According to the Information Ministry, it could be recalled that following the presentation of the aforementioned Bill in the Well of Parliament by the Minister of Information and Communications, Mohamed Swarray, Parliament deferred the debate due to Parliamentary recess
Since its deferment, it continued, the Ministry and its partners have engaged various stakeholders including Parliamentary Oversight Committees, Law Officers Department, Independent Media Commission, SLAJ and its constituent bodies and the general public on the repeal process.
The Ministry reiterated that Government through the Ministry of Information and Communications is firmly committed to repeal process further stating it is firmly committed to repealing Part V of the Public Order Act of 1965 as reaffirmed by His Excellency the President during the State Opening of the Third Session of the Fifth Parliament of the Second Republic of Sierra Leone on the
28th May 2020.
It also maintained that the Ministry is assuring its partners and the general public that the Bill entitled The Public Order (Amendment) Act, 2019′ and the ‘Independent Media Commission Bill 2020’ will soon be tabled before Parliament following the recess.
This latest response by the Ministry of Information came in the wake of what was peddled that the decision to withdraw the Act was communicated to the House by Hon. Matthew Nyuma, who is the Leader of Government Business referencing Parliamentary Standing Orders indicating that a bill should not be laid in Parliament for a specific period of time without a debate on it.
If that was true, it means in simple terms that it was an indication that the House can no longer immediately debate the much anticipated Repeal of the Criminal libel laws.
It could be recalled that during the political campaigns leading to the March 2018 Presidential Elections, President Julius Maada Bio then flagbearer of the Sierra Leone Peoples Party noted on several occasions that journalists were practicing their profession in an environment that was not enabling.
According to the Minister of Information and Communications, Mohamed Rahman Swarray this state of affairs is primarily due to the existence of the 54 year old Criminal and Seditious Libel law of 1965.
“It was a campaign commitment we promised and we have done that. It is only now a matter of time, it is not when or if. In the 54 year history the criminal libel you will soon see its back”
He further noted that the draconian law has created a situation where the profession has not been able to attract the best of brains and the much needed investment. For this reason Government has taken an unprecedented step towards the repeal of the law.
“Because of the state of the criminal libel law of 1965 the journalism profession was not able to attract the best and brightest of minds, except for those of you who have said damn the consequences I am going to be there. But ordinarily it frightens a lot of people to go into shark infested waters”
Minister Swarray pointed out that Government’s action will prove Sierra Leoneans wrong who thought the promise was a lip service, describing the Bio led Government as a “Tok and Do administration”.
“We want to be able to attract much needed investment into the sector, we want to be able to attract the best and brightest minds that is why we have taken the unprecedented historic step to repeal the criminal libel law”
The Information Minister also informed press men that the law has already been gazetted. Prior to the advent of COVID-19 the country’s Information Minister informed press men that his attention is focused on activities that will be rolled out after the repeal process including but not limited to effective public engagement whilst encouraging journalists to practice with the highest standards of professionalism even after the repeal.