Members of the media and civil society representatives were yesterday dumbfounded over what they described as unnecessary maneuvering tactics by Parliament to delay the enactment of the Public Order Amendment Act 2019. The Public Order Amendment Act 2019 was piloted by the Minister of Information, Mohamed Rahman Swaray, and was introduced and read for the first time in the Well of Parliament on Wednesday 18th December 2019. Members of the media including past and present Presidents of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ), Executive and the general membership together with civil society activists were with high hopes waiting the process to go ahead in good faith. This high spirit started fading when the Chairman of the Committee on Finance, Honourable Francis Kaisamba, raised the issue of premature publication, stating that before the completion of an issue at the Committee stage it has already been published and broadcasted. This sparked separate debate among MPs, warranting the Speaker Hon Chernor Abass Bundu to disclose that the Public Order Amendment Act 2019 will require thorough examination to ensure all the necessary issues are addressed before enacted. After the Information Minister, Mohamed Rahman Swaray introduced the proposed amendment and asked the House for it to be read the first time, the Speaker put the question and MPs agreed. The Leader of Government Business, Hon. Sidi Mohamed Tunis, took the podium and urged MPs that they should at that stage engage the Ministry of Information and other stakeholders as the Bill borders on the security of the people.
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“As such this House may want to ensure that all the safety gears are put in place before we can proceed from here,’ he said, explaining that such safety gears include amending the Independent Media Commission (IMC) Act to ensure the safety of the people are adequately taken care of before they can proceed with the Bill standing on Standing Order 27. He however maintained that President Bio has made his commitment both locally and internationally to repeal Part five of the 1965 Public Order Act, but they as the people representatives have to make sure everything is in place before they can move on. The Leader of the Opposition, Hon. Chernor Bah, assured that they are committed to get the utmost attention of the House to look at the Bill, explaining that the document before them also affect them like any other citizens. “We are calling on the partners to cooperate in doing public sensitization on the Bill to ensure the public play a part in the process,” he said. The President of SLAJ, Ahmad Sahid Nasralla, expressed appreciation that the process has gone thus far, for the document to be introduced and read for the first time in Parliament as successive SLAJ Executives have made it a priority to fight for the repeal. He maintained that the sentiments expressed by MPs left the media practitioners with mixed feelings, as the repeal of the Criminal Libel Law which guarantees free speech is gradually taking a twist, “our hope before coming here was that the first reading process will be completed and after the recess the process will continue.” The SLAJ President described the call for a review of the IMC Act before the process continues as simply “delaying tactics.” He was however, hopeful that this challenge will be overcome with collective effort by all. He assured that the more free the media is, the more responsible it will be, explaining that the media is poor because of this draconian law that is preventing private investors from investing in the media. One of the founding fathers of SLAJ and also a previous President of SLAJ, who is also the former Minister of Information and the current deputy Opposition Leader in Parliament, Hon Ibrahim Ben-Kargbo, expressed appreciation for the process. He acknowledged the current Government for their willingness in complying with one of their campaign promises of repealing the 1965 Public Order Act. “As past SLAJ President I’m very happy for this development which I’ve been fighting for over the years,” he said, promising they will see what they can do to promote good governance in the country. Most of the Journalists who were present at the proceeding expressed dissatisfaction over the delaying tactic employed by MPs, stating that they are not convinced that Parliament will enact the Bill into a law in 2020. “Anyway we hope for the best,” they said at last.
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