Parliamentary reporter, Ishmael Bayoh looks back at the first session.
The still new Sierra Leone Parliament elected in August 2007 to serve for five years which will end in 2012 is the country’s supreme law-making body. It is unicameral (one house) comprising the speaker, 112 ordinary members and 12 Paramount Chief members.
The 2007 elections were the first since the war and under which the MPs were elected under a single member constituency for which three political parties, the APC, PMDC, and SLPP were represented. The APC commands a majority in parliament with 59 seats, the SLPP which is the minority has 43 and the PMDC 10.
On the 25th September 2007 the new members of Parliament were welcomed by the Clerk who wasted no time in getting them to take the oath and sign the parliamentary register. After that the newly sworn in parliamentarians went about their first duty. The lot fell on the APC nominee former appeals court judge, Justice Nathaniel Abel Stronge and his deputy, Hon Chukuma Johnson of the APC. The majority leader was named as Hon Edward M. Turay of APC, the SLPP minority leader for SLPP is Hon Momoh Pujeh whilst the PMDC has Hon Thomas M. Mansaray.
President Ernest Bai Koroma on October 5, 2007 opened Parliament with an address mapping out his plans. Straight away Parliament went in to action and the business of the House began by moving in to committees. The House has 26 parliamentary oversight committees. Among these were the parliamentary Committee on Appointments and Public Service which had to be set up quickly so that all presidential nominees especially Cabinet and Deputy Ministers, Directors, Board members, Ambassadors and others who had to interviewed quickly.
.The first session of Parliament, also known as the preliminary session in parliament was faced with the daunting task of not only approving the nominees but to make laws and debate on issues. About seven (7) bills were approved by parliament together with more appointees for government institutions. The minister of Finance and Economic Development, David Carew took the finance bill 2008 to parliament and the Presidential Affairs Minister also took the NacSa amendment Act 2008. The Bumbuna Watershed Management Authority and the Bumbuna Conservation Area Act, 2008 was on June 17 2008 also taken to Parliament by the Minister of Energy and Power, Haja Afsatu Kabba. The Appropriation Act 2008 being an Act to authorize expenditure from the consolidated fund for the services of Sierra Leone for the year 2008 was debated together with the Civil Aviation Act, 2007 on Tuesday March 18.They were both passed in to law. The Finance Minister also on Tuesday 27 November 2007 laid on the table of Parliament as a statutory instrument the financial Management (amendment) Regulations, 2007 and the government budgetary and accountability Act 2005.The majority leader, Hon Edward M Turay that same day laid on the table the council of legal education regulations 2007, the council of legal education Act 1989, the electoral commission (local government elections) regulations 2008, the constitution of Sierra Leone 1991 (ActNo 6 of 1991), the constitutional instrument No6 of 2008 and the Environmental Protection Agency Instrument 2008 were also debated and passed in to law.
On July 29, the ACC amendment Act 2008 was read for the first time in Parliament by the Attorney General and Minister of Justice. That Act gave prosecutorial powers to the ACC removing it from the Attorney General’s office.
Parliament was at times interesting and most times frequently adjourned. There were some moments when they exhibited their capability to debate. One such moment was the debate on the boundary delimitation, the approval of the Bank Governor, for which the SLPP staged a walk out, the ACC BILL and the National Drug Control Agency bills both were debated till late in the evening.
Parliament was adjourned sine dine but their holidays were cut short when they were recalled to discuss on Thursday August 21 to look again at the drug bill to make it retroactive. The bill was sent under a certificate of urgency sent by the President. On the order paper for that day, a statutory instrument was laid on the table by the Ag majority leader of Parliament Hon S.B.B.Dumbuya. It contained the President, Vice, Ministers, deputies, their conditions of service and also that of state salaries, pensions, gratuities and other benefits.
Parliament made their last approval of Presidential nominees on September 25, 2008 when the Deputy Bank Governor, Madam Andrina Rosaline Coker, Alhaji Unisa Alim Sesay as Chairman for the National Assets and Government Property Commission, Brigadier Alfred Nelson-Williams as Chief of Defence Staff, Rashin Bundu as Board member NIC, Rev J.V Conteh member Public Procurement and Mrs Fatu B. Bangura, Judicial and Public Service Commission.
The two whips of the SLPP and APC commented on the first session of Parliament. Hon Ibrahim Bundu of APC expressed dismay that the oversight committees did not make very serious over sight functions. He explained that they were not to be blamed for that as they do not have what it takes for them to perform their functions effectively
Hon. Bundu said the Parliamentary Service Commission that was supposed to look at their welfare was working at a snail’s pace.
Hon Eric Koedoyoma of SLPP too expressed disappointment that the first session was not exciting as he anticipated. He said debates were restricted by the speakers policy of not catching his eyes which affected the SLPP MPs. They both envisaged the next session to be more pro-active and interesting. Our new Parliament is mostly composed of new entrants and majority of them are young.
By Ishmael Bayo