The Chairman of the Constitutional review Commission Dr Peter Tucker has unveiled the amendments to the 1991 constitution.
The proposed amendments amongst others includes a second chamber, extension of immunity while in office to government Ministers, making access to information a right, committing parliament to review the death penalty every five years while removing it for cases like treason, change to the citizenship laws to allow Lebanese to be voted to parliament but not as President and others. Speaking to Awoko at the British Council Thursday Dr Peter Tucker defended the accusations that the amendments were being rushed through saying “There is no constitution of Sierra Leone that I know of which has taken longer than three months to discuss, and ours is taking about four months.” On the question of whether the National Electoral Commission (NEC) will be able to conduct a referendum along with the elections slated for July 28, Dr Tucker said “I think they should be able to but it is left to them but my view is that it can be done” adding that “the matter is between government and NEC.”
If the referendum is not held now, Dr Tucker said the next step “will be to fix a date a reasonable date when it can be held – its only a question of resources.” He argued “they don’t have to be held together if we can find money to do them separately – so if the resources are available another date could be fixed” he said. On the question of whether Parliament had to be closed before the referendum and a new parliament opened again, Dr Tucker explained that this was the case for the 1961 constitution but not anymore. He explained that now “parliament pass the bill then it goes to a referendum and if it’s approved in the referendum it is submitted to the President for his signature, and once he signs it, it becomes law” .
Questioned about the justification for a second chamber in parliament, Dr Tucker explained that “on the first occasion it was really not discussed it was rejected by cabinet and so we don’t think that the people rejected it and so we think we should try again to bring it in.” He explained further that “in most other commonwealth countries where you have separation of powers they have this second chamber which helps to moderate – it’s a kind of check and balance situation – if we have a group of experienced people in administration, religion Paramount Chiefs sitting there they are more likely to moderate any excesses coming from the House of Representatives by advice by comment, than it is now.” He added “we have had a very peaceful existence with government that is the executive and the legislature so far but it may not always be so and so if we have that odd chance we may need a second force or third force to moderate things.” On the question of why 44 for the proposed second chamber, the Constitutional review Commission Chairman said “this was to take in almost every interest group.” The issue of extending the immunity for the President to life is not in the Preliminary report given to journalists, though reports say the political parties have the same document where it is inserted.