Since it seems there is no middle–of–the –road approach to the practice of democracy, African countries in particular struggle so hard to practice it because their traditional and cultural make ups are so deep-seated. But do we have a choice? Hell No! Although the average Sierra Leonean’s awareness on governance seems to have risen albeit partisanly skewed, the general statutory provisions sometimes leave even our Judiciary biting their pens and scratching their heads. The recent injunction slammed on the APC delegates’ Conference scheduled in Port Loko January 10th to 12th 2020 was a spectacular affair. Spectacular because some huge crowds of delegates had already arrived in Port Loko joyously waiting for the next morning to start the Convention. In the evening of the Thursday preceding the AYV Television was even interviewing one of the APC Publicity Guys about expectations about the convention. By then, Social media had gone ahead to announce the Court injunction stopping the APC convention from holding. Since then a plethora of diatribes have polluted the air for and against the Injunction. For some people in the APC, they saw the NRM action as betrayal while on the side of the NRM; the action was merely to prevent unconstitutionality from prevailing in a Party who’s’ Constitution seems to have been partly drawn along Communist lines. For citizens who are non-partisan, the NRM action was in place. For me while the NRM action is genuine, the huge loss to the party due to the aborted convention could make reconciliation difficult between the Party Executives and the NRM. Having said that, I think the Party has been too slow to respond and succumb to democratic dictates. Let us look at it this way. The most recent Sierra Leone Constitution is the 1991 Constitution. The current APC Constitution was written in 1995. So the Party should have easily made sure they go along the spirit of the National constitution. They did not; rather they placed in obnoxious clauses accepting “selection” as and alternative to “election.” This is just one flaw in that constitution; there are many others that do not fall in line with democratic ideals. You might wonder why the APC Constitution has survived many national elections. I will tell you. Before that let us look at what the Sierra Leone Constitution says about political Parties internal Organization. In Chapter IV. Section 35 Sub-section 2, it says, “The internal organization of the political party shall conform to democratic principles, and its aims, objectives, purposes and programs shall not contravene, or be inconsistent with, any provision of this constitution.” I really do not understand why the APC wrote their constitution the way they did and what they have been waiting for to democratize their party. Oh
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I see, they have been waiting for the NRM to burst the nuts. Well they have done it and now citizens are waiting to see the outcome. Now to the Political Parties Registration Commission (PPRC). The statutory authority of the PPRC is the Political Parties Act 2002. Of the Election Management Bodies (EMBs), the PPRC has over the years been the most under resourced one. It seems governments dead or alive have been underplaying the importance of this Body. Most times the emphasis has been on “registration” and not also “regulation.” The provisions in the Act do not empower the PPRC to really regulate the parties which most times are quite violent especially at election times. Under the short Title of the Act, it reads, “Being an Act to establish the Political Parties Registration Commission for the registration and regulation of the conduct of political parties in accordance with sections 34 and 35 of the Constitution and to provide for related matters.” For me the powers of the PPRC include the democratization of the political parties’ constitutions through rejection of and advice on their Constitutions. The Challenge the PPRC had from its onset was poor setting up due to inadequate funding. Formed in former Late President Kabbah’s (RIP) second term in Office, the Government did not have enough funds for it to be properly constituted. So what happened was that civil servants from mainly the Internal Affairs ministry were seconded to the PPRC. Since most of them were invariably partisan, they could not perform independently. They hardly ever in those initial years got the confidence of the political parties. Their neutrality and independence were greatly challenged. Coming back to the PPRC’s role in registering and regulating parties, in Part III of the political Parties Act 2002, section 16, there is provision for the PPRC refusing the registration of Political parties. This provision gives the PPRC the right to refuse the registration of the political party if it does not have a registered office in each of the regional headquarter towns and the western Area. Very recently the PPRC made a tour of the country and found out that many political Parties are defaulting in this area of Party offices. It is clearly spelt out that parties should arrange a five-year lease for their offices. The usual practice is for parties to hurriedly secure offices close to elections but no sooner elections are over and they lose than they give up those offices. Government needs to review the political Parties Act and empower the PPRC to perform effectively and efficiently, especially giving it prosecutorial powers. We want to see defaulting parties refused reregistration of even old parties when they flout the Constitution or the political Parties act 2002. For too long the PPRC had only been playing the kombra role i.e. settling disputes within and among parties. The Late PPRC chair Justice Tolla-thompson (RIP) did a very good job of it. However PPRC should go beyond that and discipline parties that do not comply statutorily. Like already implied, the APC has a chance to review its constitution to be in line with democratic principles as mentioned in the constitution. Some of us from a Civil Society standpoint will campaign stiffly for PPRC not to accept the current APC Constitution since it is ultra vires the national constitution. It is not about whether the NRM was right or not to influence an injunction on the Convention. The solution lies in the democratization of the Constitution as first step and allows free and fair elections in the party. A major thing that we should include in a reviewed Political Parties Act 2002 is a mandatory annual re-registration of all political Parties irrespective of the age and size of parties. This can help resolve some of the challenges that may impair democratic strides. The APC should approach the current impasse in good democratic faith. For the growth of Sierra Leone’s democracy, the bottom line is that their party should review their constitution to reflect democratic ideals. The simple fact is that an undemocratic Political party begets an undemocratic Government when it wins elections.
By Beny SAM
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