By Beny SAM
The preponderance of misinformation, fake publications and propaganda coming out of late, especially as related to Former President Koroma’s trial for treason and other related charges leaves one wondering about how much knowledge have Sierra Leoneans about democratic governance, rule of Law, Separations of powers and other appendages that form strong pillars of Good governance. So it’s time to have a look at some of these concepts just so as to dispel perplexities currently grinding many of our compatriots. This piece will mainly unpack issues around the Separation of Powers.
From the onset it is efficacious to point out in my view that the concepts at play to support democracy and good governance are all ideals of what nations aspire to reach. Take it or leave it, show me the country that practices to perfection democratic good governance. Hey, don’t forget that the poor guy who said he was going to kill the American President was shot on sight never mind his freedom of speech!
Good governance is the process of measuring how public institutions conduct public affairs manage public resources and guarantee the realization of human rights in a manner essentially free of abuse and corruption and with due regard for the rule of law. So in essence, good governance relates to the political and institutional processes and outcomes that are necessary to achieve the goals of development.
Generally, the rule of law implies that the creation of laws, their enforcement, and the relationships among legal rules are themselves legally regulated so that no one—including the most highly placed official—is above the law. The rule of law is a political ideal that all citizens and institutions within a country, state, or community are accountable to the same laws, including lawmakers and leaders. It is sometimes stated simply as “no one is above the law”. Stop! Tell me in practice is this the reality? This definitely can wait for another day probably after March 6.
The rule of law is a durable system of laws, institutions, norms, and community commitment that delivers four universal principles: accountability, just law, open government, and accessible and impartial justice. I dare say without blinking an eye, that Accountability has been difficult with everybody, most people hate to account. Are all our laws “just”? No, take the enormous powers of the President for appointments to very critical positions. They say who pays the piper calls the tune. Somehow we have an open government with some limitations as not everything should be open to public privy. Is our justice accessible and impartial? I can say partially, as there are many factors that disadvantage the poor, marginalized and vulnerable in our society. Another element of the rule of law is “just law.” This means our law should be clear, publicized, stable, applied evenly and ensure procedural and human rights. Wow quite interesting. First and foremost, our current 1991 constitution was put together after the obnoxious “One Party Constitution” and indeed has vestiges of one-party dictatorship.
In particular, under the rule of law, there should be “accessible and impartial Justice.” This means justice is delivered timely by competent. Ethical and independent representatives and neutrals who are accessible, have adequate recourses and reflect the makeup of the communities they serve. In assessing this, I must say your guess is as good as mine. We hear a lot about how people are bribed to manipulate justice in the most unethical manner. Let us pose a few questions here: Are politicians and government officials held accountable for corruption? If yes, how effective? Do people face legal consequences for wrongdoing regardless of their wealth or status? Well, here we have a case in Parliament that is in question. As can be seen the rule of law in Sierra Leone to a large extent remains an ideal. The fact that authorities’ medical status is not verified before granting Medical leave speaks volumes!
Talking about “Just Law” as one of the principles of the rule of law, we seem far behind the pass mark. In the first place, our laws are written in English and the bulk of our compatriots are illiterate. The laws are hardly explained to citizens and even most of the lettered population does not understand them clearly. I even wonder how many Sierra Leoneans have the Constitution or have access to it. It is not publicly available and accessible.
“In the area of accessible and impartial Justice,” our prisons are over-congested. The Pademba Road Prisons which were meant to house some 400 to 500 inmates now hold 2 thousand mainly because judicial processes run at snail’s paces. There are cases of unjust incarceration, loss of documents, no trials and no proper record to account for prisoners’ charges and history.
You may want to ask, Do the police, lawyers, and judges have adequate resources to administer justice? Are the police, lawyers, and judges neutral and independent? I’m sure you don’t want me to answer these. Now for a lot of people, the rule of law is simply put as, “No one is above the Law”
If and when we fully practice the rule of law, we will have many benefits for effective rule of law.
Irrespective of our status or where we live, the rule of law affects us all. It has been proven that effective rule of law is the foundation for communities of justice, opportunity, and peace—underpinning development, accountable government, and respect for fundamental rights. Effective rule of law correlates to higher economic growth, greater peace, more education, and improved health outcomes.
We are missing all these most times because the entities at the apex of our power structures are capable of acting without the constraint of law when they wish to do so.
Generally speaking, the rule of law implies that the creation of laws, their enforcement, and the relationships among legal rules are themselves legally regulated so that no one—including the most highly placed official—is above the law. The legal constraint on rulers means that the government is subject to existing laws as much as its citizens are. Thus, a closely related notion is the idea of equality before the law, which holds that no “legal” person shall enjoy privileges that are not extended to all and that no person shall be immune from legal sanctions. For us in Sierra Leone, the bulk of this remains in the ideal realm.
To have a very effective rule of Law, a country should have a “Separation of Powers”
Separation of powers refers to the division of government responsibilities into distinct branches to limit any one branch from exercising the core functions of another. The intent is to prevent the concentration of power and provide for checks and balances. The three generally accepted branches of government are the Legislative, the Executive and the Judiciary. The legislative branch is responsible for enacting the laws of the state, monitoring MDAs, deciding on taxes and appropriating the money necessary to operate the government. The executive branch is responsible for implementing and administering the public policy enacted and funded by the legislative branch. The judicial branch is responsible for interpreting the Constitution and laws and applying their interpretations to controversies brought before it. The concept of separation of Powers requires that arms of government act as checks on each other’s power. It also requires that power is balanced between the arms of government. So no one person or body of people becomes too powerful. Indeed, our Government recognizes checks and balances as seen in the separation of powers. However, sometimes the question of who puts Parliament in check remains.
We are currently inundated with the relationship between the President and the Judiciary. Some people believe the president has a right to influence the decisions the Judiciary takes while others say the Judiciary should stay completely independent. Well, to improve our democracy and good governance we have first of all to make sure our constitution is reviewed to reflect current trends and reality. If and when that is done, I do not know.