In a country where unemployment is a big challenge, getting a secure job like being an Honourable Member of Parliament for five good years, is a big achievement.
When also it comes about through the mandate of people in each constituency, then a democratic colouring is also lent to it. The role of Parliament is clearly stated in the Constitution of Sierra Leone.
However, the issue of the people’s representatives is yet to be clarified for all and sundry to understand.
At the time of the 1991 Constitution, our local councils had not been reconstituted. So, MPs were the sole representatives of the people. Now we have the Councils since 2004.
Now the question that seems to rear its head, is what is the real relationship between the MPs and the Councils in relationship to the people, in the constituencies and wards. However I want to join others in congratulating our New Members of Parliament who have been elected or re-elected.
The last Parliament passed a lot of laws and adopted international instruments. Although some of these did not get the necessary publicity and public sensitization, they got a lot of accolades at the end of their five years term. However my observations are that our last Parliament did very salient and critical oversights that did not go down well with critical observers of our fledgling democracy. Let me say this.
In this 21st century of strategic actions, the effectiveness of our Parliament can definitely not be assessed from the number of laws passed alone, but from how strategic these laws are; how much consultations with the people happened and the timeliness of these laws.
Take the relatively hurried way in which the Public Elections Act 2012 was processed. An important law like that should have had enough time for consultations. We all saw the outcry over the candidature fees which threatened the elections? Some glaring gaps were picked up but rather too late to do much about it.
I think this should not have been allowed to happen, if due diligence was taken into account.
Another very big blunder of the last Parliament was the non passing of the political Parties Registration and Regulation Bill. Why was this? Is it that the Honourable Members did not have a clear plan as to what and what laws they were going to make by the close of their term? State affairs like law-making should be very deliberate and intentional. We all know the limitations of the powers of the PPRC in its present form are limited, and this is unfortunate given the conduct of some parties over the years.
Perhaps the passing of the new PPRRC Act could have gone a long way to minimize some of the excesses of the parties that partly put the credibility of the election results on the line.
I really think that the citizenship should be aware of the plans of the Parliament in order to lend their voice to the prioritization of laws to be enacted and also take part in the debate on its content.
Even when the laws are meant for everybody, very little consultations take place with the people before, during and after laws are made. In 2010 or so, the decentralization Secretariat put together a National Decentralization Policy.
In the foreword, we read that our decentralization process at the time was principled on the concept that semi autonomous entities are better placed to address the immediate needs in their various localities than the central government. Well, that document was intended to serve as a working document. However, with all the challenges decentralization continues to face, our Parliament did not find it expedient to review the Local Government Act of 2004. Currently there are a number of contradictions, contestations, ambiguities and lapses in that Act. The review never happened.
Now, if you did not know, please know now that decentralization is to ensure that the local people and their communities are empowered and fully involved in political and socio-economic development processes and actually formulate and implement development plans, while government working in collaboration with the private sector and civil society, provides the enabling environment, oversight and effective management of national and local development.
Our Parliament failed in its duties by ignoring a very important aspect of our democracy and good governance.
We all have seen over the years, how the power dynamics between and among national and local power brokers, go a long way to affect the level of good governance practiced.
The players at all levels are so many and the delimitations of their roles are so vague, that there is constant tensions, intrigues and impasses among them. Take for example the Paramount Chief, the Mayor, the District Council Chairman, and the District Officers, Ministry officers and the Provincial Secretary. All these have different interests, when it comes to the performance of their roles. This is partly why many people today see that it is more efficacious to hold Council elections on non- partisan basis.
This way, we might expect a reduction of electoral violence at the local level and even get the best representatives elected.
This way, you do not need a party’s endorsement but you just fulfil set criteria. One beauty of this also is it standardizes procedures. Currently, even if each party tries to preach a semblance of democratic practice, the truth is that each party has its constitution which is peculiar to it and it alone.
Just check the awarding of symbols, how the process in many parties has caused a lot of tensions. Why can’t we learn lessons? Why are we always lagging behind international best practices? Parliament missed this wonderful chance to improve on our Local Government Act. They never did.
The addition of the Regulatory aspect on the Political Parties Registration and Regulation Act is a good move.
In the current Act, the Commissions role seems minimized by leaving out the regulatory aspect out in the name.
The document has included some aspects that are not in the 2002 document, like the effects of the cancellation of registration. Currently there is a growing debate over whether some of the registered parties actually should have been registered. The reason is that some of them are not really operating like national entities. When Political Parties have a right to decide which political positions they should contest for, then there is room for suspect.
Take an important position of President. I think the first objective of forming political parties is to rule the state.
So, if this aspect is neglected then one wonders what the party’s objectives are.
Another aspect included in the Bill is the Application of the Act to independent candidates.
This year’s elections marginalized independent candidates as no campaign time was scheduled for them. The fact that a whole lot of Parliamentarians lost their seats either through not given symbols or voted out by the people, shows so much more needs to be done.
This time round, please let us know your plans, so that we can contribute to the debate. While we congratulate you, we beseech you not to start thinking of the next election but think seriously of the next generation, like statesmen and not mere politicians.
By Beny Cambayma