OVERVIEW OF THE SIERRA LEONE PARLIAMENT
THE TERRITORY OF SIERRA LEONE
The territory of Sierra Leone (27,925 square miles) or (73,326 sq km) occupies the area in West Africa that lies between the sixth and tenth degrees of north latitude and the tenth and fourteenth degrees of west longitude.
The Atlantic Ocean bounds it on the west and south-west, and it stretches from west to east for 204 miles (328 km). On the north it is bounded by the boundary line delimited under the provisions of the Anglo-French Convention dated the twenty-eighth day of June, 1882, the Anglo-French Agreement dated the twenty-first day of January, 1895, and the notes exchanged between His Britannic Majesty’s Principal Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and the Ambassador of the French Republic, and dated the sixth day of July, 1911; and on the south by the Anglo-Liberian boundary line delimited under the provisions of the Anglo-Liberian Conventions dated the eleventh day of November, 1885 and the twenty-first day of January, 1911. The distance from north to south is approximately 210 miles (332 km) and Sierra Leone’s immediate neighbours are the Republic of Guinea on its north-west, north and north-east boundaries and the Republic of Liberia on the east and south-east boundaries
NATIONAL INDEPENDENCE 27th APRIL 1961
Sierra Leone, a former British Crown Colony and Protectorate, became an independent, Sovereign State on 27th April 1961. The country patiently travelled a long way on the road from group self-governance through colonization to national home-rule. At the culmination of this trek Sir Milton Margai, a salt of the earth, formed the United National Front and peacefully won independence for his people. The independence date of 27th April, chosen in 1961, however, is reminiscent of the 27th April 1898 version of the Protectorate Hut Tax War against the British Administration. So that, while it celebrates, the date also articulates, the long and grievous hunger for freedom, independence, national sovereignty and pride.
THE ROAD TO INDEPENDENCE
CONSTITUTIONAL GENESIS – THE DARK EMBRYO
In the beginning, after a period of restless migrations into the land-space later called Sierra Leone, traditional kings and chiefs governed their tribal groups, with a hierarchy of officials in a definitive, organized political administration. But prior to the establishment of these settlements, turbulent inter-ethnic wars, in the heat of a primordial evolutionary struggle, changed the ethnic landscape, and produced human cargoes for a foreign slave trade.
Then an exodus of freed slaves from England found and settled in Granville Town (1787) with an optional regulatory guide to self-governance provided by Granville Sharpe (a slave trade abolitionist) and titled “A SHORT SKETCH OF TEMPORARY REGULATIONS (UNTIL BETTER SHALL BE PROPOSED) FOR THE INTENDED SETTLEMENT IN THE GRAIN COAST OF AFRICA, NEAR SIERRA LEONE. Their self-government was by a system of frank-pledge, where an elected Governor worked with a council of tithingmen (each an elected representative of ten families) and hundredors (each an elected representative of ten tithingmen) They formulated policies by which they could reconstruct and conduct their broken lives. Sharpe’s Additional Regulations were a constitutive stimulus in pursuit of justice, law and order, His well-intentioned plan, however, turned out to be probably sharp in cerebration on constitutional matters and its vision of the Province of Freedom, but, notwithstanding his contributions to the pressures to win some #15,000 from the British Treasury to fund the return of the slaves, dull in addressing the practicalities of post-slavery rehabilitation and compensatory poverty-alleviation. There was, for example, no pro-poor policy of human rights reparation for the victims of slavery. Hard times.
THE BLACKHALL CONSTITUTION OF 1863
Ill-equipped with necessary logistics, the dream of the black poor to rebuild their lives in independence suffered devastating drawbacks in a multi-dimensional hostile environment which decimated their numbers and torched their town. But the vision of the Province of Freedom remained. Undiscouraged they revolted for their second freedom and self government under the Sierra Leone Company, which in 1792 had colonised and resuscitated the settlement with ex-combatant “Nova Scotians,” back in England from the American war of Independence. The “Nova Scotians” had been waiting in disillusionment for the gift of private property and a promised haven of freedom and Independence, waiting for the dream, as opposed to the reality, of a Free town, rising free and independent from the ashes of Granville Town.
The aspirations of the settlers did not fare any better under the crown colony administration of the British Government instituted in 1808. In fact the Blackhall Constitution of 1863 (named after the ruling Governor Samuel Wesley Blackhall) was very limited and disappointing to the growing organised pressures for, a largely Sierra Leonean administration. The Constitution formed Executive and Legislative Councils in a system of fusion and included two African appointees of the Governor, to the Legislative Council but out of the Executive Council, one in 1863, the other 1869
THE SLATER CONSTITUTION OF 1924
In the process of constitutional development under colonial rule, the Slater Constitution of 1924 (named after Governor Sir Ransford Slater) extended the jurisdiction of the Executive and Legislative Councils from the Crown Colony to the Protectorate, and paid a little attention to the Colony’s strong pressures for the introduction of the principle of elective representation. The Constitution made the first motions towards merging the administration of the Colony and Protectorate, but provided for a Legislative Council of twenty-one Members with a majority of British Official Members – twelve in all including the Governor as Presiding Officer. On the Unofficial side were three Paramount Chiefs, two European representatives, two Africans, all appointed by the Governor, and three elected Colony representatives. The Constitution failed to recognise the democratic political aspirations of educated people of the Protectorate.
In 1943 two Africans were for the first time nominated to the Executive Council. Then the District Councils and the Protectorate Assembly of 1946 were established.
THE STEVENSON CONSTITUTION OF 1947 – REVISED BY GOVERNOR SIR GEORGE BERESFORD STOOKE IN 1951
The 1947 Constitution named after Governor Sir. Hubert Stevenson. took a course to self-governance by increasing the Unofficial Members of the Legislative Council. In the edition revised by Governor Sir George Beresford Stooke in 1951 the Unofficial Membership of Leg Co rose, from ten to twenty three and the British Official Members were reduced from eleven to seven. The Colony was to return seven elected members, the District Councils twelve, the Protectorate Assembly two. Two nominated Members, one European and one African, represented commercial interests.
THE CONSTITUTION OF 1957
With the constitutional changes of 1957, the Legislative Assembly became a House of Representatives with a total membership of 56. Its Speaker was elected, and the majority party (SLPP) chose its Cabinet. From this stage of political ascendancy the great statesman, Sir Milton Margai, led his people to self-government and became the nation’s first Prime Minister.
THE SIERRA LEONE INDEPENDENCE ACT, 1961
Sierra Leone’s Independence was effected through the Sierra Leone (Constitution) Order in Council 1961 also designated the Sierra Leone Independence Act 1961. His Royal Highness, the Duke of Kent G.C.V.O. ceremonially opened the country’s unicameral House of Parliament on 26th April 1961 and the ceremony of independence from monarchical rule was held in the oriental, dome-shaped Chamber of Parliament the following day 27th April. Parliament Building is a solid House built on a rock foundation, a House that towers on the crown of a hill to proclaim the values of democracy and good governance. It stands as a central symbol of the nation’s civilization. The new nation was eventually incorporated into the Commonwealth of Nations and became the one-hundredth member of the United Nations Organisation.
Sierra Leone’s Independence Act 1961 was tailored on the Westminster-model of parliamentary democracy. It was nearly a replica of the unwritten or non-written British Constitution in the form of a codified written document. Many of its clauses were entrenched, inorder to safeguard the fundamental rights and democratic liberties of the citizens, Parliament, public institutions and public servants. Also incorporated in the Independence Constitution were certain basic principles of British Constitutional Conventions, namely the majority principle, the (two) party political system, the Cabinet system of government based on individual and collective responsibility, and the Independence of the Judiciary.
GENERAL NATIONAL ELECTIONS OF MARCH 1967 AND THE FIRST INTEREGNUM
Due to political wranglings over the announcement of the authentic results of the March 1967 general elections, the unitary state of Sierra Leone experienced a constitutional breakdown. The political manoeuvres of that year culminated in a coup d’etat spearheaded by Brigadier Lansana, who was subsequently ousted by a military junta, the National Reformation Council (NRC), headed by Brigadier Juxon-Smith. The NRC regime was eventually ended by the Anti-Corruption Revolutionary Movement (ACRM), another military cohort, which restored civilian rule in March 1968.
FIRST RETURN TO DEMOCRATIC GOVERNANCE AND THE REPUBLICAN CONSTITUTION OF 19TH APRIL 1971
The reins of Government were handed to Dr. Siaka Probyn Stevens (now deceased), who, as Leader of the All People’s Congress, had, after the general elections in March 1967, been sworn-in as Prime Minister. On 19th April 1971, under the Stevens leadership, Sierra Leone adopted a republican Constitution, which was swiftly amended such that he was sworn-in as the first Executive President of the Republic on April 21, 1971.
THE ONE PARTY CONSTITUTION OF 1978 AND THE MULTI-PARTY CONSTITUTION (ACT NO.6 OF 1991)
A turning point in Sierra Leone’s form of parliamentary democracy was the adoption in 1978 of a One-Party Republican Constitution. This form of governance was overturned by the multi-party Constitution of Sierra Leone (Act No. 6 of 1991) National Provisional Ruling Council, headed by Captain Valentine Strasser, seized power from Major-general Joseph Saidu Momoh, Leader of the APC and Head of State on 29th April 1992.
THE SECOND RETURN TO DEMOCRATIC GOVERNANCE
Sierra Leone’s multi-party parliamentary and presidential elections held on 26th and 27th February, after some four years of military rule, and in spite of a raging rebel war, resulted in victory for the Sierra Leone People’s Party, Sierra Leone’s oldest surviving political party.
Thirteen political parties contested for 68 parliamentary seats prescribed for “ordinary” Members of Parliament (reduced by military decree from 105). Of the 80-seat Parliament twelve were occupied by 12 elected traditional rulers, the Paramount chiefs.
In the PR electoral system adopted in response to the rate of insecurity, the SLPP won 27 seats; the United National People’s Party 17; the People’s Democratic Party 12; the All People’s Congress 5 seats; the National Unity Party 4 and the Democratic Centre Party 3.
His Excellency Alhaji Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, G.C.R.S.L., the Leader of the SLPP, is the President of the Republic of Sierra Leone. He came first in the first round of the presidential polls but failed to win 55 percent of the votes cast, as constitutionally required. In the keenly-contested run-off that followed on 15th March 1996 he bettered the performance of his contender Dr. John Karefa Smart by polling 59.24% of the votes. He assumed the Office of President on 29th March 1996 when in a colourful ceremony in the Chamber of Parliament Bragadier-General Julius Maada Bio, who had seized power from Captain Valentine Strasser on 16th January 1996, passed on the baton of office to him, symbolising the hand-over of political power. Following a Presidential proclamation that day, the First Parliament of the Second Republic was summoned on 2nd April and was duly constituted with Hon. Mr. Justice Sheku Mohamed Fadril Kutubu (erstwhile Chief Justice of Sierra Leone) emerging from a contested election as Speaker of Parliament. The Deputy Speaker was Honourable A.O. Bangura
THE SECOND PARLIAMENT OF THE SECOND REPUBLIC
The present Second Parliament of the Second Republic was ceremonially opened by His Excellency the President Alhaji Ahmad Tejan Kabbah on 12th July, 2002 following a landslide victory of the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) in the May 14, 2002 presidential and parliamentary elections. From the District Block Electoral System. The SLPP won 83 seats in the 124 Member House; the All People’s Congress (APC) 27 seats, the Peace and Liberation Party (PLP) 2 seats and Paramount Chief Members representing the 12 districts of the country, 12 seats.
The Speaker of Parliament is Honourable Edmond Kadoni Cowan, first elected 2001 during the First Parliament on 30th January 2000, after the death of Speaker Kutubu and reelected Speaker of the Present Parliament on 25th June, 2002. The Deputy Speaker is Hon. Mrs Elizabeth Alpha Lavalie. Following the death of Hon. Sewah B. Marah, erstwhile Majority Party Leader of the House on 13th November, 2003 the position of Majority Party Leader is now being held by Hon. Richard E.S. Lagawo. The Minority Party Leader of the House is Hon. Ernest Bai Koroma.
Eighteen of the Members of Parliament are females.
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