Sierra Leone names first woman AG and Justice minister

Wednesday June 13 2018

Newly elected Sierra Leonean President Julius Maada Bio.

Sierra Leonean President Julius Maada Bio. FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By KEMO CHAM
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Sierra Leone’s President Julius Maada Bio has appointed a UK-based university lecturer as the country's first Attorney General.

Dr (Ms) Priscilla Schwartz has replaced controversial Attorney General and Justice minister Charles Francis Margai.

No reasons were given for the sacking of Mr Margai, in office for less than two months.

The development has sparked a wave of speculation about the departure of the veteran politician and lawyer, whose appointment was seen as a political compensation.

Mr Margai, the leader of the opposition People’s Movement for Democratic Change (PMDC), supported Mr Bio in last March’s presidential run-off against, Dr Samura Kamara of the then ruling All People’s Congress (APC) party.

He becomes Sierra Leone’s shortest-lived holder of the position ever.

Judiciary issues

Political commentators cite a disagreement between him and the president over his handling of the judiciary issues.

Mr Maragai’s sacking rekindles memories of his relationship with former President Ernest Bai Koroma. PMDC supported President Koroma’s under APC in 2007 to oust the Sierra Leonean Peoples Party (SLPP) in elections.

Mr Margai soon fell out with President Koroma and his decision to support Mr Bio in the March 2018 polls was therefore seen as a revenge against APC.

But his approach to issues has also been seen as source of constant embarrassment to the new government.

Sources speak of growing dissatisfaction among members of the judiciary over what many saw as Mr Maragai’s aggressive approach to issues. There were rumours that he was not particularly pulling well with the Chief Justice, who was appointed by the last government.

Security of tenure

He also allegedly threatened some members of the judiciary.

Less than a week ago, a leaked aide memoire in which Mr Margai appears to be advising the president to sack several heads of parastatals with security of tenure, appeared on social media.

In that letter, Mr Margai reminded the president of his executive power to fire and hire.

Media reports later alleged that he had telephoned the mother of one of the Anti-Corruption Commission officials, urging her to convince her son to resign.

Many opposition supporters hailed Mr Margai’s sacking, with some, who describe him as a divisive figure, questioning why he was appointed in the first place.

Was a lecturer

A separate statement from State House on Tuesday said the appointment of Dr Schwartz was in fulfilment of President Bio’s commitment to women’s empowerment.

Known to be the only Sierra Leonean woman with a Doctor of Laws degree, Ms Schwartz’s appointments also keeps in line with President Bio’s promise of going for the best brains for competence and efficiency in his administration.

Dr Schwartz holds degrees from the University of Sierra Leone’s Fourah Bay College (BA, LLB)) and the University of London’s King’s College and Queen Mary College (LLM and PhD) respectively.

Until her appointment, she was a lecturer at the Faculty of Law in Leicester where she taught undergraduate Contract Law and Law of Tort.

Described as an expert in Public International Law, Dr Schwartz is also a Barrister and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Sierra Leone, credited as instrumental in setting up the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone, including the negotiation and drafting of its Statute and Agreements.