Sierra Leone opposition challenges graft commission in court

Monday August 27 2018

Sierra Leone's former President Ernest Bai

Sierra Leone's former President Ernest Bai Koroma. FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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Sierra Leone’s main opposition party has gone to the Supreme Court to challenge the creation of a Commission of Enquiry to investigate former government officials.

The All Peoples Congress (APC), under former President Ernest Bai Koroma, governed Sierra Leone from 2007 till last April when its major rival, the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP), was elected into office.

New President Julius Maada Bio has since mounted a fight against graft, in fulfilment of a campaign promise.

Immediately after being sworn into office, President Bio constituted the Government Transition Team (GTT) to look into the activities of the administration of his predecessor. The committee’s findings revealed massive corruption.

Cabinet later sanctioned the formation of an enquiry commission to be headed by a local and an international judge. A Nigerian and Sierra Leonean judges have since been named to head it.

Lead to prosecution


The commission’s finding could lead to prosecution of the former officials, including Mr Koroma.

At the beginning of this month, the Justice ministry presented a bill in parliament to pave the way for the formation of the commission.

APC says the procedure followed by the ruling party was calculated to prevent a debate on it, which it says was required to address key concerns.

The Constitutional Instruments were presented to parliament on August 2, the same day the House went into recess.

According to law, a constitutional instrument or bill placed in parliament becomes law if after 21 days no MP challenges it.

Its members

However, according to the opposition, which holds a majority seat in the parliament, a move by one of its members to issue a Notice of Motion for a debate was “wrongly” overruled by the Speaker, Dr Abass Bundu, on the grounds that the MP cited the wrong Standing Order.

On Thursday, the day the instrument was to become law, the APC issued a statement announcing its intention to go to court over the issue, arguing that under the current procedure, any resulting commission would be illegal.

APC believes the SLPP-led government was also pursuing selective justice, with the “deliberate omission of certain names in the GTT Report”, and it warned of the potential of creating tension and insecurity in the country.

The Sierra Leonean legislature is dominated by the opposition, with APC controlling a majority with 68 seats, against SLPP’s 49.

Political opponents

Twelve other seats are occupied by two smaller parties, while there were three independent seats.

But Clerk of Parliament and SLPP member, Mr Omar Paran Tarawallie, said there was no chance of preventing the implementation of the commission sanctioned by a constitutional provision. He said parliament could only kick out the bill in question, and for which it would need 90 votes, which no single party possessed.

While president Bio’s anti-graft campaign has been hailed by some, critics say it was designed to target his political opponents.