The Sierra Leone government has released a long-awaited White Paper on the review of the country’s Constitution, five years after the report on the last review process was submitted.
The document was officially presented at a ceremony presided over by President Julius Maada Bio on Thursday.
The president said his government had already accepted some of the recommendations of the reviewers as part of his government’s ongoing process on reforms.
The current constitution came into force in 1991. Proponents of a new constitution say it is the basis for many of the problems facing the country since the early 90s, which were blamed for 1991-2002 civil war.
The idea of reviewing was first identified during peace negotiations, and was also recommended by the post-war Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).
Two unsuccessful attempts to fulfill this dream were made. First, immediately after the end of the war, the late war-time President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah set up the Dr. Peter Tucker Constitutional Review Commission. When the report of that Commission was submitted in 2008, a new government under former President Ernest Bai Koroma was in office.
The Koroma administration shelved the report and opted for a fresh review process starting in 2013. The second review was presided over by the late Justice Edmond Cowan. Its recommendations were presented to President Koroma in January 2017. He would end up shelving them again.
Revisiting the review process was part of President Bio’s campaign promises.
On Thursday during the unveiling of the report, President Bio said his commitment to fulfilling all his promises was evident in his proactive move in the series of reforms he had presided over in the last four years his administration has been in power.
“When I promised a new direction for our nation, I did so after much thought and reflection on how we could get it right again as a nation,” the president said.
“Rather than shy away from the hard-hitting recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as my predecessor did, I have actively implemented them because I believe that those governance reforms are in the best interests of this nation,” he added.
According to President Bio, his government implemented over half a dozen of the key governance and legislative imperatives outlined in the TRC report.
Details of the White Paper reveals that some of the key recommendations accepted by the government include calls for the separation of the office of Attorney-General from the Justice Ministry.
The government further proposes to cut down the age eligibility for the position of Attorney-General, who will be the principal legal adviser to the government, from 20 years to 15 years.
The Justice Minister will remain a cabinet minister.
But several other key recommendations put forward by campaigners were rejected, among them a call by media rights campaigners for freedom of expression to be made an absolute right. The government argues that existing provision on same adequately handles that.
The government also rejected a proposal to protect freedom of assembly and association, which calls for additional paragraphs to confer on unionists and employers and employers’ organisations’ collective bargaining powers, as well as a legislation guaranteeing security of tenue for union members.
But according to proponents and supporters of the review process, hope is not lost, as the next phase of the process gives opportunity for more suggestions to be accepted.
United Nations Resident Coordinator, Dr Babatunde Ahonsi, said the event is important for the future of Sierra Leone and its democratic consolidation and peacebuilding.
“Today’s launch is a fulfilment of the pledge made by Sierra Leone during the Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights in May 2021 that it will finalise the Constitutional Review Process,” he said.