The role of parliament in constitutional review
A statement from the Rt. Hon. Dr Abass Bundu
Speaker of Parliament
During the launch of the Government White Paper on the Constitutional Review Process by the President of the Republic, State House, Thursday, January 13, 2022
Your Excellency the President of the Republic
Hon. vice president
Monsignor the Chief Justice and the judges of the magistracy
Excellencies, Members of the Diplomatic and Consular Corps
Ladies and gentlemen
I am honored to be invited to make a statement on the role of Parliament in the constitutional review process at this launch by His Excellency the President of the Government White Paper on the Constitutional Review Process. And I would like to do this from Parliament’s point of view by making six cardinal points.
First, that Sierra Leone is a constitutional democracy and has been for the most part since it regained its independence and sovereignty from Britain in April 1961. The promotion and maintenance of peace, security, order and good government in Sierra Leone is the primary duty of every organ of the state, including Parliament, the organ to which alone the power to make laws for the Republic is expressly and unequivocally invested.
Second, that in exercising this primary duty, Parliament must take into account the fact that not all laws passed by it are of equal value and quality. Some laws are, by definition, in a higher category than others. This differentiation of laws passed by Parliament is clearly enshrined in Section 171(15) of the 1991 Sierra Leone Constitution (Act No. 6 of 1991). This article reads as follows: “This Constitution is the supreme law of Sierra Leone and any other law found to be inconsistent with any provision of this Constitution shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be null and void. “. As stated, Section 171(15) gives the 1991 Constitution primacy over all other laws, and it is incumbent upon all organs of the state to give primacy to the Constitution at all times.
Thirdly, in accordance with this doctrine of the supremacy of the Constitution, not so much as a word can be changed in the Constitution unless it has received approval at the second and third readings of the bill to bring modification by the votes of not less than two-thirds of the deputies. Further, such a bill must be duly published in at least two issues of the Gazette before its first reading in Parliament and not less than nine days must elapse between the first publication of the bill in the Gazette and the second publication.
This procedural requirement is succinctly and mandatorily set out in Section 108 of the Constitution and applies to the amendment of all provisions of the Constitution.
Fourth, where it is proposed to draft a new Constitution or to alter any provision of the existing 1991 Constitution that is characterized as extraordinary or entrenched, there is an additional, even stricter, procedural requirement that must be satisfied. The bill in which the amendment is proposed shall not become law unless, after being expressly passed by Parliament, it has further been approved by referendum of the people of Sierra Leone. For such a referendum to be valid, the votes cast must not be less than half of all persons qualified to vote in a parliamentary election and at least two-thirds of all valid votes cast.
Fifthly, that the bill should not be submitted for presidential assent unless it has been certified by the speaker of parliament that all referendum conditions have been met and that the president’s certificate is not only final and conclusive on the matter, but also enjoys immunity from jurisdiction. meticulous examination.
And sixth, that the framers of the 1991 Constitution had no doubt of the centrality of the role of Parliament in the process of constitutional revision insofar as the Constitution condemns as treason any modification, suspension or repeal of the Constitution effected by means other than under the authority of Parliament.
Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, what I have just stated represents the law of the Constitution relating to its modification. Whether or not a proposed modification is workable is an entirely separate matter. If, for example, an amendment is proposed for adoption by the current Fifth Parliament, its feasibility must be judged against the composition of Parliament at the time. Let me now dwell briefly on this point.
The Fifth Parliament of the Second Republic began its life after the legislative elections of March 2018 with a total composition of 146 deputies including 68 deputies representing the APC party; 49 SLPP members; 8 C4C Members; 4 members of the CNG; 3 independents and 14 honorable paramount chiefs. Today, by the simple natural efflux of life, Parliament has lost for eternity no less than 6 deputies, including an honorable supreme leader, and its present strength has fallen to 144 deputies, 58 of whom are from the SLPP; 57 of the PCA; 8 of C4C; 4 from the NGC, 3 independents and 14 paramount chiefs.
Now, any amendment requires a two-thirds majority vote in Parliament before it can be adopted. This means at least 96 affirmative votes. With the composition just indicated, with the exception of bills to amend mundane ordinary provisions of the Constitution in which all the main parties represented in Parliament have a common interest, all other bills face to a tall order in the current Fifth Hung Parliament and it is well – almost impossible to predict the outcome with any degree of certainty. For example, if there is a government bill to amend the Constitution, even if it is able to attract the 58 votes of the SLPP, the 14 votes of the paramount chiefs, the 8 votes of the C4C, the 4 votes from the NGC and 3 votes from the independent members, it would take another 9 votes from the APC to obtain the necessary two-thirds majority. Under these circumstances, I can only express my best wishes to anyone wishing to pass a constitutional amendment in this Fifth Hung Parliament of the Second Republic, especially in these most demanding times.
Mr President, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Allow me to sketch another important observation. The framers of the 1991 Constitution were, in my humble opinion, quite deliberate and calculated when they imposed extremely strict conditions on the amendment of the provisions of the Constitution, even going so far as to declare that it was of an act of treason if any amendment or repeal of the Constitution has not first obtained the authorization of Parliament. I think they must have been inspired by their own unique experience and knowledge of history to make that kind of prescription. They felt that it was against the interests of the people of Sierra Leone to allow anyone to easily alter the sanctity and sanctity of our Constitution. Solid reasons must be given for any change to the Constitution and they must not only be reasonable, solid and powerful, but also massive if not absolutely necessary. In other words, it was their way of urging future generations to hasten slowly in any attempt to make changes to this sacred document.
In this regard, ladies and gentlemen, it is instructive to recall the history of previous attempts to amend the 1991 Constitution since its promulgation in October 1991. The first attempt dates back to 1993 by a Commission set up by the NPRC under the chairmanship of the late Ahmad Tejan Kabbah and the second in 2008 by a committee headed by Dr. Peter Tucker. None of these attempts succeeded for lack of a referendum. The third attempt was in 2013 by Judge Edmund Cowan’s commission created by former President Ernest Bai Koroma. It turned out to be the most trumpeted and costly and yet it came to nothing because even though the recommendations of the Commission found strong resonance with the will of the people, the government of Koroma issued a white paper choosing what he was comfortable with while rejecting the rest. Their Constitutional Amendment Bill 2017 also failed to find favor in Parliament which was hastily summoned on the eve of its dissolution on December 6, 2017.
Your Excellency, Ladies and Gentlemen
From Parliament’s perspective, therefore, I would say that the challenges facing our nation today are as vivid as they were in 2008 and 2017 and that it is incumbent on all of us to maintain our loyalty for now steadfast in the 1991 Constitution and allowing it to grow and mature until it flourishes, except for a few ordinary mundane provisions capable of galvanizing a common interest in change among all parties represented in the current Fifth Parliament. The rest can wait for more favorable circumstances to prevail.
With that, ladies and gentlemen, thank you all for your kind attention.
End of the Hon. Speaker of Parliament, Dr. Abass Chernor Bundu at the launch of the Government White Paper by President Julius Maada Bio on the constitutional review process
Parliamentary and Public Relations Department
Parliament of Sierra Leone