In Sierra Leone, Speaker Criteria Amended in 2013 Amendment Act
The House of Parliament of the Republic of Sierra Leone has Tuesday 19th November 2013 decided who should speak for and on their behalf. The constitutional criteria to be Speaker of Parliament have been amended in the Well of Parliament by a unanimous vote of SLPP, APC and Paramount Chief MPs present. The debates were lively and saw spirited use of entertaining language. At one point, an MP resorted to the use of a famous Mende proverb, “Mua mu kou, mua mu hugoongo”, to make his point as to why the amendments should be passed. According to the amendment, one no longer needs to have spent a minimum of 10 years as a lawyer (i.e: qualified to be a High Court Judge) to be Speaker of Parliament. Instead, one now needs to have spent between 5 to 10 years studying parliamentary processes closely before he/she can speak on behalf of Parliament.The amendment also provides for the revoke of Section 80.(3) which 3 states that the Deputy Speaker shall be elected by Members of Parliament at the beginning of each Parliamentary Session. The new amendment provides that the Deputy Speaker shall only be elected once at the beginning of a new five years parliamentary term.
Hon. Sheku B.B Dumbuya, Majority Leader said the amendment was in line with international best practices. According to him, the call for an MP to become a Speaker started way back in 2002 during the regime of the SLPP. He said many other countries in the world have amended their laws but that Sierra Leone is the last country to do so. He asserted that by retaining the 1991 clause, the country remained to be an “oddity” in the whole world. He quoted Section 73.(2) of the Constitution which said the power of the legislature lies with the MPs and so the power must stay with the MPs and only MPs.
For her part, Minority Leader Hon. Dr. Bernadette Lahai said the proposed amendment has been long floated amongst MPs for many years now since even prior to 2007. She called for the debates to be allowed to reach “a logical conclusion”.
Hon. Ibrahim Bundu, the Deputy Leader of Parliament, said the bill states that any MP who has served for one term in the legislature is eligible to become a Speaker of Parliament or the MPs can choose someone from outside Parliament who had previously served two terms (10 years) as an MP in earlier sessions. Hon. Bundu went on that the amendment is timely and was in line with the global trend.
“There is no where in the world where the Speaker of Parliament is not an elected Member of Parliament” he said, stressing that they were very mindful of the role of a Speaker.
However, Hon. Dr. Bu-buakai Jabbie of the main opposition Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) said it was not timely for parliament to quickly pass such amendment into law. According to him, they should have sent the amendment to the Constitutional Review Committee that is in progress for a thorough scrutiny before passing it into law. Hon. Dr. Jabbie also argued that it was still essential for somebody who has experience in law to retain the position of the Speaker and supervise MPs, rather than an ordinary Member of Parliament who do not have any knowledge in the making of laws.
Hon. Dr Jabbie further justified that Section 80.(3) amendment was not relevant and has the tendency to undermine democracy. According to him, the previous Section was preferable because the election of Deputy Speaker on a yearly basic makes it possible for other MPs to show interest for the position.
Hon. Manley Spain of the APC said the Bill was very timely and will not in any way impede the work of parliament. He said the Bill will open up for MPs to be appointed as Speaker and said the amendment will not stop the Constitutional Review Committee.
Hon. James Alie of the SLPP in his submission supported Hon. Jabbi noting that it was not timely for the amendment to take place at this time when there is an ongoing Constitutional Review Committee.
It was at this point that Hon. Osho William of the APC said the amendment was part of the county’s development, quoting a Mende Proverb; “Mua mu kou, mua mu hugoongo”, translated in English as meaning “Those who are inside knows the inner core”.
Explaining the Mende proverb, Hon. Osho-Williams said the analogy is that a speaker should come from within elected MPs and not someone who is not part of those that were elected. He or she should be a real member. President Koroma was an MP that is why he knows everything about Parliament. He ended by saying the current Speaker, Justice Abel N. Stronge, who will automatically lose his position as Speaker when the bill turns law, “is a man of development and progressive thinking” and so “he will not in any way be against such an amendment”. According to Hon. Osho-Williams, he has known Speaker Stronge since school days when they attended school together.
Speaker Stronge was himself absent from Parliament yesterday and the proceedings were presided over by the Deputy Speaker.
After the Third reading, despite their earlier protestations otherwise, the SLPP parliamentarians joined their APC colleagues and unanimously voted for the bill to pass into law. There was not a single dissenting voice out of over 100 parliamentarians present. An excess of required 2/3rds of votes was received and the bill was passed.