Freetown, June 27 (SLENA) - “Apart from the 1991 Constitution from which the National Electoral Commission (NEC) derives its mandate, there is no enabling legislation dealing with the conduct of referenda in Sierra Leone. There will therefore have to be enacted a specific piece of legislation dealing with the conduct of referendum, or perhaps a subsidiary legislation to the Referendum Act.”
These were the words of a Legal Practitioner, Glenna Thompson at a stakeholders’ forum held at the Miatta Conference Centre in Freetown last week Wednesday.
Participants were drawn from the Constitutional Review Committee (CRC); National Electoral Commission (NEC); Political Parties Registration Commission (PPRC); Law Officers Department, the Sierra Leone Bar Association and the Law Reform Commission.
Funded by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the workshop attracted key stakeholders including the Deputy Majority Leader of Parliament, Hon Leonard Fofanah, Chairman of the Political Parties Registration Commission (PPRC), Justice Tolla-Thompson; Chairman of the National Commission for Democracy (NCD); Dr Abubakar Kargbo and a host of others.
Sanaullah Baloch is the Chief Technical Adviser to the Sierra Leone Constitutional Review Process. In his statement, he stressed the need to regularise the legal framework governing the conduct of referendum in Sierra Leone especially when a referendum was imminent.
The Chairman of the Constitutional Review Committee (CRC), Justice Edmond Cowan noted that early preparations were a sine qua non for efficient performance while Justice Edmond Cowan reiterated that an enabling Act containing provisions relating to the holding of referenda was crucial to the smooth conduct of same.
“It is a very important aspect of the CR process because the Constitution in Section 108 clearly states that a referendum should be held before the President signs the final document into law. If the people are not satisfied, they will show this by voting against the revised law,” the CRC Chairman concluded.
The Chief Electoral Commissioner of the National Electoral Commission (NEC), Mohamed N’fah Alie Conteh said NEC initiated a legal reform project that culminated in the enactment of the Public Elections Act 2012 but that it fell short of regulating the process of conducting referendum. He added that the 1991 Constitution has conflicting and unclear provisions on the conduct of referendum as seen in Sec 37(1) and Sec 108(4).
“Clarity is also needed by NEC on issue relating to 50% turn-out of eligible voters or 2/3 of valid votes cast in favour as requirement of referendum question.” Mr Conteh furthered that “the rules and regulations must clearly state how the referendum would be conducted. Without this, it would be impossible to organize any referendum.”
In her presentation, Glenna Thompson highlighted some critical issues which must be considered in the drafting and enacting of any legislation and/or regulation for the upcoming referendum. These included, inter alia the referendum question, public education, timing, Interest Groups/Referendum Committees, electoral offences, referendum petition and regulations and policy guidelines.
The Constitution of Sierra Leone Act No 6 of 1991 is presently being reviewed by the Constitutional Review Committee (CRC) and a nationwide consultation is on-going. When this process shall have completed, the National Electoral Commission (NEC) shall be charged with the responsibility to conduct a referendum on the outcome of the review process as provided for in Sec 108(3) of the extant Constitution.
There is no enabling Act dealing with the conduct of referenda in Sierra Leone and only two referenda (1978 and 1991) had been held in the country since independence.
If the 1991 Constitution is reviewed successfully, the people of Sierra Leone will have to endorse the draft Constitution in a national referendum that would possible be held in 2016.
The CRC is expected to submit its report to the Government of Sierra Leone by March 2016.
The Government would release a White Paper, a draft Constitution would be developed and sent to parliament. A referendum would then be held before the President signs the new Constitution.
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Newspaper in Freetown, Sierra Leone.