PRESIDENTIAL SPEECH HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH NEC BOSS’ INDEPENDENCE…
CHRISTIANA THORPE CHANGED PRES. KABBAH’S ELECTIONS DATE
Those who are blaming President Ernest Bai Koroma over the controversy created by the ‘appointment’ of a date for the presidential election (slated for 7th March 2018 instead of on or before 23rd February 2018 as anticipated by some school of thought) are doing so either out of ignorance or from a cheeky standpoint to score cheap political points.
The 1991 Constitution is very clear on the responsibility of the President when it comes to the announcement of dates: that he declares the dates for the parliamentary and local government elections; and that despite the necessity of having to be consulted, the decision for a date for the presidential election would be the responsibility of the National Electoral Commission boss.
And when the President made his speech to the nation on 14th February 2017, he spoke on several issues regarding the electoral process, going beyond dates, and including the security of the elections, the pending white paper for the constitutional review process, the referendum, the funding aspect of the elections, when should campaigns start, and party discipline, among others.
You could hear the voice of a loving father-figure planning to depart the stage gracefully with solemn words of hope to us all as a collective people: “Though we still face challenges, our democracy is growing stronger; our resolve to build on our democratic gains remains unshakable; and together, men and women of goodwill in all parties, both within and outside the country, young and old, in the executive, parliament and the judiciary, in every profession and field of endeavor, together, this country will continue to be a beacon of unity of purpose, freedom, justice and democracy.”
President Koroma, by his nature and character, which we all know so well (whether we pretend not to know or not), just cannot connive with the Chief Electoral Commissioner to extend the presidential term by two weeks, or agree to announce a ‘controversial’ date for the elections.
But for mainly political reasons, the Charles Margais and the John Benjamins of this world are busy attacking the President for the constitutional faux pas caused or ignited by NEC.
They have forgotten. So soon, they have forgotten. They have forgotten that the sole responsibility for declaring or ‘appointing’ a date for the presidential election belongs to the Chief Electoral Commissioner.
The President made a speech to the nation on several issues. His constitutional duty was to declare the dates for the parliamentary and local government elections – which he did, and within the constitutional timeframe. His mentioning of NEC having to announce the same date after consultations with him does not preclude Nfa Alie Conteh from bearing the sole responsibility if the date is not constitutionally right.
The Margai-Benjamin caboodle has forgotten the precedence that was set by Christiana Thorpe when she changed the date announced by President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah for the 2007 elections.
At least there are two things any chief electoral commissioner should not make mistake in or be dependent on anybody for: the decision to ‘appoint’ a date and the announcement of results. Christiana Thorpe succeeded in both. Nfa Alie has started on a wrong footing!
Therefore, those who are blaming the President need to re-assess the circumstances and ‘give unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar’ – to acknowledge that, apart from the showpiece infrastructural development, President Koroma’s democratic credentials are leaving sterling indelible marks in our national psyche. And those credentials cannot be drowned in a sea of misdirected attacks from cowardly political opponents who cannot even quote the correct constitutional provisions to back their case!
That a President of Sierra Leone has not jailed a political opponent, has not executed anyone throughout his tenure, is unheard-of in the contemporary history of our country. The President made conscious efforts to make it clear from the very beginning of his second term that this was his “second and last term’. He reiterated that message on several platforms. Over-enthusiastic ruling party supporters coined all types of slogans to entice the President for an extension; they did not succeed. President Koroma fended off ‘after u nar u’ and ‘more time’, the two most famous of the mantras. He unequivocally asserted that he would not add a single day to his term. And he proved the doubting Thomases wrong when on Valentine’s Day he, as the Constitution stated, “instructed my office to put forth a public notice announcing that parliamentary and local council elections will be held a little over one year from now, on March 7th, 2018.”
The President went further to state that “Having consulted with me, the National Electoral Commission (NEC) will also announce that the presidential elections shall take place on the same date.”
Now note that in the latter case the President didn’t’ “instruct” the NEC boss. He didn’t say “the presidential elections MUST take place on the same date.” He said ‘SHALL’. And he didn’t say “we agreed to…”. And he did not say the NEC boss “will also announce TODAY”. The President was merely making an electoral speech in which he decided to give an all-round summary of events, including having had consultations with the NEC boss. Pure and simple.
It was Nfa Alie who took matters too far. The first thing that raised eyebrows was when NEC, which is not known for working at night since Nfa took over, also immediately announced the ‘appointment of date for the presidential elections’ after the President’s speech.
Why did Nfa also have to do his own announcement on the same day as the President anyway? After all, it was already late in the night. What was he trying to prove? He could have waited the next day or even a week after, since he knew full well that there was actually no rush to beat any time with regards 7th March 2018! After the presidential speech, Nfa still had time (mathematically, three weeks – 14th February to 7th March) to have gone back to read some portions of the Constitution and the Public Elections Act, and a bit of history of NEC, specifically about his predecessor changing the 2007 date announced by President Kabbah (with no blame for the President at all).
When making the announcement on what has now virtually become like an Oscar-Pistorius-Valentine-Day for Sierra Leone, the Chairman of the National Electoral Commission Nfa Alie Conteh himself quoted the Public Elections Act 2012 which, via Section 43 of our Constitution, gave him the sole authority to declare a date for the presidential election. So what the heck are people doing trying to shift blame?
Bottom-line: the responsibility of getting the correct dates for the parliamentary and local government elections lies with the President; BUT the responsibility to get the correct date for the presidential elections rests with the electoral commission.
After all, that was what these same politicians and pseudo activists were saying before the announcement of the elections dates: they stated that consultations with the President did not mean the NEC boss had to listen to the President, and that Nfa Alie had the sole responsibility to announce the presidential election date. So, for goodness sake, doesn’t he now have the sole responsibility if the date falls outside of the constitutional timeframe? Can we allow common sense to prevail please?
Now, what if during the consultative scenario, all what happened was that President Koroma asked Nfa Alie to write the date he had chosen on a piece of paper; and then after reading it, the President replied “that’s exactly the same date I have chosen for the parliamentary and local government elections”?
Of course it would be normal for the President to include such coincidence in an address to the nation regarding the electoral process. Similar to what President Kabbah did in 2006. And interestingly in that instance, President Kabbah actually announced both presidential and parliamentary elections in the same breadth – in the same sentence. In the end, it was constitutionally proven that the NEC boss would always have the ‘final say’ in presidential election announcement. Just as in announcing the results of elections. No excuses for anything. If you can’t do the job, you can’t do the job.
If Nfa Alie is allowed to get away with this unwarranted extension, then what guarantee do we have that he would not do worse in a run-off election, by by-passing the constitutional timeframe without explanation?
So, all in all, even in this matter, as has been proven time and time again, President Koroma’s hands are clean!
© The Torchlight Newspaper 2017