As State Of Emergency Declared… Parliament On Fire Today

 

There is expected to be lots of fireworks in Parliament today, Tuesday 26th February, 2019 between the governing Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) and the main opposition All People’s Congress (APC) party over the issue of the regulations in President Julius Maada Bio’s proclamation of a State of Emergency that was last week tabled in the august body.

With the matter undetermined after a blazing row between both sides of the aisle, the Speaker of Parliament, Hon. Dr. Abass Chernor Bundu adjourned the debate on the Presidential Proclamation of State of Emergency on rape and sexual offenses against women to today.

The issue, which came to limelight following the President’s proposition of a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment for men who rape minors, was the subject of heated debate in Parliament between its proponents, the ruling SLPP and the opponents, the main opposition APC when it was tabled in Parliament.

Whilst stating that they were not opposed to the President’s war against rape and sexual violence against women, the main opposition insisted that there was no need for the President to have declared a State of Emergency, but only needed to strengthen the existing Sexual Offenses Act of 2012.

Articulating APC’s position, Hon. Daniel Koroma urged Parliament to amend the law on rape, noting that serious rape cases have fewer penalties, while less serious ones have serious penalties. He further argued that the state was neither at war nor facing any threat of a breakdown of law and order or an imminent calamity. He therefore said there was no need for a declaration of State of Emergency.

SLPP’s Hon. Hindolo M. Gevao however argued that the amendments called for by APC would not solve the problem, stating that Section 29(1) of the 1991 Constitution gives the President the power to declare a State of Emergency on any threat to the state including rape, he said, being a threat to the girl-child and women.

Hon. Osman Timbo of the APC agreed that rape is a national concern and applauded the various groups that have helped to tackle the menace. He called for stringent measures to be taken against rape. The MP however pointed out that rape is a criminal offense and not a health challenge, and therefore does not support the declaration of a State of Emergency. He conceded that fifteen years as the penal code for rape is not enough and therefore supports life imprisonment.

The Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Hon. Sengehpor Thomas said they as the governing party cannot pay lip service to the cry of women, citing a 5-year-old child being raped by a 43-year-old man that left the child paralyzed. He lamented that hundreds of such cases go unreported. The Deputy Speaker therefore urged colleague lawmakers to support the proclamation, adding that it does not threaten national peace.

It could be recalled that the debate last week ended chaotically with APC declaring that without the Speaker calling for a head count for the proclamation to get a two-thirds majority as required by law for its validity. Their argument was that Standing Order (SO) 44 clearly calls for a head count to get a two-thirds majority instead of the use of voice call, as was done by the Speaker in declaring the proclamation law.

After the Speaker’s declaration, Hon. Hassan Sesay also cited SO 46(1) and SO 44 in opposing the Speaker’s decision.

APC’s opposition to the ratification of a State of Emergency to fight rape and sexual offenses against girls and women is based on their fear that the declaration would give the President unfettered powers to have citizens’ rights abrogated.

According to the main opposition, Section 29 of the 1991 Constitution that gives the President power also gives him unlimited power to abrogate civil liberties. Thus, they argued that instead of a State of Emergency, the government should instead call for an amendment of the existing Sexual Offenses Act 2012.

As far as APC sees it, the conditions, as prescribed in Section 29, do not exist for the President to declare a State of Emergency. They further maintained that according to Section 105 of the 1991 Constitution, only Parliament has the right to make laws for the country.

The main opposition also argued that even though the Speaker had said the proclamation has become law, it is not so because the House has not been given the opportunity to debate on the regulations within which the State of Emergency would be implemented. The President, they say, could only set the regulations after his proclamation has been approved by Parliament.

APC’s Hon. Abdul Kargbo in a nutshell said their party believes that the President wants the State of Emergency to empower him to target the main opposition.

APC also believes that confidence would be only restored when Parliament debates the regulations, while the governing SLPP is insisting that the APC’s fear is unfounded as, according to them, the State of Emergency as in the fight against Ebola is limited to the fight against rape and sexual offenses against minors and women.