Parliament Closes Today

The Proclamation ending the life of the Fifth Session of the Fourth Parliament of the Second Republic will be made today declaring its official dissolution ahead of the 7th March, 2018 national elections. The solemn event which happens once every five years will be climaxed with a farewell address to Parliament by His Excellency the President, Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma who, according to Section 73(1) of the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone, is also a Member of Parliament.

Traditionally, Parliament makes laws on behalf of the state and its people. But most importantly and critically in modern democracies, it exists to serve as a powerful instrument of checks and balances.

Critically also, Parliament plays a very important role in ensuring good public financial management by making sure the country’s money that it approves to be spent by the executive is properly spent and accounted for through various monitoring committees, the most important of them being the Public Accounts Committee.

In further ensuring that the executive arm of government manages the affairs of the state properly, Parliament also has many other monitoring, supervisory and accounting committees covering all government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs). Parliament also scrutinizes and approves or disapproves of nominations made by the Head of State.

There is always a close working link between Parliament and the Executive. At the beginning of its life, it is customary for the head of the executive to present to the House its work plan for the year. He repeats this every year until the five-year tenure ends. Going down memory lane, these are excerpts of President Koroma’s first address to Parliament after being reelected as President of the Republic in 2012:

In his opening statements, he thanked Sierra Leoneans for mandating him for what he called “the second and last time” to implement a “social contract” with an “economic imperative” – the “Agenda for Prosperity. He promised “equitable distribution” of the national wealth through a diversified economy and vowed to promote national unity as well as youth employment.

In an apparent reference to the many boycotts/walkouts by the opposition in the last Parliament, he said mockingly: “I warned some of my friends in the last Parliament who were in the habit of boycotting that one day the people will boycott them. Today I look around for many of them but I could not find them. Dialogue is better than boycott,” he said. The President encouraged especially the new Members of Parliament to always remember their commitments to their constituents and to put national interest above all else.  President Koroma committed himself to serve his people irrespective of region or ethnicity.

Regarding the various things he would do in the next five years, the speech did not provide any specifics nor did it identify any priorities whether in the short, medium or long term but outlaid broad principles and ideas that his government will pursue for the betterment of the country.

The highlights of the Speech were:

A new airport would be constructed at Mamamah. Road infrastructure improvement will continue. Attention will be paid to energy, water and other essential human development and life enrichment investments including education and health.

On Youth Empowerment and Employment, the President committed himself to devoting more resources to youths. The activities will include scaling up local content and exploring internship programs to be implemented by the National Youth Commission (NAYCOM). Emphasis will be on training to ensure employability in the new mining and petroleum economy through the transformation of the educational system to meet the country market/private sector demands.

Education: To ensure youths become more employable, the curriculum will be reviewed in tandem with contemporary labor and professional management needs. The enforcement of free primary education will be supported by the revival of the feeding program in schools and subsidized bus services for schools in Bo, Makeni, Kenema and Koidu.

Economic Diversification and Social Equity: More investment in agriculture, introduction of cottage industry and more efficient management of natural resources.

Energy Generation and Distribution: The government will exploit existing hydro projects, explore additional hydro power potential, harness solar power and clean energy. Reduce dependence on thermal plants which are too costly to manage and increase the installation of prepaid meters to foster better revenue collection. The focus will be a public, private partnership.

Health and Sanitation: Continuation of the free health care program possibly expanding the coverage to other social groups; more hospitals, clinics, more efficient and effective service delivery Sanitary Inspectors will be reintroduced and better sewage system to be developed

Water Supply Systems: Government will explore the full utilization of the country’s surface and underground water resources, improved access and deal with unauthorized tampering of Guma infrastructure.

Gender Equality: Government will implement 30% quota across MDAs and give women the opportunity to hold positions hither to unthinkable for women.

Access to Housing: The government will strengthen the Lands and Country Planning Ministry to ensure better planning of existing and new settlements, improve the housing mortgage scheme. It will engage private investment and development partners in this direction.

Transport, Information and Communications: Boost ICTs through the completion of fiber optic project to facilitate high speed internet connectivity and improve penetration of land line and mobile telephone throughout the country. Construct regional airfields, more roads with appropriate bus stops, provide more buses and introduce toll system for some of the roads. Improve the safety and dignity of travelers.

Good Governance: Strengthen separation of powers, access to justice, review the 1991 Constitution; strengthen local and chiefdom governance- review the Local Council Act, review local boundaries and re-establish Town Councils, timely fill up chief and section chief vacancies and enact/implement chiefdom finance bill to address chiefdom finance challenges. Encourage bi-partisan dialogue and promote national unity.

Foreign Policy: Promote international business investment, condemn coups and undemocratic ascension to power, and support international economic diplomacy. Sierra Leone will also review its international missions for effectiveness and efficient promotion of national interest. This means the closure, merger and or establishment of mission as, when and where necessary. The government will fight against drug, and child trafficking as well as money laundry.

Whilst it passed many useful legal, financial and infrastructural development and public service reform legislations in the last five years, as the life of this parliament comes to an end, some important business will have to wait the attention of the new parliament that will come into being; notably approval of the Government White Paper on the Report of the Constitutional Review Committee of the 1991 Constitution of the Republic of Sierra Leone.