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CRC Recommendations: Two differing views

9 March 2016 at 01:25 | 1052 views

Editor’s Note: The Chairman of Sierra Leone’s Constitutional Review Committee, Justice Edmond Cowan (photo) recently presented a draft report by the 80-member committee he heads to President Ernest Koroma. The contents of that draft report have triggered differing reactions from Sierra Leoneans as expected. We here present, unedited, two major reactions, one against and another in favour. The first reaction is from one Abdul Malik Bangura, who sounds like a very angry APC (ruling party) supporter and the other by Titus Boye-Thompson, who describes himself as a "Development Communications Expert." Both writers are based in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Let’s hear first from Abdul Malik Bangura, courtesy of Freetown’s Awareness Times newspaper:

Justice Cowan: Did President Koroma make a Mistake with an Octogenarian?

By Abdul Malik Bangura

Honourable Justice Edmond Cowan has a long and sterling bright service to this our beloved Nation. He has served as one of the senior Judges of the Sierra Leone Judiciary, as the Honourable Speaker of Parliament during which time, he acted as President of Sierra Leone many times. He is also currently the de-facto Ombudsman of Sierra Leone and for the purposes of this piece, he is the Chairman of the all-important 80-man Constitutional Review Committee mandated to secure the views from citizens and submit to the government about what the majority of citizens will like to be contained in their proposed new Constitution.

I have spent some days now researching on Hon. Justice Cowan and I learnt that next year March, he will turn a grand old eighty (80) years of age. This means virtually an Octogenarian is at the helm of our sacred constitutional review process. Why His Excellency took such a decision to appoint an old, old man like Hon. Cowan to preside over such a delicate process, beats my imagination. Who advised President Koroma to make such an appointment? Was it the former Attorney General Frank Kargbo? Or did the President act on his own deliberate judgment? Whatever the case, it is a fact that the brain cells inside the head of an 80 years old man is not up to par. The brilliance which Justice Cowan exhibited as a young man is no longer expected to be there. This is just natural. An 80 years old man is pliable to being misled and the process hijacked by unscrupulous members of his staff and team.

Last week Friday, the BBC Media Action programme had Justice Cowan sit on an ill-publicised Panel at the YWCA at which the likes of well known Opposition SLPP sympathetic activists were reported to have shared the Panel with him, under the guise of being the voice of ‘civil society’ that were helping to validate the views of the ‘majority public’ insofar as recommendations to do with the Presidency, Parliament and Elections. According to a CRC Press Release, Hon. Justice Cowan told the ill-publicised gathering that the proposals he has released as a draft, “represents the aspirations of the people”.

My question and that of a growing number of concerned citizens, is: which “people” are these whose aspirations are represented in that piece? The mere “37%” but loudly vocal people in the Opposition or the majority people of Sierra Leone? Secondly, with proposals running embarrassingly in counter paralleled directions of each other, then which exact one of the divergent proposals represent the aspirations of the citizens?

Examining the recent draft report of the CRC of Cowan produces embarrassing gaffes and contradictions; especially the one highlighted by Cornelius Deveaux in his piece we have published today. The formerly brilliant Judge, Speaker, Acting President, etc. etc. is no longer the man he used to be. Justice Cowan in his productive days will not have made such foolish gaffes as to release such a piece in which he claims the people want no changes to Section 35 and then in the SAME DOCUMENT, he says the people want a significant change to be made to dictates of Section 35. That was an abominable gaffe especially for something as sacred as a review of a national constitution.

When you add to this, the claims emerging from various quarters that the CRC process has been compromised under leadership of Cowan, you are left with a worrying and troubling scenario. The Committee might have been already hijacked from the hands of an 80 year old chairman who is too tired to really exert as much needed brain power attention as possible into such a sacred assignment.

The credibility of Constitutional Review Committee of Sierra Leone has now become a mockery. The new report, especially contradictions with respect to Section 35(1) and the proposed Subsection 7 of the proposed new chapter on Local Government &Decentralisation show the extent to which the process has been ridiculed. For a formerly much respected and revered Justice of the Court of Sierra Leone from whom much is expected, to have drawn such an unrehearsed report is a cause for alarm.

A post-conflict land like Sierra Leone is threatened with instability if its various state institutions are not handled in the proper manner. Notably, the Constitutional Review Committee was charged with responsibility to make impartial recommendations on issues affecting our well being.

Section 35.(1) of our current 1991 Constitution states that political parties can sponsor candidates for local government elections and Justice Cowan in draft report says the “aspirations of the people” do not want any changes to that section meaning that the “aspirations of the people” is for political parties to continue to sponsor candidates for local council elections.

However, and embarrassingly for a former respected Judge, he goes on to contradict that the “aspirations of the people” is for political parties to be prevented from sponsoring candidates for local council elections.

The CRC is saying that Section 35 of the 1991 constitution should not be changed. The mockery in its process now is how will Section 35 of the 1991 constitution survive if what is recommended in section 7 of its proposed new chapter is endorsed?

There are many other self-mockery and contradictions by Justice Cowan and his 80-man committee that renders the process now impugned.

Now, from my diligent research on his activities over the past decades, I want to state that I find Justice Cowan to be an honourable man. I might be wrong but I strongly believe he is a honourable man. And given that he is a honourable man, I want to suggest that Justice Cowan immediately does the honourable thing and relieve the President of having to live with the painful realization that His Excellency might have made a mistake in appointing an Octogenarian with failing brain power as Chairman of our sacred constitutional review process. It is time for the elderly, old man called Justice Cowan to RESIGN as Chairman of our sacred C.R.C! The process is being hijacked by elements who have compromised the credibility of the process. Every day a new suspicion emerges… In my view, Justice Cowan’s continued presence at the helm of the C.R.C is a recipe for instability in this country.

The honourable gentleman should quit and quit immediately whilst the President should consider instituting a hard look into the ongoing process as constituted. His Excellency might have made a grave mistake that this country cannot live with.

Justice Cowan should immediately resign and President Koroma should immediately review the entire CRC Composition and CRC Process including the impartiality and credibility of Mr. Saa Kpulun, the current Executive Secretary of the CRC and Mr. Sannaulah Baloch, the Chief Technical Officer. Thank you in advance Justice Cowan and thank you in advance President Koroma for taking steps to rectify the growing concerns.

And here is Titus Boye-Thompson:


By Titus Boye-Thompson, Development Communications Expert

It has always been a difficult road to travel. The path of working for country and not for self, of taking the moral high ground in all things metaphysical, in making decisions that may not just affect you or your immediate family but the very wellbeing of a nation. Such is the tasks that politicians have to take and it is not surprising that they suffer the greatest attrition rate in the public sector. It is clear that probity, accountability and moral rectitude are but high ideals that put the best of men to the test. Alluring as political and appointive service may be, there are certain pitfalls and vexations that cause self-doubt at the best of times and for weaker men, have resulted in their having to make some very harsh and sometimes rash decisions. Case in point is the unwarranted attack on the Chairman of the Constitutional Review Commission, Justice Edmund Cowan. A man of impeccable character, one who has served this country at several high profile positions with very little to demean himself has now become the subject of a poisoned pen in the hands of contemptuous journalism, calling for his immediate dismissal and questioning the very good judgement of the President of the Republic in the process.

It is easy for matters concerning the direction and progress of this nation to be treated with political levity but in this instance, it is regrettable that what is of such utmost importance in redefining what it means to be a Sierra Leonean is being handled with such disdain for sobriety and seriousness. Where the good name of Justice Cowan becomes a matter for public distension is way beyond me but it is good to follow the example of Andrew Keili, a noted diarist and political commentator who raised the issue of the most progressive work done by the Justice and to his credit, his energetic stance in taking the draft document out into the community, across radio stations and making it available for what should now be a period of serious contemplation and debate on the issues. It is inconceivable that a committee of around eighty people who have in diverse ways given their contribution to the review process to be shunted with the sweep of a poisoned pen to obscurity and the caricature of what should be a serious discussion be left in the portals of just one man.

Cornelius Deveaux in his inimitable way made a contribution to the ensuing debate in his somewhat peculiar and remonstrative manner with his usual propensity to contrive the situation to his advantage, articulating what would seemingly be the APC Party line or subjunctive opposition to the specific proposals on the constitutionality of party supremacy over individual propensity to renege against party discipline and control once elected to high office. In such a position, one can clearly distinguish between serious discourse from adulterated sensitivities, calling for the dismissal of the Chairman of the Constitutional Review Commission or questioning the President’s decision to appoint “an octogenarian” to such a sensitive position. It is regrettable that such utterances would come from a person of the pen, and with such alacrity as to send signals across intelligentsia that some upheaval of consciousness or a tragedy of cognition has ensued.

There are some contentious sections of the draft review report and as has been clearly elucidated, these matters would be subjected to public scrutiny and based on what is determined to be consensual, a further draft would be released after taking into consideration, the matters raised and to all intents and purposes, the efficacy of the reasoning behind the matters and objections or collusions emanating from such procedure. None of this requires a public flogging of Justice Cowan or any member of the CRC for that matter.

There are some very serious issues around the discourse of citizenship, its definition and the obligations and rights apportioned. These issues have been there for some time but now that an opportunity arises to extend public scrutiny on such a delicate subject, sober heads must prevail on what the definition of citizenship means for the country as a whole. There is a salient fact that Sierra Leone is the result of migration, repatriation and displacement altogether locked in the declarations on boundary limits made arbitrarily by Western European powers some far away room in Europe some time ago. In all the problematic of hedging a national identity together, the divisive tactics of colonialism left this country with two sets of land rules, disparate citizenship and fractious legal system comprised of customary law alongside a Judaeo-Christian moral law based on the English feudal system. The tinkering of some of our own Constitutional experts in the past gave us a hybrid Government system with a US style Presidential mandate alongside a Westminster Parliamentary system. The problems we have conjured up for ourselves are the very ingredients for a robust look at how we may need to define citizenship and the safeguards that must be imposed on that subject if necessary to negate the chance of the country6 being ruled by confused Arab who just happen to be born in Mabontoh. The term ‘Arab’ is used here demonstrably and deliberately to distinguish it from a person of ‘negro’ African ancestry – a term ably recognized by the extant 1991 constitution and others before it. Whilst there are very clear arguments for universal citizenship based on birth or parentage, there are those who cite Lebanon, the country from whose descendants most of the vocal challenges to our citizenship provisions emanate and, apparently a community largely denied of what they are now beginning recognize as a right that they want to exercise originate from, as having very restrictive laws on citizenship, in fact some more restrictive than the Sierra Leone 1991Constitutional provisions. That, coupled with an air of extrication between the Lebanese and the average communities in which they inhabit, it is difficult to see how the extension of Sierra Leonean citizenship would be welcomed if such extensions give such rights and privileges to Lebanese people without adequate or appropriate safeguards. It is for these arguments and reasons that we need to take a closer look on our citizenship provisions and to make a prima facie case for debunking our sanguine ancestry against the mere presumption to show that we are an inclusive society.

The arguments should be factual, high spirited and contemporaneous but in no way should they include the sacking of a man who has done his best for his country, has served so assiduously with nearly every hue of government over the years, simple because as late President Siaka Stevens once said, with a man like Edmund Cowan, it does not matter which tribe you are or which party you belong to, his first answer to authority is, Yes Sir!.