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Professor Peters writes Christiana Thorpe

14 July 2007 at 23:25 | 413 views

52 Water Street, Freetown, Sierra Leone & P. O. Box 188,
Laurel, MD 20725
7 July 2007

Dr Christiana Thorpe,Chief Commissioner
National Electoral Commission
15 Industrial Estate, Wellington
Freetown, Sierra Leone

Dear Dr Thorpe:
I write to ask you in the lone voice of a concerned and dedicated citizen of Sierra Leone that you confer with your fellow Commissioners and decide on hosting a National Consultative Conference (NCC) after having informed His Excellency Dr. Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, outgoing President of our beloved republic about your decision. I propose the dates of August 3 to 5, 2007 as the time frame for the NCC.

The reason for my request is in order to afford you and your regional colleagues the chance to confirm your credibility and impartiality on the one hand and, on the other, to avoid a vacuum of power that will be precipitated when President Kabbah’s extended mandate ends three months after his term of office that was set to expire on May 14, 2007. After the three-month period that ‘The Constitution of Sierra Leone, 1991’ (‘the Constitution’) the governing authority of the land, allows a President to exceed his mandate the sun will finally set on President Kabbah’s stewardship and power will pass on to you as the only active constitutional authority while the 2007 election of President remains pending. It is to avoid that outcome that

I am urging the calling of an NCC ahead of the presumed expiration of Dr. Kabbah’s mandate in order to avoid a constitutional crisis in Sierra Leone. Should you and other Commissioners decline to use your combined authority, you will leave me with no other alternative than to work with civil society in Sierra Leone and with Sierra Leoneans abroad to form a Committee to select members that will constitute a Sovereign National Conference to decide on the country’s future at the putative end of the current president’s extended term of office.

My position about the impending vacuum of power is based on my reading of the Constitution of Sierra Leone and on the consultation of constitutional and political experts who agree with my stand. President Kabbah himself appears to agree with this interpretation as regards the expiration of his term of office. In his farewell speech as President to Parliament in which he stated that his term of office would end in a matter of weeks. Indeed, his term would have ended sooner had the date of the Presidential Election of 2007 been set in accordance with provisions in the Constitution, and therefore during the normal time that elections have been held in Sierra Leone, that is, between February and May.

The country is now gearing for elections in the middle of the rainy season when torrential rains are likely not only to affect the electioneering and the turnout but also to favor the party in power as is proven all over the world. As the statutory body charged by the Constitution to decide on and announce the election date, the onus of responsibility for the initial choice of 28 July, 2007, a date three and a half months after the deadline set by the Constitution, not just the postponement to 11 August, 2007 falls on the collective shoulders of you and your fellow Commissioners.

You will recall that on August 3, 2006 President Kabbah overstepped his authority by announcing the date of the election as 28 July, 2007 instead of allowing the NEC to announce the date. That date was in keeping with the request by the donor members of the IGAP (International Governance and Accountability Pact) to announce a date within the twelve-month period of the pact signed on 18 July, 2006 but in contravention of the Constitution. The Constitution allows for the President to stay in office beyond his term if a Presidential Election was pending but it also stipulates that such an election must take place within four months prior to the expiration of his term. By setting the date at July 28, 2007, the President in effect unconstitutionally arrogated to himself an additional three months in office beyond 14 May 2007 and the Commission either collaborated with or acquiesced in that decision effectively relinquishing your right and responsibility, unless you have unassailable evidence to the contrary have accepted that extended mandate of President Kabbah because it is the status quo unless and until it is successfully challenged before the Supreme Court by one or more of the contesting political parties, by a member or members of civil society or a combination.

While mine is now a lone voice to begin with in this open letter, I hope to galvanise civil society members in-country and Sierra Leoneans externally to make their voices heard regarding this matter. It is for this reason that I ask you to take prompt action that would (i) stave off a constitutional crisis, (ii) reduce the chances for some forces in the political or civic arena to declare a lack of confidence in the impartiality of the NEC and (iii) establish the independence of the NEC. I can for the next several days be reached in the US by telephone at 240 593 7339 and by email at; thereafter I can be reached by phone at 76 835 900, at my permanent home address at 50 Water Street, Freetown and also via email.
I look forward to your urgent response to this letter. Time is of the essence.

In the meantime, kindly find attached several essays from my forthcoming book, ‘Sierra Leone in Crisis’ that address some of the cogent issues in the book. The second one, ‘What Would Constitute a Constitutional Crisis for Sierra Leone?’ posits some trenchant questions about the role of the NEC and your own role in particular over the selection and announcement of the date for the Presidential Election of 2007. I trust that you will have cogent answers to make available to the public that will maintain the public trust.

My good wishes to you and your colleagues as you continue to lead a very important agency in the democratic process of Sierra Leone.

Yours sincerely,

Jonathan A. Peters

Photo:Professor emeritus Jonathan Peters.