Is Sierra Leone Parliament poised to pass a 2-year extension of term limit for themselves and by extension President Koroma?
According to a report by one of their own, it was like Christmas in Parliament as members stood in a single file like children waiting patiently for their turn to walk up to Santa Claus to collect their gifts. The gifts were nothing but brand new smart phones apparently paid for using public funds and programmed with free unlimited minutes for calls to every other member of parliament. Any onlooker would have been convinced that this group is about to get busy on social media engaging their constituents. But unfortunately, the real plan appears to be a more sinister one. Overzealous members could no longer keep mute about the intention of the newly elected speaker to bring to the floor soon, a bill that will give a blanket two-year extension of the term of the current parliament. “We dae bring am na the floor and pass am. If you nor wan dae na parliament, leave and we go bring somebody else for replace you”; chanted one ruling party parliamentarian who was in a rather joyous mood on the floor of parliament. I am still unsure though whether the smart phones are meant to facilitate communication among members during this clandestine enterprise; intended to entice members or both. (Photo: Mustapha-Wai, author)
As the third-term dream fades away amid popular rejection, it appears President Ernest Bai Koroma has a more creative idea in mind. It has become obvious that a successful third term bid for President Koroma would require not only support by key stakeholders in his own party, but perhaps a constitutional amendment, a possible referendum, and a victory at the ballots for the third time in a row. But the president’s greatest threat seems to not come from the opposition but from within; as stakeholders within his own party, many of whom believe it’s their turn to take a shot at the presidency. It’s clear that they are not about to let the president get away with a third-term easily. This coupled with the fact that public perception regarding a third term bid is becoming more and more negative. However, given the new revelation from parliament, it appears the president has not given up on his hope to stay in office beyond his second five-year term. At the president’s disposal though is a lame duck parliament in which the opposition leader is clearly now serving at the discretion of the ruling party.
What the masterminds have created is an environment where a business case can be made that it is cost prohibitive to conduct parliamentary elections every five years. And on such grounds, a draft bill is allegedly underway requiring general elections to be held every seven years. With APC now guaranteed a two-third majority in parliament after questionably using the courts to take two seats from the opposition SLPP, one can be rest assured that such a bill will pass just as did the recent amendment to Section 79 of the Constitution; which changed the requirements for Speaker of the Parliament without a referendum. If all goes as planned, the president will lay claim to the two-year extension for himself on grounds that he was elected at the same time as the current parliament. And besides, presidential elections cannot be separated from general elections on the same cost prohibitive grounds. The plan is not only a betrayal of public trust entrusted in these representatives but a spiteful disregard for the greater good. If carried out as planned, it has the potential to create some serious panic, if not an unpredictable reaction from the general public.
As part of the grand plan, parliament recently passed a bill which raised salaries of members of parliament by 85%. This was a deliberate move to overburden the already Le 2.7 billion unfunded government pension liability account. A significant portion of this pension liability is accounted for by retired parliamentarians. With an average salary for a member of parliament at Le 17 million, each one term retired member is entitled to 40% of his/her salary or Le 8.5 million monthly in retirement. A multiple term retired member is entitled to 80% of his/her salary or Le 13.6 million in retirement. Given past voting patterns, it is estimated that more than half of the current parliamentarians will not win during re-election. This is because many would either not secure their party symbols or win at the ballots as a result how poorly they’ve done in delivering on their promises in their respective constituencies. So, at an average pension benefit of Le 8.5 million and Le 13.6 million respectively for single and multiple term retirees, the pension liability is expected to grow faster with a five year term than it will with a seven year term.
The ruling government is alleging that such liability would not be sustainable in the near future given the country’s already significantly subsidized budget. But the ruling government does not intend to seek the approval of the general public via the already handicapped constitutional review process and a referendum. Instead, the government is counting on making a case that the cost savings is significant enough to warrant such a change purely by legislative action accompanied by a rubber stamp by the president. I just hope that the champions of such cause are cognizant of the fact they what they are about to do has the potential to change the cause of history in Sierra Leone. And this parliament will be remembered for betraying the people, undermining our Constitution, and compromising our democratic system.
Mustapha Wai, Washington D.C, USA
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