Creating difficulty out of simpilicity – Chieftaincy Brouhala
Between the last months of 2002 and early 2003, the SLPP government of President Tejan-Kabbah conducted elections for Paramount Chiefs in 63 chiefdoms country wide. The proceedings ran very smoothly in all of them because the Provincial Administration and the government kept to the rules and guidelines which were simple and clear.Â Many of the vacancies were createdÂ during the rebel war when it was not practicable to conduct elections to fill them. Many of the deceased Paramount chiefs had died in exile and were not accorded cultural and traditional rites.
The first thing the government did was toÂ put modalities in place for the remains of the deceasedÂ chiefs to be exhumed and properly buried in their chiefdoms. That was followed by the established practice of Revision of the Chiefdom Counselors’ list for each Chiefdom. There again the rules were simple and there were neither difficulties, nor appeals. Every aspirant to the Chiefdom counselor list had to produce an officialÂ local taxÂ receipt that he was supported by nineteen tax payers in the Chiefdom.
DifficultiesÂ arose in the past when there was political interference, like the government covertly backing a particular candidate, orÂ ministers using their position to influence the conduct of the campaign and sometimes even of the elections. To put an end to the practice President Tejan-Kabbah not only admonished his ministers to refrain from such conduct, but gave a directive that they were to avoid visiting the chiefdoms during the campaign period and during the election itself. Like I wrote some time ago, in only one instance was that directive flouted and the culprit paid a high price, to the extent that he had to be evacuated by United Nations Peace keepers in an armoured personnel carrier.
When the minister of Local government recently piloted the new chieftaincy bill through Parliament IÂ welcomed its provisions in principle especially the section that dealt with non-political interference. However based on my experience and involvement in the exercise as minister of the interior and therefore of local government affairs under President Siaka Stevens, I had my misgiving. I remember a case where aggrieved parties took their case to the high court following a chieftaincy election. While the case was before the court the late President in an address duringÂ a public meeting in the Provincial headquarter town,Â referred to the court case as follows. “Well, an election for Paramount chief took place in one Chiefdom following which I recognized the newly elected Paramount chief. I understand the matter has been taken to court; I am waiting to see which high court judge is going to reverse the situation and my recognition after that.”
I doubt whether the ink had quite dried after President Ernest Bai Koroma had signed the present act into law beforeÂ stories began to emerge about blatant political interference up to ministerial level in the current exercise in which Parliament had decreed that the National Electoral Commission should be involved ab initio. There are reported problems at every stage in many Chiefdoms; arbitrary decisions by some Provincial Secretaries, faulty procedures at the declaration of rights, ministerial interference even after the declarations and many more.
Doesn’t all of this make absolute nonsense of the government’s declared policy of transparent, free and fair chieftaincy elections?
In some cases it is said that Chiefdom counselors’ lists have been produced leaving out the names of legitimate counselors. Are these allegations not indications that with this government we are going back to the same old practice of trying to impose preferred candidates over the peoples’ preference? This in turn would make complete nonsense of all the declared intentions of fair play. PerhapsÂ at this stage his Excellency should appoint persons of high standing to look into the current difficulties in each province and advise him accordingly? Already the scheduled election dates have been pushed back; there should be no harm in pushing them further back, even into the New Year so that they are done properly?
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