Sierra Leone: Constitutional Flaw Plunges SLPP Party Into Infighting

Published on 14th April 2015

The SLPP Party was founded in 1951 and it is presumably assumed that the first version of the Party Constitution was also created about the time the Party came into being. Although the Party Constitution has gone through a series of amendments since then, none of the amendments have been rational enough to reflect the changing environment of the Party, the Country and the World. It is this huge constitutionally-driven generational gap (between the SLPP Party Constitution and times of today) that is the root cause of the ever-widening mistrust, infighting and disunity in the SLPP Party today.
 
Many pieces of the SLPP Party Constitution are so well written that one would not even want to raise an objection. But looking, for instance, at Clause 4 (which is actually about SLPP Party Structure), one gets suspicious. The SLPP Party Conference (which is the highest body responsible for electing not only the Party Executive but also the Party Flag-bearer) is hugely biased towards the so-call Party Councilors. One wonders who these Councilors are, where they come from and on which basis they vote in SLPP Party Executives and Flag-bearers. Putting straight this pivotal Electoral College is critical for not only keeping the SLPP Party pure and unblemished by sycophants, but also for upholding the so badly-needed unity in SLPP Party proclaimed in the “One Country, One People” Party Motto.
 
Based on the amended 1995 Party Constitution in 1998 and subsequently adopted in April 2010, Clause 4, Sub-clause A, Article 2, Sub-article c states as follows: “Four (4) councilors in SLPP-controlled Local Councils including the Mayor or Chairman. At least one of the four (4) councilors shall be a woman (where possible)” are per the Party Constitution allowed to attend and vote for the Party Executives and Flag-bearer. Then Clause 4, Sub-clause A, Article 2, Sub-article d states as follows: “Two (2) councilors or SLPP members from non-SLPP-controlled councils selected in collaboration with district executives” are per the Party Constitution allowed to attend and vote for the Party Executives and Flag-bearer. Sierra Leone is administratively divided into 3 Provinces and the Western Area, 12 Districts, 149 Chiefdoms and 112 Constituencies (some Chiefdoms consisting more than one Constituency and vice versa). SLPP then has 3 to 5 Wards in every Constituency.

It is not absolutely clear what is meant by the word “Council” in Clause 4 of the SLPP Party Constitution, but if we take it to be the equivalent of the word “Constituency” in the National Administrative Division, then the SLPP Councilors should be the heads of the SLPP Wards. Thus even in the unlikely event where the SLPP Party loses all the Constituencies in a general election in Sierra Leone, there will be (per the Party Constitution) at least some 224 Councilors in any given SLPP Party Conference. It then becomes very clear that over seventy percent of the Electoral College of any SLPP Party Conference will be made up of the so-called Party Councilors. This somehow makes the elections of the SLPP Party members into Top SLPP Party Positions the sole business of the Party Councilors. It then becomes incumbent upon us to take a closer look at who these SLPP Party Councilors really are.
 
The Party Councilors are supposed to come from the lowest Stratum of the SLPP Party Structure — the Wards, of which there could be three or five in a given Constituency. It is suspicious as to why the Party Councilors are given such a sweeping stake in the SLPP Electoral College which elects SLPP Party Executives and Flag-bearer. One would again argue that since the Party Councilors belong to the lowest Strum of the SLPP Party Structure, they could actually be the least educated and least committed to the Party. Least educated here does not in any way mean that the Party Councilors do not have good education, but that they can hardly be more educated and committed than the higher Strata members of the Party.

On this basis, one could say that the Party Councilors may not have any well thought-out yardstick (that is in line with the Party and National Constitutions) against which Party Executives and Flag-bearer are voted into office. Of course, the SLPP Party Constitution does not have any laid down guidelines for background checks of either aspiring SLPP Party members nor for aspiring SLPP Party Executives or Flag-bearer. Thus in a poverty-ravaged and highly-illiterate country like Sierra Leone, votes can be easily sold for personal financial gains at the expense of Party and National Interests. Assuming that the above supposition holds in the SLPP Party today, then the business of the Electoral College of the SLPP Party Conference very much well plays into the hands of Contender Parties like the ruling APC Party. This could be one of the reasons for the persistent infighting, animosity and disunity in the SLPP Party that is only getting worse with time.
 
There are so many deliberate ambiguities in the SLPP Party Constitution. All the predecessor leaders of the SLPP Party had only changed those Clauses of the Party Constitution that give the most advantage to the Executive Offices they hold, leaving the ambiguities unchanged in the hope for future manipulations. For instance, the only most visible change the former Chairman (John Benjamin) made to the Party Constitution during his tenure of office was fusing Titles of the Party Leader and Chairman into one Executive Post as “SLPP Party Chairman and Leader”; giving him all the power he needed to exploit the Party to his utmost advantage. In formal institutions like political parties, ambiguities should be fully clarified in Subsidiary Documents and not in any circumstance left to explanations based on common sense. People with ulterior motives will always tap into any such ambiguities to serve their utmost selfish ambitions. And when this happens, there is bound to develop enormous discord, infighting, disunity and even hatred and enmity that only lead to the demise of the institution.

Now, we take a close look at Clause 6 of the amended SLPP Constitution that spells out the criteria for qualification for election as an Executive or Flag-bearer. To actually drive the point home, we will have to reproduce here the entire Clause 6 of the SLPP Party Constitution in verbatim as follows:


CLAUSE 6: NATIONAL AND LOCAL ELECTIONS

1.The National Executive Council shall be responsible for ensuring that party candidate(s) is (are) chosen by each constituency to contest seats in the National Legislature and local councils both general, local and bye-elections.

2.The Party Conference shall nominate a candidate for the Presidential elections using the simple majority system.

3.The candidate nominated shall at future presidential elections be the Party’s Presidential Candidate with discretion to choose his/her running mate as his/her Vice President, in consultation with the National Executive Council. 

4.The National Chairman and Leader shall not vie for the post of Presidential Nominee.

5.Any national executive member (excluding the National Chairman and Leader) can vie to become the Presidential Nominee provided he/she resigns from office not less than six months before the date for the election of Presidential Nominee.

6.All such candidates shall be duly recognized as national and local council candidates of the party and shall be entitled to the support of the entire party organization.

7.Each party candidate shall be authorized by the National Executive Council to use the emblem and slogan in election publicity materials, posters and on all ballot boxes.

8.No person shall be nominated as a party candidate for the National Legislature unless:
1.He/she is an individual member of the party and is not a member of any organization which is in opposition to the party.

2.He/she agrees to accept and conform to the Constitution, Principles, Policies and Programs of the Party and shall sign a declaration to the effect.

3.He/she is a citizen of Sierra Leone.

4.He/she is not disqualified to be elected as a Member of Parliament under the Constitution of Sierra Leone, decree and/or by-law.

5.In the event that the Presidential Candidate of the Party loses the Presidential Election, both the Presidential Candidate and running mate shall become ex-officio-members of the National Executive Council. 

Here, in Clause 6, lies what  creating much mischief and havoc in SLPP Party today. With irrelevant exemptions, the qualification for any position in the SLPP Party is simply being a member of the Party. There is no set out criteria (such as length of Party membership, length/quality of service to the Party or meaningful contributions that foster the image of the Party) that an existing SLPP Party member needs to fulfill at any point in time before vying for any position in the Party rack and file (including the Chairman and Flag-bearer positions) apart from simply being a member of the Party. This literally implies that one can register with the SLPP Party while on the way to SLPP Party Convention and eventually hijack any key position in the Party during the course of the Party Convention. So it is not uncommon today to see even die-hard SLPP Party members wondering if this Jack or that Jill is a Party member; just so much uncertainty and confusion in the Party! That said, now here where the real hellish catch lies in Clause 2 of the SLPP Party Constitution regarding membership to the Party, also given in verbatim as follows:

CLAUSE 2

1.Membership

1. Classification of membership – There shall be two (2) kinds of membership


1. Individual membership
2. Organizational or Associate membership

2. Qualification for Membership

1. Any person who is a Sierra Leonean and is not less than eighteen (18) years of age is eligible for individual membership of the Party.
2. Organizational membership shall be open to all Trade Unions, Co-operative Societies, Professional, Social, Cultural and Sports Organizations or other Associations or Groups whose aims and objects are approved of by the National Executive Council of the Sierra Leone People’s Party.

3. Admission of Membership

1. A person who is eligible for membership may be admitted as a member by enrolment at the National Headquarters or at any constituency branch of the Party.

2. A party card shall be issued to every member on enrolment upon payment of the individual membership fee as determined from time to time by the Party Conference. The rightful possession of a party card by a person shall be presumed as evidence of membership.

3. An organization or group which is eligible for membership shall apply to the National Headquarters or to a regional, district or constituency branch, and shall submit a copy of its constitution and its aims and objectives.  On approval of such constitution by the National Executive Council of the Party, the organization may be enrolled upon payment of the organizational membership fee as determined from time to time by the Party Conference.

4.Obligations of Members

Each member, on admission, is deemed to have accepted the Principles, Programs and Constitution of the Party and have agreed to conform to the Constitution and Rules and Regulations of the Party.  Each member is obliged to obey all lawful directives from officials of the Party and to pay the prescribed dues promptly and regularly.

5.Discipline

Any member of the Party:

1.who disobeys or neglects to carry out a lawful instruction from the Party or any of its officials or,

2.who conducts himself/herself in any manner which is likely to bring ridicule, hatred or advocates any opinions contrary to those of the party or,

3.who contravenes any of the provisions of the Party’s Constitution, shall be liable to be dealt with as laid down in the rules and regulations of the Party.

As there are no conditions set out as yardstick to measure the commitment of SLPP Party Executive members and potential Flag-bearers, any “Jack and Jill” can register with the Party today and hijack any position in the Party rank and file tomorrow. In fact, as we all may know, the definition of the identity of a Sierra Leonean is very much at stake today. There is no unified National ID Card System and/or Passport System that is based on a strictly-monitored Birth Certificate System or anything of the sort to be used to determine who really is a Sierra Leonean. Apart from heavy daily influx of immigrants from the bordering countries of Liberia and Guinea (who generally speak languages commonly spoken in Sierra Leoneans), people from all over Africa and the World today lavishly possess valid Sierra Leone Passports. But even with this aside, genuine Sierra Leoneans who are sympathetic to rival political parties can readily hijack Executive and Flag-bearer positions in the SLPP Party. In a highly impoverished and illiterate nation like Sierra Leone, outsiders can smoothly buy their way through the top under fraudulent systems like the current SLPP Party Constitution. Also because contenders for (Executive and Flag-bearer) positions in the SLPP Party do not engage in any open debates from which at least snap Background Checks, Personality/Talent Measures and Service Dedication to the Party before, during and after the SLPP Party Conference are taken, any crook/mole in a strong financial position (either acquired through personal effort or given by rival parties for clandestine motives) can easily buy votes and win elections in SLPP Party as per the current Party Constitution (Kabbah?).
     
It is therefore safe to say that it was the flaws in the SLPP Party Constitution that made the less committed Late President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah to axe out the more committed Charles Francis Margai in the run-up for the 1996 Flag-bearer position of the SLPP Party. But, again, we are always inclined to put the blame squarely on Charles Margai for somehow digging his own political grave because being the lawyer we know him to be and then sole custodian of the SLPP Party throughout the long dark days of the Stevens-Momoh APC rule, Margai failed to plug up the hellish flaws in the SLPP Party Constitution. This eventually haunted Margai to his subdued loss to Kabbah, an event that has doomed him all the way down to the irrelevant mediocre he is today in Sierra Leone society. Verily, verily so, it is truly a unique “one drop” in the reverse direction for Charles Francis Margai — a crushing drop from the Holy Grail to Tatters. We had so much looked up to Margai to save not only the SLPP Party, but also to completely clean up the ailing nation with all the unpatriotic isms engulfing us today. But all this is now behind us and we once again have to look into an entirely different direction for an astute political messiah to lead our beloved and once valiant SLPP Party.
     
In the first place, Kabbah could not have qualified for the 1996 SLPP Flag-bearer race had the constitutional flaws been thoroughly plugged up under the hegemony of Charles Margai. Kabbah, over his ten-year rule, also made no efforts to fix up the loopholes in the SLPP Party Constitution. In fact, Kabbah instead used the flaws in the SLPP Party Constitution to further victimize Margai and trick in Solomon Berewa in the 2007 general elections. John Benjamin took over the Party and he, like his predecessors, failed to plug up the flaws in the Party Constitution — an even that now haunts him down in a embarrassing way. Of course we cannot expect Chief Somanon Kapen to do otherwise as he has valiantly shown a bold affinity and likeness for the ruling APC Party. The constitutional flaw is the hellish heck that is forcing even die-hard members to turn their back on the SLPP Party today. People are today increasingly taking the back seat and playing the wait-and-see game in the political happenings in the SLPP Party. For sure, no one is today certain about the direction into which the SLPP Party will head next. APC has gotten a firm grip on the SLPP “Business Of The Day” as SLPP is currently completely lost in the highly illusive political environment it finds itself in today’s Sierra Leone.
     
Political science, like boxing science, is a social science with unique old normalcies — an element that makes the science more complete, mature and hugely rewarding to relevant players and the society at large. For boxing science, the more brutal it gets, the sweeter it becomes. Then for political science, the more complex it gets, the more interest it draws among the people it serves. Thus continuing to hold on to such a flawed constitution in such a major Political Party with such a long political history in post-independence Sierra Leone is something tantamount to a political crusade towards an all-out political crucifixion of the SLPP Party. The constitutional flaws in the SLPP Party have brought so much uncertainty, confusion and controversy into the Party today that even the so-called Top Party members now wonder about the Party membership of certain contenders of key Party positions, including Executive and Flag-bearer positions. This has been the case all this while for Kandeh Yumkella and a few others, and all these people have done is just simply going on the air/media and forcefully declare themselves as SLPP Party members and so it comes to be upon us all. What a hellish political wilderness the SLPP Party has today found itself in!
     
This is the political gimmickry that the ruling APC Party has exploited by implanting a sizable ring of moles into the SLPP Party, some holding responsible positions in the Party. From time immemorial, SLPP has been branded as the “baby-boomer” party, even though it today remains to see the babies. Instead of coming together as one people and one party, what we have seen is epic desertion, infighting and the rise of APC moles to the top positions of the SLPP Party. With this, it is hard today for even the so-called die-hard Party members to give their heart out to the SLPP Party. People are giving lip-service treatments to the once noble and vibrant elite SLPP Party.
     
Now that we can clearly see the dangers of constitutional flaws to constitutionally-driven organizations, we must now address soul-searching questions. How much longer can we continue to endure as the very victims of our own creations before we take rational actions to rectify the system? It seems we are just setting the stage right for the ruling APC Government to continue to divide and dismantle this once valiant family of SLPP Party. It is high time to take radically rational steps to boldly overhaul the SLPP Party Constitution to such a depth that it fully reflects the political environment of Modern-age Sierra Leone.  Who is a Sierra Leonean? Who verifies who is a Sierra Leonean? What essential and mandatory criteria (background check, party membership type, length of party service, dedication/contribution to party course, personality/talent qualities, patriotism, etc., etc.) must be fulfilled before vying for whatever position in the SLPP Party? How can membership to the Electoral College of the SLPP Party Conference be radically and rationally reformed to ensure that SLPP Party Executives and Flag-bearers are not implicitly elected by the less-literate and less-critical Stratum of the SLPP Party? These and many more are the sorts of questions we need to address in rewriting the SLPP Party Constitution to ensure us the vibrant Party we had always been. This can once again make us the Party of choice for the vast majority of the Sierra Leone population.

By Sulay Conteh , Sierra Leone.


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