It is now official. China is no longer just a development partner of the Government and people of Sierra Leone, it is now playing an active part in our national politics by openly supporting one political party to the exclusion of the other eleven registered parties. On Tuesday 16th May, Chinese officials and President Ernest Koroma turned the sod for the construction of a seven-storey building which is a gift of China to the President’s All People’s Congress (APC) party. The proposed building named APC/CPC Friendship building, ostensibly a donation from the Communist Party of China (CPC) to the APC which shall be completed within seven months, will house the APC Western Regional Headquarters.
China’s donation of Friendship structures is not new: the very popular China House at Brookfields was a donation by the Government of China to the people of Sierra Leone in honour of Sino-Sierra Leone fraternal relations and not to a political party. That facility has been serving the people of Sierra Leone for several years now in a non-discriminatory manner by maintaining a non-political management and opening its services to groups and individuals for meetings, workshops and social events hosted by Alumni associations, Religious organizations, Government bodies ,NGOs and civil society organizations from all over the country. The National Stadium is another example of Chinese support to the people of this country.
This time it is different. Now, it is the Communist Party of China, which is the same as the Government since China is a one-party communist State, that has singled out one of the twelve registered parties to which it is making an exclusive donation of a seven-story building that will be inaugurated only three months before the crucial Presidential and general elections in 2018.
Usually, support to political parties from foreign bodies takes the form of capacity strengthening either through aid to State institutions such as the Political Parties Registration Commission (PPRC) or training extended to the All Political Parties Association etc. In extreme cases such as when jubilant thugs of the APC destroyed the opposition SLPP building to celebrate their victory in 2007, U.N. agencies have stepped in to help with repairs and so on. In fact, at that time, all the other political parties in Parliament, APC and PMDC, received some form of support from the UN system here. But this openly preferential treatment in the form of a donation by the Chinese to one political party is unprecedented.
Granted that under the current APC regime China has benefitted from a considerable number of contracts and a boom in economic cooperation with Sierra Leone, but there is a limit to which they can show their appreciation; especially when such largesse clearly contravenes the laws of Sierra Leone.
The Political Parties Act (2002) clearly states that “The source of funds of a political party shall be limited to contributions or donations, whether in cash or in kind, of persons who are entitled to be registered as voters in Sierra Leone” (Political Parties Act (2002) (PPA), section 19, sub-section 1). Among those qualified to register as voters and who can contribute in cash or kind to a political party, China is certainly not included. The reason for this restriction is that the State wants to “limit the influence of money in the political process” (PPA, sec.19, sub-sec. 2) so that no one individual or political group can have undue advantage (including financial and material) over the others. Unfortunately, the donation of the APC/CPC Friendship hall to the APC constitutes a privilege that is denied to the other political parties.
China has been a great friend of the people of Sierra Leone. When the late President Stevens’ government rose in support of and solidarity with the People’s Democratic Republic of China at the United Nations, it was not on behalf of the APC party; it was the people of Sierra Leone who stood up for the people of China. China cannot now be seen to be undermining our democratic pluralism in Sierra Leone by extending favours to one party and strengthening it to fight against the others. The current APC regime under Ernest Koroma has been showing strong signs of drifting towards a dictatorship. There has been an erosion of the independence of almost all the State institutions including the Judiciary and the Legislature to a considerable degree and a corresponding increase in the executive authority and powers of the President (to the extent that the APC was recently campaigning for the “executive” authority recognized by our Constitution to graduate into “Supreme Authority” in a proposed Constitution that they are rushing to enforce before next year’s elections. Should we conclude that this gesture by China is an encouragement for the APC to continue in this direction? I hope not.
Besides, this gift of a so-called Friendship Building seems to contradict China’s strong Foreign policy of non-interference into the internal affairs of other countries enshrined in its Five Principles of Co-existence. China has often claimed that outside mutually beneficial business relations, it has no interest in influencing how African countries govern themselves.
It is therefore sensible for the Chinese Government to review this kind of support, either by extending the same magnitude of support, and building seven storey buildings for all the twelve registered political parties or drop the idea completely due to the imbalance it creates within our political system. It is also expected that the PPRC which was created by the Constitution of Sierra Leone will be performing its functions and ensuring that the provisions of sections 19 (1) and (2) of the Political Parties Act are adhered to.
Political parties also either in their individual capacities or collectively constituted as associations must rise up and support the PPRC to execute its mandate and prevent foreign interference into our party politics in Sierra Leone. Finally, Civil Society organizations in Sierra Leone which have struggled relentlessly in the past to defend democracy in Sierra Leone should reflect on this issue and speak up against this discriminatory and partisan “friendship” that China appears to be exhibiting through this gift to the APC party.
FROM A CONCERNED SIERRALEONEAN