Sierra Leoneans for Parliamentary Democracy, a group advocating for a return to parliamentary democracy, has said that the Westminster style democracy will usher in accountable systems that work for the country.
In a statement issued on Thursday September 15 to mark World Democracy Day in Freetown, the group, which draws its membership from Sierra Leoneans in and outside the country, said the system of government would respect the constitution and promote political structure that is established on the primacy of transparency and accountability.
“Imagine a country where parliament represents the supreme authority of the people. Imagine a shadow (opposition) cabinet paid for by the state to scrutinise the government in power; imagine a system underpinned by an independent judiciary; a robust and independent audit and anti-corruption commission; a fiercely independent media” part of the statement,” it said.
At the British Council in Freetown, where the group showed a 15-minute documentary that featured opinions and views from all sectors of society in support of a parliamentary democracy, albeit with emphases on the deference for how it might work differently.
Dr Habib Sesay, from the Political Science Department at Fourah Bay College, said he was chair of a sub-committee on the Constitutional Review Committee currently reviewing the 1991 Constitution, noting that he had long expressed hope that the system would work.
“I am strongly in support of a parliamentary democracy and I have made my views known about this on many platforms. Such a system will ensure collective responsibility in governance. However, as a nation without enough resources, despite our abundant natural resources like gold, diamond, bauxite, iron ore, I am not sure we can afford to maintain a two-chambered legislature,” he said.
Professor Thomas Yormah, who chaired the event, noted that parliament had been tamed to become very subservient to the executive arm of government. He said the system would provide space for massive interaction, arguing that parliamentary democracy needed to be protected.
Meanwhile, the SLPD statement noted that the time to do so was now. “The time for a return to a Parliamentary System of government is not just ‘fiercely’ now, but a matter of responsible patriotism. We owe it to ourselves, and our less-informed and disadvantaged compatriots to make that call”.
President Ernest Bai Koroma is on record to have encouraged Sierra Leoneans to come up with ideas “that will make governance better; that will deepen democracy; that will make everybody feel part and parcel of government machinery’. We must hold him to that call by embracing Parliamentary Democracy”.
Although some observers had argued that the parliamentary system was too sophisticated for Sierra Leone and sub-Saharan Africa, the group maintained that that was not the case.
“Our response to the aforementioned positions is twofold. First, Sierra Leone was at its best when the Westminster model of parliamentary democracy was adopted pre and post independence. Second, African leaders adopted the executive presidential system because it offered excessive wriggle-room possibilities for centralised control and unaccountable power. Thus, the parliamentary model was jettisoned for a presidential model almost continent-wide following independence”.
The calls have come at a time when the country was preparing for elections in February 2018 and some people had asked why change now?
“Let the elections happen in 2017 or 2018. But on new terms: a Parliamentary Democracy that reduces the powers of the president and return those powers to a people’s parliament and robust institutions. What is needed is a new system, not new personalities.
“Parliamentary Democracy is about giving primacy to institutions over personality cults that had dominated African politics for the last 50 years. As President Obama rightly argued: ‘Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions’. Essentially, Parliamentary Democracy privileges strong institutions over personality cults”.