Parliament is the people’s representative forum and constitutes their representatives elected through universal suffrage. However, due to the huge electoral promise made by the various candidates at the time of campaigning and electioneering and their inability to fulfil these promises has broken the link between the Members of Parliament and their people (the Constituents).This has led to some of animosity and tension between the MPs and the people leading to lack of trust and confidence in the MPs, creating an atmosphere of divide and rule. Alternatively, the MPs too are complaining that excessive demand is made on them from their people each time they visit the Constituencies.
As a result, some MPs have abandoned their constituencies with little or no regard any longer for the people’s priorities as promised including their needs and hence, lack of effective representation by the MPs.
With the support from the United Kingdom Parliament through the West Minister Foundation for Democracy (WFD), THE 50/50 Group in partnership with the Centre for Conflict Management and Development Associate (CMDA) and the Lawyer Centre for Legal Assistance (LAWCLA) have ended a yearlong pilot project for fifty Members of Parliament with the objective of STRENGTHENING MPs ENGAGEMENT WITH CONSTITUENTS
The organisation has held seventeen dialogue sessions between the MPs and thirty stakeholders identified by the MPs in each constituency. In each of these stakeholders forum, the issue of the MPs accountability, oversight functions and his representative roles are discussed. These meetings provide the opportunity for the MP to give an account of his stewardship since elected and how far he has met his electoral promises. They are closely followed by questions and answer sessions by the MP. More importantly, most MPs do not like these meetings as they are held to task that has resulted to some embarrassing situation for some MPs especially those that do not visit their constituencies to hold meetings with their people.
One important aspect of this project is that constituency development plans are made at this meetings comprising generally of the peoples priorities and immediate needs that has not been captured in the District development plan obtained by District Council. The importance of the dialogue sessions is to determine whether their views are reflected in the district plans. This is also done in the interest of the MP to have a first sight look at Council development plans and to have knowledge of what operates in councils. In this vein, he will now serve as oversight to council to ensure that the people’s development priorities are implemented in line with what is obtained in the plans.
These sessions have helped to resolve dispute/ conflict between MPs and Councillors in Makeni (all belonging to the same political party), between two MPs and their constituents in Petifu, Port Loko District as is continuing to intervene where ever these sessions expose grievances and misunderstanding between the MP and the people.
Finally, as a provision of support to enhance the representative role of the MPs, fifteen Constituency Development Offices have been opened for use by the constituents and the MP. The office functions to register development concerns, aspirations for the attention of the appropriate authorities. It is not a complaint office but most MPs want to present the office as a political party affair but have been met with strong resistance from the project management as the offices are a non partisan office meant for constituents of all parties to give their input into the work of the Constituency
Workshop for Members of Parliament
In a bid to strengthen the advocacy for good governance and outreach by members of Parliament, The West Minister Foundation for Democracy (WFD) in partnership with the 50/50 Group and Lawyers Centre for Legal Assistance (LAWCLA) brought together thirty members of Parliament (20 Males and 10 Female MPs) to a two days good governance Forum held at the Makeni City Hall in the Northern Region of Sierra Leone.
The objective of the workshop was the following
- To increase the level of collaboration between the Members of Parliament and understanding of the operations of the District and City Councils.
- Map out strategies for engaging more Women in the political and electoral process prior to the 2012 Presidential and Parliamentary elections.
- To identify possible areas of intervention by WFD and partners into further strengthening the engagement between the MPs and Constituents.
The workshop was intended to build on various stakeholder dialogue forums that has initially been held in over thirty Constituencies and to increase Women’s understanding of good governance as well as play an active and effective role in the promotion of gender as a cross cutting issue in all their contributions in decision making processes.
However the workshop emphasize the need for strategic approach that links Constituent concerns to specific initiatives that has been undertaken by members of Parliament to advance the course of Councils and Parliament and which role they could play in strengthening this project and make it sustainable when WFD phase out after 2012.
Constitutional Review Process
EMPOWERING WOMEN TO PARTICIPATE IN SIERRA LEONE’S CONSTITUTIONAL REVIEW PROCESS
Freetown, 6 – 7th February 2014
Action Aid International Sierra Leone in collaboration with the 50/50 Group of Sierra Leone and Mano River Women’s Peace Network have concluded a 2 days Training of Trainers Workshop (6th & 7th February 2014) for over 40 women leaders drawn from various sectors including the Nurses Association, Armed Forces Wives Cooperative, Young Women and Rural Community Development Activists and Police Wives Association from all across the country at the Presidential Lounge of the National Stadium in Freetown, Sierra Leone on the theme:
The Objectives of the Training of Trainers’ Workshop were as follows:
- to provide women leaders with information on the 1991 Constitution and relevant international and national legislation such as the Chieftaincy Act 2009 as well as with the skills that would enable them to cascade training on the review of the Constitution of Sierra Leone 1991 and the changes women want to see to men and women in the communities and institutions where they work and live.
- to engage, consult with and educate women on:
- those sections of the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone and the Chieftaincy Act 2009 that pose challenges to full realization of women’s rights (including right to chieftaincy).
- how to approach the Constitutional Review Committee (CRC) on the changes women want in the constitution and how to campaign for a women’s rights friendly Sierra Leone Constitution.
Among the many recommendations for changes women want to see in the Constitution are:
- In future the Constitution is to be written in simple gender neutral language and format including translation into national languages and production in audio and pictorial form. The Constitution should place an obligation on the Government to ensure the Constitution is available and accessible to every citizen at all times.
In Chapter II which deals with the Principles of State Policy:
- The Constitution should state clearly that all international human rights conventions signed and ratified by the state of Sierra Leone are fully recognised and enforceable by the courts and by all others exercising legislative, judicial and executive powers.
- Stronger recognition and protection should be given to Citizens’ (especially women’s) right to access and benefit from Land and Natural Resources
- The Constitution should give a guarantee of adequate resources for the Education of women and girls.
- ‘Building, consolidating and sustaining PEACE’ are to be included in the Constitution as one of the country’s political objectives set out in Chapter II.
- Include ‘Elimination of all harmful practices that discriminate against women’ among the social objectives set out in Chapter II
- Give recognition and respect in the Constitution to all forms of Marriage and the rights of Married women
- It should be made clear that there should be No Discrimination against women in political and public life
- Impunity for perpetrators and facilitators of Sexual & Gender Based violence (SGBV) to be condemned and the right to equal Protection of the law for victims of SGBV to be emphasised.
In Chapter III that deals with ‘Fundamental Human Rights & Freedoms of the Individual.
- Amend to ensure that prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sex is quite clear and unequivocal. Section 27(4)(d) & (e) to be expunged from the Constitution;
- Repeal all other provisions in the 1991 Constitution and other laws that are used to discriminate against women especially in relation to the right to land and property and to vying for traditional leadership positions such as paramount chieftaincy.
- Delete any words or phrases suggesting that discrimination on the grounds of sex is permitted in any circumstances. In particular, the Constitution should declare all sex discriminatory provisions in Customary Law null and void.
- Introduce new clauses confirming the validity of ‘temporary special measures’ as a way to remedy the negative impact of longstanding and widespread discrimination against women,
- Recognise all women’s human rights and make them justiciable in the public and private spheres ; enshrine the principle of Equality between men and women.
Recognise and adopt the following rights as justiciable Human Rights:
- right to education;
- right to employment;
- right to health (particularly reproductive health rights) ;
- right to nationality/ citizenship including to pass on citizenship to family members .
- right to know the constitution and its contents
- Give recognition in the constitution to the 30% Quota for Women’s political participation and representation as recommended in the TRC Report.
- Constitutional recognition to be given to Government’s statutory obligation under the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act that requires Government ‘to faithfully and timeously implement’ the TRC Recommendations leading to comprehensive implementation of TRC recommendations for women.In Chapter V of the Constitution &The Chieftaincy Act 2009
- Confirm unequivocally in the Constitution the right to contest for paramount chieftaincy granted to women all across the country in section 8(1) (a) of the Chieftaincy Act ; and accordingly amend section 72 of the Constitution so that qualified women have equal access with men to this very important decision-making office.
At the end of the workshop, participants called for the ay Forward to include:
- Presentation of this Communique to the Constitutional Review Committee and the media.
- More support from AAISL and other partners to enable the participants to take this training to their communities in every district in the country and mobilise at least 1000 women for active and informed participation in the CRC process over the next two years and after a revised constitution has been promulgated/adopted.
- Dissemination of the content of this training manual via radio and TV.
- Provision of copies of 1991 Constitution, the Chieftaincy Act and CEDAW to participants and the general public.
- Support to the 50/50 Group and MARWOPNET to continue to enable women’s participation in the CR process and to monitor the participants.
- In conclusion, participants thanked AAISL and 50/50 Group & MARWOPNET for providing the funds for organising and facilitating 2 days of excellent Training of Trainers workshop.
Participants expressed special appreciation to Mr. Mohamed Sillah, Executive Director of AAISL for the commitments made in his Opening Statement, to the facilitators (Nemata Majeks -Walker, Yasmin Jusu-Sheriff and Melinda Davies) and to the authors of the Training Manual for Facilitators and Participants (Nemata & Yasmin) that was and will be used to cascade this training through out the country.