NCD CELEBRATES INTERNATIONAL DAY OF DEMOCRACY – 15TH SEPTEMBER 2012

Introduction and Context

The National Commission for Democracy (NCD) commemorated the International Democracy Day on the 15th of September 2012, at the British Council, Tower Hill Freetown.

On 15 September, the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) and parliaments around the world will celebrate the International Day of Democracy, declared by the United Nations General Assembly in 2007.

The International Day of Democracy is meant both to celebrate democracy and to serve as a reminder that the need to encourage and protect democracy is as urgent now as ever. In its establishing resolution A/RES/62/7 the United Nations noted that "while democracies share common features, there is no single model of democracy" and that "democracy does not belong to any country or region".

The choice of 15 September as date for the International Day of Democracy matches up to the adoption in September 1997 by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) of a Universal Declaration on Democracy. That Declaration affirms the principles of democracy, the elements and exercise of democratic government, and the global scope of democracy.

Since the first International Day of Democracy was celebrated on 15 September 2008, the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), Parliaments and democratic institutions around the world have organized numerous special events, reaffirming parliament as the central institution of democracy.

The National Commission for Democracy (NCD) is desirous of taking the leadership and setting the stage in 2012 as a government institution whose core business function is to strengthen democratic awareness and encourage participation of citizens in democratic processes. Before this time, the NCD was invited as a guest to such occasions. The perspective is changing and government institutions need to take leadership and set the agenda for democratic consolidation in the development of Sierra Leone. 

Significance of the day

The International Day of Democracy is an opportunity for parliaments and democratic institutions to:

  • Highlight the importance of democracy, what it involves, the challenges it faces as well as the opportunities it offers, and the central responsibility that all parliaments have as the key institution of democracy;
  • Scrutinize and discuss how well parliament performs its democratic functions, possibly on the basis of a self-assessment, and identify what steps it may take to strengthen its effectiveness.
  • Encourage dialogue with citizens, especially young people, and encourage their participation in political processes at all levels.

The International Day of Democracy provides an opportunity to review the state of democracy in the world. Democracy is as much a process as a goal, and only with the full participation of and support by the international community, national governing bodies, civil society and individuals, can the ideal of democracy be made into a reality to be enjoyed by everyone, everywhere.

The commemoration started with both Muslim and Christian Prayers. Muslim prayers were offered by Sheikh Ali Kallay while Christian prayers were offered by reverend Dr Usman  Fornah

Welcome Address

Welcoming address to all guests was done by the Executive Secretary of the National Commission for Democracy (NCD) Mr Abu Bakarr Yillah the Executive Secretary of the NCD.

Mr Yillah first of all gave a brief historical background on the significance   of 15th September as date set aside for celebration the International Day of Democracy. He remarked that it was a day in which governments, parliaments, democratic institutions, civil society and interested citizens all over the world utilize to highlight the importance of democracy, what is involved the challenges it faces and as well as the opportunities it offers and the centrality of Parliament as a key institution of democracy.   

The Executive Secretary stated that the day was focused at encouraging dialogue and participation with various citizens, and at all levels of political processes in the country. He added that it was an opportunity to review the state of democracy in states and the world.  He observed that Sierra Leone faced a big challenge in the bid to promote peaceful environment for conduct of the November 17th 2012 elections which he added remains crucial for the consolidation of democracy in Sierra Leone.

The introduction of the Chairman

The Chairman of the occasion Dr Ahmed Ramadan Dumbuya) was introduced by Commissioner Western Region Georgette de Marke.

Dr. Ramadan Dumbuya is a renowned  political scientist by training who holds a Master’s and Doctorate degree in Political Science from University of Seattle in the United States and also holds  a Bachelors degree in French, English and International Relations from Fourah Bay College University of Sierra Leone The Chairman  is  as an established academic who taught at Fourah Bay College, and was for some years Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences and Head of the Political Science  Department at the same institution. He was also among the first English/ French interpreters in the Foreign Service Office of Sierra Leone. Dr. Ahmed  Dumbuya had a long relationship and association with the NCD and had participated in various workshops organised by the NCD before this time.         

Chairman Opening Remarks

The Chairperson Dr Ahmed Ramadan Dumbuya in his open remarks responded that he felt proud and highly honoured to have been invited by NCD to perform the functions of a Chairman during the commemoration of the International Democracy Day. He reiterated his long association with the NCD through thick and thin as the Commission struggled to promote democratic good governance in Sierra Leone.  

He recognised the current talented people at the NCD and said that the choice of this year’s theme “Dialogue and Inclusiveness” for celebration on the part of the Commission was carefully chosen and apt considering the fact that elections in Sierra Leone  were  two months away.

He emphasised that dialogue and Inclusiveness were central to democracy and questioned whether there is enough dialogue between government and the people, or between political leadership and their rank and file membership.

The Chairman observed that the challenges ahead were already identified and included among others how we can improve the capacity for dialogue and constructive engagement between political parties and among their constituents. He noted the need also to strengthening the capacity of parliament and other governance institutions for inter-mediation on multi stakeholder dialogue on sensitive issues at both national and local levels. Dr Dumbuya also focused on issues like how to promote national cohesion and unity, improving the participation of women in the decision making process and the mitigation of the winner-takes-it syndrome.

He declared that as a country its people need to be prudent about what values and principles of democracy we need to accept and understand which peculiar cultural issues would fit our models of democracy.

NCD Chairman Position Statement

Dr Abubakar H Kargbo Chairman of the National Commission for Democracy made the Position Statement on behalf of the NCD. He started by welcoming guests for the celebration and noted that the day was worth celebrating due to the democratic deficits that characterised the developing world to which he added Sierra Leone was a part. He observed that although there was some form of democracy in pre-colonial Sierra Leonean societies, it was different from that of the Westminster model as we know it today. He emphasised that there are marked contradictions experienced in our democracy due to this historical development. He said that such contradiction provides a justification for the creation of the National Commission for Democracy not only to educate the masses on what democracy was all about but also to foster national unity and cohesion.

The NCD Chairman noted that this year’s theme was Democracy and Education which he added presupposes the link between democracy and education, even terms of creating the enabling environment for the citizenry to be well informed and take decisions appropriately. He said Sierra Leone should do more to promote education since it has over 60% of the people who were not fortunate to access formal education adding that such a scenario constituted a critical challenge in the effort to   promote democratic good governance in Sierra Leone.

He appealed to stakeholders not to perceive the political activity as a forum to become atavistic adding that dialogue was a better tool to mediate political differences. On the coming events geared towards promoting peaceful and transparent November 17th elections, the Chairman recounted programmes, such as the Flag Bearer meetings, the Bike Riders and the Lunching of the Declaration on the 2012 Elections.  Dr. Abubakar Kargbo recommended that Sierra Leone as a country have a  rethink of its electoral system , with a view to taking into considering the fact that there are seventeen ethnic groups in the country, all of whom he added  have a stake in the governance of the country. The winner takes it all syndrome therefore, needs to be re-examined. He also called for the review of the 1991 constitution so as to promote socio-economic and political advancement.

The Chairman stressed the crucial role of the economy   which he stressed constitute the basis of the superstructure. He added that there was a very crucial link between a viable economy and the promotion of democratic good governance. He observed that to a very large extent there was a tendency for poorer countries do badly in their efforts to sustaining democracy and good governance. He called on all stakeholders to ensure that Sierra Leone the dependency syndrome that characterised it is minimised to a greater extent.

Civil Society

The Civil Society position statement was made by Alhaji Mohamed Warisay Chairman of a civil Society organisation known as Democracy Sierra Leone.  In his presentation on behalf of the CSO’s in the country he first of all requested from the audience to observe a minute’s silence in recognition of those who lost their lives over the years in the struggle for democracy in Sierra Leone. He observed that the country has made progress in our strides to democracy within a short period of time since the guns of the civil war went silent, including the transition from one party to a multi-party system of governance.

The Chairman Democracy Sierra Leone also highlighted other achievement indicators, such as the manner in which the two old political parties have been awarding symbols to intending candidates,  for the 2012 elections ,adding that this constituted a positive step forward that will strengthen  internal party democracy in the country. He observed that Sierra Leone has been ranked 2nd position in West Africa and Fifty-Second (52nd) in the world by the Global Peace Index (GPI) .

He observed that Sierra Leone is characterised by various challenges including political intolerance; exclusion of marginalised groups in the mainstream of governance activities in the country; and limited scope of political consultations among all strata of the body politic. The Chairman Democracy Sierra Leone concluded by noting that the country was poised for economic prosperity. He added that there was the vital need to manage the entire electoral process so as to ensure free, fair, transparent, credible and violent free November 17 2012 elections. He declared that there was no room for political mistakes as this can cost the country a lot.

Chairman Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights

The Chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights Honourable Elizabeth Alpha Lavalie made a statement on behalf of the Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights. She started first of all by identifying the differences between the Westminster model of democracy practiced in Britain and that of the Congressional type of democracy practiced by the United States of America. She added that Sierra Leone was operating on a hybrid form of constitutional system.

She observed however, that the Westminster Style of Parliamentary government risks placing absolute power in the hands of the executive so long as the government controls a majority in the house of Parliament. Madam Lavlie noted that a proper system of accountability to the people was needed in this case. She maintained that on the other hand the Congressional type maintains strict separation of power between the three arms of government; the president can be popular at a time when congress is unpopular and vice versa.    

On the issue of party discipline, she remarked that the Westminster model observes very strictly towing the party line which has no part to play in the American Congressional Model. In the flexible Congressional model Members of Parliament (Representatives/ Senators) are able to distance themselves from the targets of criticism and join in the voices of censure as a means of acquiring personal support. In the parliament of Sierra Leone, party loyalty is enshrined according to Act no 6 Of 1991 Constitution (section 77 (i)   there are parliamentary whips in Parliament who ensure that MPs do not cross party lines by voting against their party’s interests in parliament. Otherwise that member can be expelled from parliament. This curtails the independence and powers of the legislature.

She also highlighted some constraints and challenges that representative democracy faces in Sierra Leone party loyalty at the expense of other issues, poor public perception of the distinction between the roles of parliamentarians and councillors with regards to rural development; discord between some civic groups and the House of Parliament;   adequate finance to meet outlined programmes and the setting up an Ad hoc Parliamentary Time table – for the system to shed its poor public image.

Honourable Minister Alhaji Alpha Kanu made his statement on behalf of the Ministry of Political and Public Affairs. He first congratulated the Chairman and staff of the NCD for organising a celebration of the International Democracy Day, he outlined that the topic allocated to him out of the theme: “My commitment in Promoting National Unity and Cohesion through Dialogue and Inclusion in the 2012 Elections” was very restrictive and personal as he spoke on behalf of the All Peoples Congress (APC) as Publicity Secretary as well as the Government and People of Sierra Leone as Minister of political and public affairs.

He said that the task of promoting national unity and cohesion through dialogue and inclusion cannot be left to discretion alone, as it needs to be included in our laws and legal frameworks. He continued that nations much bigger that Sierra Leone find the task of promoting national development difficult yet the problem is compounded when we divide ourselves into parties and regions making progress haphazard and non-directional. He threw the ball in the court of the Law Reform Commission to brainstorm on how the law can help to foster national unity and cohesion.

On the issue of national inclusion and cohesion he outlined that President Ernest Bai Koroma had made ita  policy of including members of the opposition parties in his cabinet and cited few examples including Ambassador Sulay Daramy; Mr Sheka Mansaray and Momoh Pujeh as leader of the opposition in Parliament who was taken to London and added that the British were amazed by this level of tolerance demonstrated by the government of President Koroma.

On the issue of the nomination fees the Political and Public Minister said that President Ernest Bai Koroma was quick to intervene in order to increase participation and set up a level playing field by the establishment of an electoral assistance fund to help individuals and parties to go through the process with ease.   

He concluded by making recommendation as a citizen on the following:  

  • Abolishing the run off for Presidential Elections 
  • Retaining first past the post;
  • runner up becomes vice–president;
  • Parliamentary and Local Council elections be done on a block system according to lists submitted by political parties which will reduce all forms of election induced violence            

The keynote address was made by the Advisor on Education State House Dr. Sheku Kamara. He started   his statement by extending regards from H. E. the President Ernest Bai Koroma, who he added was unavoidably absent because of  his busy schedule. He commended the NCD for its leadership in celebrating the International Day of Democracy on 15th September 2012. He observed that 2012 was the year that will test our emerging democracy as the elections are only months away he added. He noted that the November 17th 2012 elections will be national the third after the civil came to an end officially in 2002 adding that they remain very  crucial for the consolidation of democracy in Sierra Leone.

Dr Sheku Kamara said addressing unity and cohesion should be done through dialogue and inclusion which must transcend a single political party or institution. He observed that key institutions of governance should be more proactive; such as Parliament entertaining a plurality of views in the political debate, seeking opinions and feedback from the public during the legislative process, Civic groups and individual communities severing as the catalytic agents for collecting, streamlining and providing input from individuals and groups into the legislative process and the executive and vice versa. Citizens ensuring that their rights to participate in the overall political process; accept the rights and obligations of each other he added. He emphasised that adhering to the principle of dialogue   presupposes inclusion and tolerance irrespective of background, history, origin and culture. He added that lack of inclusive dialogue generates frustration which over time translates into disenchantment and rebellion.

On the question of how to ensure national unity and cohesion towards the 2012 elections the Keynote Speaker emphasised that the target was for a peaceful outcome of the 2012 elections. In this regard he emphasised the crucial role of the political parties to commit themselves to violence free campaigning, canvassing and electioneering process, making the practice inclusive of all marginalised groups including women and physically challenged young people. The role of the civic groups he observed is to be neutral and to hold political parties to account and get their commitments towards inclusion, tolerance fairness and development. He cautioned that a civil society group can be parochial and biased based on its advocacy interests if they are partisan. He said that  Individual candidates and contestants need to commit themselves to peace and to be law abiding adding that they should refrain from using young people in perpetuating election related violence against their opponents and rivals. He concluded that if all these recommended values are undertaken the Sierra Leone Police will have very less work to do on polling day on 17th November 2012.

Vote of Thanks

The vote of thanks at the close of the opening session was done by NCD Commissioner North, John Bai Conteh who on behalf of the commission expressed in a magnificent and eloquent manner, gratitude and appreciation to all invited guests. He acknowledged and thanked the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development (MoFED) and Government of Sierra Leone (GoSL) for providing the funds to the occasion; appreciation and thanks were showered on the Keynote Address speaker- Dr Sheku Kamara; the Minister of Political and Public Affairs- Alhaji Alpha Kanu; the Chairman of the occasion- Dr Ramadan Dumbuya; to our partners Democracy Sierra Leone and to staff members and commissioners of the National Commission for Democracy.

The Commissioner concluded his vote of thanks by quoting a former US President John F. Kennedy who said “as we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words but to live by them        

Second Session

The First statement during the beginning of the second session was made by  the National Youth Commissioner –Almamy Koroma. The Commissioner started by thanking the NCD and gave a background of the Youth Commission in terms of its mandate, structure, function, programmes and activities. He outlined the rights and responsibilities of young people in the political dispensation of the country; adding that the importance of youth participation was emphasised as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) recommended a 10% inclusion of youths in governance. The youth Commissioner also spoke briefly on the role of youths in addressing/ mitigating the spiral of electoral violence as we work towards a peaceful November 17, 2012 elections. He concluded that democracy can thrive better when people see and realise the tangible benefits of democracy in the form of good health facilities, improved infrastructure, quality education, improved energy and industrial development.

Statements by Political Parties

Several political parties were also part of the commemoration of the International Democracy Day. Peoples Movement for Democratic Change (PMDC)

In his statement representing the PMDC Mr. Albert Afolabi Macauley   said that the country is still grappling with the practice true democracy adding that the initial hike in nomination fees one proof of that fact. He noted that he was an independent candidate but has now joined ranks the PMDC as independent candidates would not be covered by the electoral assistance fund set up by the President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma. He advocated   for the repeal of Section 41 in the 1991 Constitution which limits a Presidential candidate to belong to a political party, that gives no place for independent candidates. He concluded that for dialogue and social cohesion to take place, institutions and individuals ought to change their attitudes and their approach of doing things for a better result adding that dialogue was better as a conflict management tool is than the use of war as an instrument to resolving differences.

On behalf of the Peoples Liberation Party (PLP) Dr Baba Kandeh the party leader emphasised the importance of national cohesion and unity in Sierra Leone and added that the party under the leadership will also be supportive of an objective. He recommended inclusiveness and social justice as requirements for the positive development of the country. He described himself as neutral and remarked that this was the reason why his party could galvanise the other parties for action against the proposed nomination fees towards 17 November 2012. He continued that the President was desirous to promoting political participation which was why he intervened to normalised the situation otherwise, he went on, eight political parties would have boycotted the process because of  what they considered as t high nomination fees.         

Citizens Democratic Party (CDP) was represented by Gibril Thulla who first of all started  by recognising the sacrifices  made to replace one party and military dictatorships with multi-party democracy, as well as bringing reforms in the institutions of governance. He highlighted the importance of political inclusion of all stakeholders adding that the country was characterised by   tendencies of autocracy, despotism and authoritarianism. He added that leaders of institutions still perceive themselves as powerful and omnipotent, who think they should not consult with lesser persons than themselves. He made reference of  President Barak Obama’s visit to Ghana where he said that “Africans no longer needed strong men but strong institutions” adding that these strong institutions would outlive the strong men. He concluded that it is only with national cohesion and political inclusion in governance that the nation of Sierra Leone will forge ahead in its objective to promote socio-economic and political development.

Chairman's photo
The Chairman
Dr. Abubakar Kargbo

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