October 2, 2022

Cornelius Deveaux’s arguments about Bio’s Commission’s of Inquiry  may appear absurd to many Sierra Leoneans, but a deeper examination makes convincing revelations. Deveaux who is erstwhile Publicity Secretary of the main opposition, All People’s Congress (APC) had vehemently argued that the Commissions were illegal and that no official of  former APC government should cooperate with them. The commissions, according to Deveaux, were unconstitutional and that APC would not bow to unconstitutionality.

“The Commissions of Inquiry are kangaroo-styled as they do not go through established process of formation,” he stressed.

According to the Publicity Secretary, the processes leading to the establishment of the  Commissions of Inquiry were completely flawed as a fundamental constitutional provision was circumvented.

Section 150 of the Constitution of Sierra Leone Act No. 6 of 1991 calls for rules to regulate the practice and procedures of all commissions of inquiry. The Rules of Court Committee of which the Chief Justice is the Chairman should formulate those rules, and must be in the form of constitutional instruments.

Since this provision was never complied with by government, Deveaux sees no reason for the commissions’ existence in the first place. If they did ever exist, they are products of ultravires whose findings should be discountenanced.

Deveaux was quite optimistic that the commissions’s findings would be skewed to shut down APC, SLPP (Sierra Leone People’s Party)’s main political rival.

He was also quite sure that no person of interest would work free except those who may play second fiddle to SLPP government.

Deveaux’s argument also went on contemporaneously in the well of parliament. Lawyer Daniel Koroma argued insistently that section 150 is a cardinal and mandatory provision in the constitution. Any attempt to evade it renders the commissions a nullity.

During the heated debate, lawyer Koroma emphasized the universal claim ‘ALL’ which refers to all commissions of inquiry.

The APC member of parliament also touched on the timeframe of the commissions which was left widely open and indefinite. Lawyer Koroma argued that the commissions would serve the ends of justice only if there is a specific time for their lifespan. Although APC did not get the  stipulated number to reverse government’s decision, it however achieved significant milestone.

The votes APC got in its favour was far higher than those secured by SLPP. Despite its weakness in the debate, SLPP had its way. The commissions were controversially set up. Calls by civil society organizations, religious bodies and political commentators for the rules were rejected outright.

These bodies were calling on a government that would not listen. Deveaux’s logic was also re-echoed in the COI room by lawyers for persons of interest.

One of the lead defence counsels, Ady Macauley challenged the commissions’ jurisdictional competence by questioning the constitutional instruments that set them up. In his argument, Counsel Macauley referred the question of the commissions’ legality to the Supreme Court, the country’s highest court for determination. By so doing, the court was tasked to answer question as to whether the COI was legal or not. Since the matter was laid before it, the Supreme Court is yet to answer such question.

Judges are yet to be empaneled to carry out such task. After a year of their existence, the commissions came up with adverse findings against officials of the past APC government.

Deveaux’s prediction came to pass as most if not all former APC ministers were nailed.

Former President Koroma too did not go free. State counsels recommended a ban on his political participation, and confiscation of his assets. The asset freeze forms a key component of government ‘White Paper’  which most Sierra Leoneans have labelled as ‘Green Paper.’

In September, 2020, APC issued a press release noting that the findings did not come as a surprise.

“The All People’s Congress notes, with no surprise, findings and recommendations contained in the government’s ‘White Paper’ and reports of the Commissions of inquiry. We observe with great concerns that the findings and recommendations are consistent with those contained in the Governance Transition Team (GTT) authored exclusively by members of Sierra Leone People’s Party,” an APC press release reads in part.

The report labelled the past APC government as a ‘racketeering enterprise .’

The GTT was a composition of SLPP hardliners led by former Chief Minister, Professor David Francis. The team was expected a safe and orderly transition of power from the then APC to SLPP Government.

The team however came up with a report that maliciously targeted officials of the past government by investigating, indicting, and punishing them before the flawed commissions were established.

The imposition of unlawful travel restrictions and freezing of accounts of former government officials without a court order. The APC press release further noted that the Commissions of Inquiry are the interpretations of the overt intentions of the GTT report.

“Members of SLPP who served on the GTT assumed the roles of investigators, prosecutors, interpreters and enforcers of the law,” APC alleged in the press release.

 From the outset, APC was of the strong view that SLPP’s sole aim was to malign and victimize the party for political gains. APC thus maintains that its membership will support accountability that is fair, independent and accountable to the constitution and people of Sierra Leone.

APC further argues that since the Commissions of Inquiry were neither constitutional nor accountable, it therefore logically follows that the ‘White Paper’ and COI reports are politically motivated, legally flawed and procedurally defective.

The party holds the view that a COI process that is unaccountable to the Constitution of Sierra Leone, and deliberately refused to be scrutinized cannot hold persons of interest accountable.

The aftermath of such arguments was the total rejection of government ‘White Paper’ in its entirety.

If APC rejects COI and its concomitant ‘White Paper,’ why should APC lawyers keep on appearing before the courts on behalf of persons of interest?