By Ragan M. Conteh
The Parliament of Sierra Leone has on Monday, 25 April 2022, engaged various civil society organisations (CSOs) in Committee Room One, Parliament Building on Tower Hill in Freetown.
The purpose of the dialogue was to strengthen CSO’s understanding of the workings of Parliament, its role in the policy processes, and the party-political imperatives that underline much of the decision-making processes and behaviours of parliamentarians on the theme; “Fostering a mutually supportive relationship between Parliament and Civil Society Organisations in Sierra Leone”.
In his welcome address and declaration of purpose, the Director of DePReP (Department of Programmes, Research and Partnership), Mr Gilbert Nhabay said Parliament had signed a communiqué with various CSOs across the country.
He said Tuesday’s meeting was held to look at various practical approaches to putting the said communiqué into perspective.
‘We are partners in ensuring that we address governance issues in Sierra Leone,’ he maintained and went on to express hope that the engagement would be a roadmap for a new beginning in the country.
The Leader of Government Business, MP Mathew Sahr Nyuma described the event to invite civil society organisations as a new dawn, and assured that Parliament will be a role model in light of cementing its relationship with CSOs in the country.
According to Mr Nhabay, such a relationship should not be limited to ‘a talk shop’, but should be made a reality. He informed that Parliament is ready to improve on collaboration and participation in levels of governance. He recalled several instances that bordered on strong relationships with CSOs in the country.
Speaking on behalf of the Opposition Leader, MP Catherine Zainab Tarawally recalled the process of signing the communiqué and informed that the pace at which things were moving showed that Parliament is ready to work with CSOs across the country.
She supported the Leader of Government Business’s position and appealed to CSOs to improve on their working relationships with Parliament ‘sincerely and patriotically,’ adding that, reviving CSO’s engagements with Parliament is a prudent decision. ‘Come lets work for the benefit of Sierra Leone,’ she appealed.
Country Representative for Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD), Rev Alusine Diamond Suma said the engagement started ‘as far back as the first Open Day’. He spoke about the importance of citizens’ participation in governance and the support of WFD to the Parliament.
He also threw light on their support to Parliament’s openness, accessibility and other efforts. He also assured MPs of their continued support to strengthening the Parliament of Sierra Leone.
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Technical Advisor to Parliament, Hon Jariatu K. Smith described the day as a wonderful one and commended the leadership of Parliament for their commitment to supporting the communiqué.
She recalled that the disagreement between MPs ushered in the dialogue, retreat, and other deliberations that culminated to the Bo Declaration. ‘Today we are here as a result of the communiqué signed,’ she added. Hon J.K. Smith also encouraged CSOs to participate in oversight, lawmaking as well as giving support to the overall governance of the country.
On behalf of the European Union (EU) Technical Assistance Team to Parliament, Adams Fusheini underscored the importance of the existence of Parliament and the participation of citizens and CSOs aimed at enhancing openness, accessibility and transparency. He spoke about their support to Parliament’s openness and commended Parliament for spearheading the event. Mr Fusheini also spoke about citizens’ education on the functions of Parliament, and raised concerns over CSO’s neutrality in politics.
Representing the CSOs, Mr Abu Brima recalled their engagements with Parliament and explained the essence of the previous engagement and improvement in light of their support to Parliament including contributions to the lawmaking process. He expressed hope for more improvement in respect of the signed communiqué.
‘We are aware that Parliament is critical to the development of the country,’ he stated and explained their roles as CSOs supporting governance in the country.
Emphasising the roles of Parliament and the support of CSOs, he said, ‘We will call for the full implementation of the communiqué.’ Mr Brima highlighted and commended Parliament for the steps taken to enhance collaboration and partnership with CSOs for the development of the country. He assured all and sundry of their continued support to Parliament and the state.
Speaking on behalf of the Clerk of Parliament, the Director-General of Parliament, Mrs Finda Findosia Fraser spoke about the role of Parliament in national development and recalled the communiqué and its importance. She assured that collaborating with CSOs forms part of their strategic plan and expressed a strong commitment to fruitful working and relationships with CSOs.
Officially opening the Civil Society Engagement Forum, the Speaker of Parliament, Dr Chernor Abass Bundu said, ‘historically the advent of the 1991 Constitution ushered in democratic governance upon which an engagement like this was predicated. It makes provision for a dominant voice, an alternative voice, and a third voice’.
Speaking on the return of political pluralism, he said the dominant voice is the voice of the government and the alternative voice, the voice of the opposition, while referring to the CSOs as the quiet or third voice. He made reference to a certain country that was practicing democracy, but strangely, that country was without an opposition.
He recalled that, recently he discussed with someone and realised that that country didn’t have an opposition in Parliament but had an alternative or quiet voice outside Parliament, ‘which was the CSOs’. He commended the clerk and the leadership of Parliament for the Brookfields Dialogue that had given birth to a communiqué with which they were relating well. He urged CSOs and Parliament to build on the foundation of the existing relationship and collaboration to provide better results for governance and the state.
The Speaker went on to express hope that the forum would engender CSOs to educate the people about the role of MPs, while assuring that Parliament would continue to enhance its functions. ‘I would want to see that, the engagements grow larger,’ he maintained, adding that the Leadership of Parliament has endorsed the “CSOs Desk” in Parliament. The Speaker also encouraged CSOs and Parliament to work together for nation-building and development.
A Power Point presentation was made by Mr Andrew Lavalie on understanding the work of CSOs, while Director of the Centre for Strategy and Parliamentary Studies (CSPS), Mr Mohamed Jalloh delivered a presentation on Parliament’s corporate agenda and its role in fostering a mutually supportive relationship with CSOs in Sierra Leone.
An Action Plan was discussed and developed to move the process forward with steps, roles and responsibilities to be delivered by both parties. Mr Sheku Lamin Turay, Director of Parliamentary and Public Relations Department, moderated the sessions and effectively managed the questions and answers between CSOs and Parliament. Deputy Director of DePReP, Mrs Nancy Jalloh gave the vote of thanks.