Sierra Leone’s prominent female lawyer, Basita Michael, former president of the Sierra Leone Bar Association and founder and Governing Officer of the Institute for Legal Research and Advocacy for Justice (ILRAJ), expresses concerns about the ongoing constitutional review process.

Basita starts by declaring that though there is a need for constitutional review in the country, she believes that the present circumstances are not conducive to such reform.

“I am deeply concerned about the ongoing constitutional review process in Sierra Leone. While I wholeheartedly acknowledge the need for revisions to the 1991 constitution, I firmly believe that the present circumstances are far from conducive to such reform”.

She said Sierra Leone is currently struggling with a multitude of pressing challenges that cast a shadow over the prospects of a fair and transparent constitutional review. According to her, the challenges include the disturbingly frequent and systematic violations of fundamental rights and liberties, a troubling lack of transparency in the electoral process, and a growing perception that the judiciary lacks the independence necessary to safeguard the rule of law.

“Given this disconcerting backdrop, my apprehension centers on the potential exploitation of the constitutional review process by the incumbent government as a means to further consolidate its grip on power”.

She continued that, with the present situation of the Sierra Leone Parliament, with the government commanding about 2/3 majority, places it in an extraordinarily advantageous position within the constitutional review process. She added that this majority will give the government the ability to push through constitutional amendments without the checks and balances that a robust opposition presence would provide, and raises serious concerns about the fairness and inclusivity of the process.

Furthermore, she disclosed another worrisome facet of the ongoing review process which she said is the role of the Electoral Commission of Sierra Leone (ECSL).
“The ECSL has faced allegations of opacity and bias in recent elections, eroding public trust in the institution. Consequently, there is a legitimate question as to whether the ECSL can be entrusted to conduct a genuinely fair and unbiased referendum on any proposed constitutional changes”.

“Considering these multifaceted concerns, I strongly contend that the current constitutional review process does not serve the best interests of the Sierra Leonean populace. I earnestly implore the government to exercise prudence and postpone this endeavor until a more favorable political and social climate emerges”.

She said the process should prioritize inclusivity and fairness, to craft a new constitution that benefits all Sierra Leoneans, rather than serving the interests of a single political party, adding that a constitution of such significance should be a unifying force, not a divisive one.