Statement by EU Ambassador Tom Vens
Freetown, the 09 November 2019
I am very honoured to be part of this first Open Day event in the history of the Parliament of Sierra Leone.
Today’s Open Day is a good day to remind ourselves that Parliament is there for the citizens and that Parliamentarians are there on behalf of the citizens. So while today is primarily intended for the citizens to better appreciate and understand how the institution is organised and executes its threefold core mandates of representation, law making and oversight; it is equally a reminder that fundamentally the honourable members of parliament are there at the service of the citizens they represent.
I congratulate this fifth session of parliament of the Second Republic of Sierra Leone for the leadership demonstrated and decision taken to fully embrace the spirit of openness and accountability to the people of Sierra Leone.
I want to believe this open day is a milestone in the democratisation process of Sierra Leone.
It is our common hope – I am sure – that this first Open Day merely symbolises a broader aspiration of this noble institution. Today’s Open Day represents our shared hope that the openness and accountability that Parliament demonstrates will endure beyond the Open Day event and become entrenched in all the workings of this parliament.
Only by engaging with the citizen's and civil societies can a Parliament honour its fundamental role in democracy - which is to act for and serve the people it represents.
I also applaud the recent decision by Parliament of Sierra Leone to open all committee hearings to the public, as well as the affirmative actions adopted to strengthen relations with the general public and with civil society, such as the overhaul of the website and the launch of a dedicated mobile application.
The European Union is proud to support the Parliament of Sierra Leone in its endeavours to strengthen institutional transparency and accountability. We also reaffirm our engagement to support the institution's legislative capacity and other key priorities set under the Parliament's Strategic Plan – amongst the others – strengthened capacity of committee oversight, improved gender equality and infrastructure upgrades.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Sustainable development will not be achieved without decisive progress in the areas of good governance, democracy and respect for human rights.
Today, in parts of the world we may witness a rise in populism and politics of narrow-mindedness. We witness attacks on democracy itself. And the motives are sinister. Yet in an increasingly globalised and interdependent world, peace and security are to a great extent dependent on the political will and ability of governments and democratic institutions to pursue policies geared to the rule of law, the protection of human rights and democratic governance. They are the core principles that underpin a sustained effort to eradicating poverty, promoting sustainable development and reducing the inequalities that lie at the root of the main challenges facing the world.
That is why, the European Union is a staunch defender of good governance, democracy and respect for human rights both as a governance principle for the EU itself and its member states, and a principle underlying its external relationships, including the development assistance provided to other countries.
That is why, as European Union we are committed to support effective democratic systems within Europe and through cooperation with our partner across the world. This is why we recognise the fundamental importance of parliaments in democratic governance.
Parliaments are the key institution in a representative democracy - for the central role parliaments play in law-making, oversight of the executive and representation of the population.
Progress has been made in the recent past, to strengthen democracy in Sierra Leone.
Despite the tensions during the 2018 elections, Sierra Leone has demonstrated its commitment to engage in peaceful and transparent elections. We also witnessed a commitment to overcome political dividends peacefully and with transparency. Yet the context remains challenging.
The Bo Declaration that was signed last August by all political parties after intense and fruitful debate is a remarkable development I wish to underscore. It represented the commitment of all parties to work together, in pluralism, searching for common grounds to achieve a common goal.
It led to the promotion of a better political environment, sustained dialogue among political parties, change of standing orders for a better running of the Parliament and working to ensure strategic stakeholders consultations.
Honourable Speaker of the House,
The Well of Parliament MUST be the Well of Dialogue and Constructive Engagement. We look forward to seeing the spirit of the Bo Declaration being actualised in 2020 and being exhibited in the next Open Day though reforms to the Parliamentary Service Act and the Standing Orders; mutual respect of opinions; less victimisation of MPs holding and expressing different opinions.
The Bo Declaration laid important foundations for the Parliament of Sierra Leone to grow into an even more robust democratic institution.
An institution that can execute with capacity its primary responsibility which is legislative – ensuring law making reflects in-depth analysis and open debates between government and opposition.
An institution that that can effectively discharge its oversight capacity. An institution that can hold the government to account, monitoring effectively government activities and ensuring they are consistent with national legislation, and that resources are being used efficiently and effectively.
An institution that leads by example by ensuring the highest standards of transparency and accountability to the people it represents. That means prudent financial management and fighting wastage and corruption also from within.
In the same spirit I wish to express my hope that parliamentary summons and the engagement of parliamentary committees with investors is guided not by hidden agendas but by a desire to look for solutions and the ambition we all share to render Sierra Leone a more attractive place for credible investors and durable job creation.
The Bo Declaration also projects an institution that is truly representative of the people of Sierra Leone and progressively more inclusive.
As the pre-eminent forum for national debate it is crucial that all perspectives in society are properly represented. Todays' event and the ongoing endeavours to strengthen parliament accountability and liaison with the citizens are important steps in the right direction.
However, with only 12.3% of female MPs, the Parliament of Sierra Leone today is not sufficiently representative of the majority of the population of Sierra Leone. Democratic resilience requires that political systems and processes take account of the voice and agency of all people. Critical reforms are in the making under the leadership of the National Electoral Commission and the Female Caucus to enhance more and better participation of women in politics - it is our trust that this parliament will harness the potential and contribute to positive change.
We all wish in the future to see a Parliament that is truly representative and inclusive. Inclusive of women. Inclusive of people with disabilities. Inclusive of minorities and under-privileged groups in society. Inclusive also of different views and opinions.
An institution that actively promotes human rights and fundamental freedom of association and expressions in society and upholds to the highest standards within its own house. Protecting and ensuring the freedom of expression of all members of parliament. No member of parliament should ever be threatened or victimised for promoting their viewpoint even if it digresses from the party position.
As the pre-eminent forum for national debate the Parliament is often called the political arena by excellence.
Arena is an ancient Greek word. At times it is erroneously translated as "battle field". In fact "Arena" in the ancient Greek world was the place where the best champions challenged each other under the eye of the public.
And that is a far more adequate definition of Parliaments. Not an arena of factional battles but a public and transparent sphere of intense political activity. An open space for reasoned engagement that promotes the will of all the people and champions national development.
May the spirit of the Bo Declaration prevail over all parliamentary processes and proceedings and be celebrated in this Open Day: a Sierra Leone parliament that is characterised by acceptance of different opinions but mutually forges ahead with unity of purpose and focus that benefits the whole country.
As EU, we laude once again the Fifth Parliament of the Second Republic for the leadership and responsibility demonstrated in upholding and discharging the injunctions prescribed in the Constitution of Sierra Leone, and reaffirm our commitment to contribute to the deepening of a culture of democracy and support this parliament for the benefit of all Sierra Leoneans.
Thank you very much for your attention.