Parliament of Sierra Leone is the legislative branch of the government of Sierra Leone. It is principally responsible for making laws. The Sierra Leone parliament consists of 146 members, of which 132 members are directly elected from across Sierra Leone’s 16 Districts. The Parliament is led by the Speaker. The current Speaker of Parliament is Abass Bundu (SLPP). The current elected 132 Ordinary members of parliament are composed of members of the All People’s Congress, the Sierra Leone People’s Party which are the two largest political parties in Sierra Leone plus two other parties, the National Grand Coalition and the Coalition for Change and finally, three Independent members who were not elected under any party.
The Sierra Leone Parliament, like its counterparts in other former British colonies, began as a Legislative Council. It was inaugurated in 1863, but was renamed the House of Representatives in 1954. The first decade of Independence (1961 – 1971), often referred to as the golden age, was a momentous period in the country’s Parliamentary evolution. When the British crown took management of the colony in 1808, no African was represented in the colony’s administration; the governor, with a few white officials ruled the colony by a body known as the Governor’s Advisory Council.
By the mid nineteenth century, the Creoles were determined to have a say in government. A Committee of Correspondence, constituting a group of Creole businessmen was formed in 1853, and was later replaced by the Mercantile Association in 1858 with the primary objective of securing the right of political representation for Colony citizens. Petitions and newspapers to the Secretary of State for Colonies served as pressure, calling for a new constitution and an elected assembly for Sierra Leone. In the 1863 Constitution, the legislature was reorganized and inaugurated but with no provision made for popular representation.
The current Sierra Leone Parliament owes its origin to colonial constitutional developments dating as far back as to 1863 when attempts were made by the British colonial authorities to put in place Legislative and Executive Councils. However, these two councils were established; the executive and the legislative councils. The Executive Council constituted the following: the Governor, the Chief Justice, Queen’s Advocate (Attorney-General), Colony Secretary and the Officer Commanding Troops. These were known as the Official Members. The unofficial members were known as Charles Heddle, a European African and John Ezzidio a Sierra Leonean. Both the official and unofficial members constituted the Legislative Council which was responsible for enacting Laws for the colony. But too much of executive powers were vested in the Governor. Due to riots and strikes by railway workers more anti-colonial pressure was mounted, which led to the formation of the National Congress for West Africa in 1920 with men like F.W Dove, a business man and H.C Bankole Bright, a Medical Doctor. This congress demanded the following: a party elected legislative council in each colony – this however met with failure even when the delegation was sent to London to press for action. The protectorate by then was legally regarded as a foreign country. This historic process was ongoing when the governor came into the scene by the name of Sir Ransford Slater. He was prepared to concede to the demand for popular representation but to him it was absurd to have a legislator for both colony and protectorate. To satisfy their demands, Governor Slater planned a new constitution in 1924, which conceded the elective principles for colony, with some protectorate representation by chiefs. Under the tribal system no other would have adequate title to speak with authority. Membership of the legislature was increased to 21 with 3 (three) paramount chiefs. From the 21 Members, the Government added to 10 unofficial Members appointed 11. Out of the 10 unofficial Members, were 5 Colony Representatives elected from among the educated Creole elites and the 3 Paramount Chiefs from the Protectorate nominated by the Governor. This registered a significant development for African representation in the Legislative Assembly. In 1951 further constitutional development was made by Governor Beresford Stoke, which increased the Paramount Chiefs representation in the Legislative assembly to 12, one, for each district, a practice that prevails today.
In the SLPP victory in 1951 election, some members were appointed to the Executive council. In 1954, The leader of the party Sir Milton Margai was made Chief Minister and the other members of the council became ministers.
After independence in 1961, Sierra Leone Parliament continued to evolve. It became a completely elected body. By then the office was located at the mechanized section of the Treasury Building, located at George Street in Freetown which was our first parliamentary building. Apart from the Paramount Chiefs that were indirectly elected through an Electoral College System, all Members of Parliament were elected by an electoral system, based on a single member constituency. The defining parameter for the delimitation of electoral boundaries was population quota, based on the most recent census results. Up to 1967, the SLPP which was the majority in Parliament, constituted the Executive. In 1968, after the controversial 1967 elections, the All Peoples Congress (APC) commanded the majority in Parliament. Under the leadership of Siaka Stevens,
The APC government undertook certain constitutional reforms that altered significantly the British set-up of the Sierra Leone Parliament. In 1971, Sierra Leone assumed a republican status with an Executive Presidency that doubled as Head of State and Government.
Parliament was most profoundly affected by this constitutional adjustment. The implication was that the Parliament would no longer be involved in the formation of the Executive. They became two separate arms of government.
Also, in 1978, Sierra Leone was transformed into a one-party state. This meant that a single party dominated Parliament. The APC became the only political party that was constitutionally recognized. All other parties were disbanded. Members of Parliament from the opposition SLPP had only two options amidst this constitutional change. They were to either switch allegiance to the APC and remain in Parliament or resign their seats. Most of them chose the former. Thus, from 1978 – 1992, the Sierra Leone Parliament was without an official opposition.
In 1992, the APC Government was toppled by the military. Sierra Leone was ushered into another period of military rule during which the activities of Parliament were indefinitely suspended.
A military council substituted the legislative role of Parliament with the passing of decrees. The period of inactivity by Parliament was brought to an end with the restoration of constitutionality in 1996.
The military yielded to pressure from within and without to return the state to civilian rule under a system of multiparty democracy.
There was however a review of the electoral system to determine membership in Parliament. The war inhibited the conduct of a census to determine the redistribution of constituencies. An ad hoc electoral arrangement was adopted to elect Members of Parliament in 1996. It was the Proportional Representation (PR) electoral system where parties rather than constituencies, determined election to parliamentary representation.
In 2002, the District Block Electoral System (DBS) replaced the PR system of election. Both electoral systems did not adequately obligate MPs to their constituents as popularity within their parties was more important than popularity among constituents or the people.
The 2007 elections in Sierra Leone have been widely acclaimed as having been historical and significant in several senses, including their conduct along the lines of the first-past-the post-electoral system. The elections registered the reintroduction of the constituency electoral system that was interrupted by the exigencies of war between 1991 and 2002.
The current Parliament that emerged from the electoral system saw the first litmus test of the spirit and intent of the 1991 Constitution (Act No.6 of 1991). Section 38 (1) and (2) of the 1991 Constitution explicitly states that: “Sierra Leone shall be divided into such constituencies for the purpose of electing the Members of Parliament referred to in paragraph (b) of subsection (1) of section (74) of this Constitution as the Electoral Commission, acting with the approval of Parliament signified by resolution of Parliament, may prescribe.” “Every constituency established under this section shall return one Member of Parliament.”
The present Parliament is referred to as the Fourth Parliament of the Second Republic of Sierra Leone. This means that it is the Fourth Parliament since the restoration of constitutional rule in 1996. The first was in 1996, second, 2002, third, 2007 and fourth, 2012.
The change of parliaments is determined at every democratic election. The First Republic was in 1971, when Sierra Leone was officially declared a republic. The Second Republic was in 1996. The Sierra Leone Parliament has a total number of 124 MPs including the 112 elected through the first-past-the post electoral system and the 12 Paramount Chiefs, one from each of the twelve districts.
This is in compliance with section 74 (1) of the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone and in line with tradition inherited from colonial rule.
This constitutional provision states that each district in Sierra Leone shall have one Paramount Chief Representation, elected through a separate election. The parliamentary representation of the three parties in Parliament in the Third Parliament (2007-2012) was as follows: APC (59), SLPP (45) PMDC (10), Paramount Chiefs (12), and 16 women parliamentarians as against 108 male Members.