The Sixth Parliament of Sierra Leone has failed to constitute the Public Petitions Committee, a vital committee that directly brings public concerns to the doors of Parliament. The establishment of this committee is in accordance with Standing Orders 70 (5)(Select Committees), which defines the role of this Committee accordingly:
There shall be a Committee to be known as the Public Petitions Committee to consist of the Speaker as chairman and five Members to be nominated by the Committee of Selection as soon as may be after the beginning of each session, but in any case, not later than twenty-one days thereafter.
Where the complaints and representations of petitions fall within the purview of the Ombudsman or any other statutory specialist institution on complaints, the committee or any other select committee, shall recommend the employment of these specialist services.
The Public Petitions Committee is a very important committee because it allows the public to bring their concerns directly to Parliament. This is especially important for people who live in rural areas, who may not have other ways to communicate with their elected representatives. The committee also plays an important role in ensuring that the government is accountable to the people.
During the Fifth Parliament (2018-2023), for the first time, on Friday 16th December 2022 the Public Petitions Committee presided over by Hon. Dr. Abass Chernor Bundu considered a petition brought to the House by the people of Marforki and Marampa Chiefdoms in the Port Loko District regarding the Port Loko Bauxite Mining Concession, dated April 2023, the report of its findings was later tabled on Thursday 13th April 2023.
The hearing was unprecedented, being the first in the Fifth Session of the Fifth Parliament to bring the then Mines Minister Timothy Kabba and other sectoral players face-to-face with locals in their areas of operation.
That hearing also dragged the then evading Director-General of the National Minerals Agency (NMA), who is now the Minister of Mines and Mineral Resources, Mattai to its four or five open and public hearings which arguably brought parliament the closest to especially the rural poor and oppressed.
Back then the locals had applauded Parliament as they spoke in their mother tongue and vented out their anger face-to-face with the authorities concerned with no-holds-barred with the politicians.
The Deputy Chief Whip 2, Hon. Ibrahim Tawa Conteh, when questioned on this by this forum has admitted that this was an oversight and has promised to amend the motion of Parliament to constitute the committee upon the House’s return from its two months long recess.
The failure to constitute the Public Petitions Committee is a serious oversight by the Sixth Parliament. It is important that the committee be constituted as soon as possible so that the public can continue to have a voice in Parliament and governance overall.