By Thomas Dixon
President Bio has announced his finally set of cabinet Minister in less than a month after he was elected President of Sierra Leone.
His cabinet is full of loyalists, very few young people and an infinitesimal number of women to the displeasure of some of the women’s activist. Bio’s cabinet will also be described as one that is not disable friendly.
In the whole cabinet, there is a new phenomenon that was introduced in the body polity of Sierra Leone- Chief Minister.
There have been so many opinions in favor and against the Chief Minister
This article will attempt to look into the Chief Minister Position and to see if it reduces the powers and functions of the presidency in a broader sense.
IS THE OFFICE OF CHIEF MINISTER LEGAL
First, it must be made clear that there is nothing illegal about creating a Chief Minister as was purported by some people.
Section 53 sub section 1 of the constitution of Sierra Leone states, “subjects to the provision of this constitution, the executive powers in Sierra Leone shall vest and may be exercised directly or through members of the cabinet, ministers, deputy ministers or public officers subordinate to him.”
Literarily, the above sections endowed the President and only the President with executive powers that could either be exercised by him directly or through subordinates. Therefore, the President might as well decided to share his executive powers with anyone he deems fit.
Section 61 states, “subject to the provision of this constitution and of any acts of Parliament, may constitute offices for Sierra Leone, make appointment to any such office and terminate any such appointment.”
The above section makes it very clear that the President can create any such office in the interest of Sierra Leone. It is as result of this law that former President Koroma created so many offices including that of a Special Executive Assistant.
Most times such offices are never in the interest of the country but to compensate political loyalists.
CONCEPT OF CHIEF MINISTER
There is some puzzle about the whole concept of chief minister in Sierra Leone even a State House Press Release, attempting to elucidate the whole idea, was unable to do so.
By the nomenclature ‘CHIEF MINISTER’ it means the minister is above all other Ministers in the hierarchy or structural arrangement of government.
It could be interpreted as sort of a prime minister who has taken the head of governance of an executive President and it is actually different from that of chief of staff.
Research has proven that the chief minister idea is an Indian concept which is talking about a minister that is heading a whole province which in the Sierra Leone context will mean resident minister.
Therefore, Chief of Staff is different from chief minister because the latter is a US concept which among other things is someone that helps the President of the United States to manage the affairs of the state.
This is how former President Gerald Ford described the Chief of Staff, “I started out in effect not having an effective chief of staff and it didn’t work.
So anybody who doesn’t have one and tries to run the responsibilities of the White House I think is putting too big a burden on the President himself.
You need a filter, a person that you have total confidence in who works so closely with you that in effect his is almost an alter ego. I just can’t imagine a President not having an effective chief of staff.” (The White House Transition Report,2009)
Thus, the whole reason for office of chief of staff is to remove some of the burden from the President in coordinating inter-ministerial activities and in dealing with congress on policies of the president. But even in the USA, there are differences on the function of the chief of staff, depending who is the President.
In UK, the idea of a Chief of Staff was first introduced by Tony Blair in 1997 and his first Chief of Staff was Jonathan Powell.
When the idea was introduced in UK, the press condemned such office stating that the Chief of Staff has unprecedented powers and it was the most powerful unelected office in the UK after the Prime Minister.
TOR OF SIERRA LEONE’s CHIEF MINISTER
In Sierra Leone, the whole idea of a chief of staff was introduced in 2009, so as to coordinate the activities of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) and to help the Presidency in managing the affairs of the offices in State House.
People say that of late the office of the Chief of Staff was not respected by the Ministers and other heads of government departments which could have prompted the introduction of a Chief Minister by Julius Maada Bio.
According to State House, the Chief Minister will run the day to day operational coordination, oversight, monitoring and evaluation of government business, it will be the central hub responsible for the implementation of government strategies, facilities the coordination and implementation of government polices across MDAs and the fact that the office is made up off, the Office of Chief of Staff and three other directorates in State House.
That the chief minister will also chair three cross-cutting ministries for intergovernmental coordination including peace, security and justice sector ministries.
CHIEF MINISTER AND VP, ARE THERE GLITCHES?
At this point, it must be made clear that in Sierra Leone like in the United State we have an executive president who must be seen working and by creating a sort of a Prime Minister means that the Presidency wants to be more of a ceremonial head of state.
In Sierra Leone, the Vice President is just the principal assistant to the President in the discharge of his executive functions pursuant to section 54 (1) which incidentally is the function of vice president all over the world.
Thus, the TOR from state house reduces not just the function of the vice President but the Presidency as a whole by making the Chief Minister the most powerful unelected official in Sierra Leone with extraordinary powers of even chairing security meetings.
State House should also make it very clear which security meetings, Chief Minister will be chairing because the chair of the police council is the Vice President.
We have seen situations in Sierra Leone in which offices like Special Executive Assistant to the President created some friction and at the same time widen the feud between former President Koroma and his then Vice President, Sam Sumana.
It is the hope of many Sierra Leoneans that the introduction of Chief Minister will not create any problem in government and at the end of the day will benefit the people.