Understanding Presidential powers and Presidential prerogative : Part One
By KABS KANU :
Sierra Leone is blessed with a President who is not only hardworking and results-oriented , but is also a very simple and humble man. Because of President Ernest Bai Koroma’s simplicity and humility , many Sierra Leoneans–Even journalists–have still not come to terms with the reality that the same simple and humble President is the Head of State of sovereign Sierra Leone and he is invested with certain presidential powers and prerogatives that cannot be questioned. The fact that he is democratic and the fact that his living room can be filled with all classes of people, at any given time, as he holds common conversation with them , unlike past Presidents , does not mean that some Sierra Leoneans should take advantage of his simplicity to unnecessarily quarrel with him in the media , especially, over matters that fall within the exercise of his prerogative power.
THE PRESIDENT OF SIERRA LEONE HIS EXCELLENCY DR. ERNEST BAI KOROMA : DO PEOPLE UNDERSTAND HIS POWERS AS HEAD OF STATE ?
First of all, let us get this point very clear again, for the upteenth time . The list of cabinet members that was circulated shortly after President Ernest Koroma won the November 17 ,2012 elections was fake. It was the handiwork of pranksters who were just trying to pull the leg of the nation and serious journalists knew about it.Indeed, the Publishers of Awareness Times and Cocorioko respectively , Dr. Sylvia Blyden and Rev. Leeroy Wilfred Kabs-Kanu ( whose names were associated with positions in that list ) wasted no time to inform their readers that the list was fake and should be treated with disdain.
It is fascinating and amazing, however, that some journalists who do not have the professional ability to cross-check their stories by consulting credible sources were taken for a ride by the pranksters. A simple call to the Secretary to the President, Mr. Emmanuel Osho Coker, would have enlightened the journalists concerned that the cabinet list was fake. Journalists will do justice to their credibility , if they care for it, by stopping to operate their outlets from street rumours and veranda gossip, and consult the appropriate sources when in doubt. In our information-laden society of today, there is no excuse for journalists to treat matters of national interest from speculative perspectives. It is one of the salient lessons of JOURNALISM 101 –Check credible sources. Don’t speculate or assume. Get the facts. If a journalist does not know the job descriptions of the the newly-created positions of Ministers of State (Finance ), for instance, call the Ministry of Finance and speak with the Minister or the Permanent Secretary or the very minister concerned. This is the Age of Information. The Finance Minister will be more than happy to give the journalist an earful of information that the journalist could then use to present his readers with an authoritative report based not on street rumours , veranda gossip OR speculation but on facts from the horse’s own mouth.
One of the most misunderstood areas of knowledge in society is the POWERS VESTED IN THE PRESIDENT BY THE CONSTITUTION. Sierra Leoneans do not know that apart from the fact that the President is elected to deliver socio-economic and political developments , the same President has certain specified powers provided him by the constitution that he can exercise at all times without having to face questions from errant journalists. It is not dictatorship or one-man rule. It is constitutional governance. Understanding what powers the constitution invests in the President will save journalists the unnecessary time they waste questioning certain actions by President Ernest Koroma or other heads of state , fr that matter.
Let us start with the principle of PRESIDENTIAL PREROGATIVE.
This is the best definition I have for Presidential prerogative : “Prerogative power is a legal doctrine that originated in England, giving the sovereign the right to operate in a supra-legal manner if he determined it was in the supreme national interest, typically in the common defense.” (http://en.citizendium.org ) . The site explains further, using Constututional Law :
“Historically, the medieval monarchy was both feudal lord and head of the kingdom. As such, the King had powers accounted for by the need to preserve the realm against external foes and an ‘undefined residue of power which he might use for the public good’. He could exercise the ‘royal prerogative’ and impose his will in respect of decision-making.”
The Sierra Leone Legal System is derived from the English Legal System.
John Locke, the English philosopher , whose enlightened teachings impacted on English Constitutional Law, in his “Second Treatise on Government” (1689 ) defines Prerogative power as the ” right of executive to do anything for the public good, EVEN violate law if necessary during crisis or emergency, but ONLY FOR THE PUBLIC GOOD…”. While Presidents would do what it takes that they do not violate law, they have prerogative power , at the same time, to do whatever it takes in an emergency to promote and defend the public good. Since he came to power ,President Koroma, a law-abiding leader, has done his best to govern according to law , but if there is any crisis in the country that threatens the national interest , he could exercise his prerogative powers to protect the interest of the people , without being subject to any question from anyone.
So, before we go further, let us get it straight . In the supreme national interest, the President can operate in a supra-legal manner and take decisions that he believes will be in the interest of the nation. It is not what the reasonable man would have done, if he faced the same situation. It is what the President feels is in the supreme interest of the nation. It must be understood that the Head of State has the power to act in a crisis based entirely on his own prerogative on one hand and on the other hand he also has the power to act in accordance with laws that give the executive special powers . If journalists understand this important distinction, they will be thoroughly informed to know what actions by the president that they could criticize and those that they have no right to criticize.
Summarily, the President has the prerogative power to :
- Make appointments to government ministries , corporations and agencies
- Fire any appointee to government ministries, corporations and agencies
- Declare war on another country
- Make peace with countries
- Sign treaties with other countries
- Pardon criminals
- Grant citizenship to foreigners (If he s disposes )
- step outside statutory law and constitutional law in times of national crisis or when national security is at stake, to take actions
WE WILL CONTINUE IN PART 2 OVER THE WEEKEND