Par·lia·ment | Fantasy History 11

The meeting place of the old Legislative Council was an annex to the old Secretariat Building along George Street in Freetown. The Legislative Council was the “Parliament.” (Reflections on Sierra Leone by a Former Senior Police Officer)

On August 16, 1960, the Sierra Leone-Solel Boneh Company signed a $750,000 credit agreement. With Israel providing credits in the form of building materials, construction began immediately.  (Middle East Record Volume 1, 1960)

On April 27, 1961, the Sierra Leone House of Representatives declared independence in its newly built edifice in Freetown.

Among the guests of honor was a group of Israeli architects and engineers, who had been working on the design and construction of the building for the past seven months, a job English firms declined due to what they claimed was an unrealistic deadline.

Concurrently under pressure to finalize the parliament project in Jerusalem, which was subject to a heated and prolonged public debate, the Israeli team received carte blanche in Sierra Leone. This was the first of a series of high-profile projects in post-independence sub-Saharan African states that Israeli architects and construction companies undertook in the following decade.

Under the technical cooperation banner promoted by Israel’s foreign ministry, Israeli firms established joint companies with the local governments, promoting technical transfer. (Fast-Track Development: Israeli Construction in 1961 Sierra Leone, Ayala Levin Columbia University, New York, USA)

In 1996 the late Dr. Karefa-Smart, told Peter J. Kulagbanda, the recent principal clerk of committees at Sierra Leone’s House of Representatives, that the idea of building a new parliament building was his.

Once it became imminent that the British would officially unhook its talons from its Crown Colony on April 27, 1961, the Sierra Leoneans had less than a year to find a suitable station for its legislative body and Independence Day Ceremony.

Karefa-Smart approached the British with an idea to construct a parliament for the nascent government. It was their refusal—citing an unrealistic deadline—that led the Sierra Leoneans to seek Israeli assistance.

With earmarked loans the Israeli government financed almost half of the construction budget of £400,000, a naïve estimation that would later balloon to over £900,000.

Solel Boneh, the construction arm of Histradrut, Israel’s largest trade union, was awarded the building contract. To oversee the project Israel created the National Construction Company (Sierra Leone) Ltd., a joint enterprise based in the capital city of Freetown. The architectural firm Karmi, Melzer, & Karmi was commissioned for the parliament’s design. Dov and Ram Karmi, the father-and-son team who were also involved with the design of Israel’s own parliament, the Knesset, are footnoted in history as the architects of Sierra Leone’s House of Representatives. But it is Zvi Melzer, a partner in the firm, who gets credit as the architect on documents from Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Works. “It’s a very good example of the so-called Brutalist architecture,” said Zvi Efrat, an Israeli architect and architectural historian. (Sierra Leone’s Israeli-built parliament building is a symbol of the Jewish state’s long-running engagement in Africa, Rama Musa, January 3, 2013 )

The Israeli-owned construction company named National Construction Company (a branch of the Israel commercial company Dizengoff) was funded by what was termed soft loans. The same construction company had constructed the House of Parliament building at Tower Hill, and the new general post office building at Gloucester Street and Siaka Stevens Street (formerly named Westmoreland Street). (Reflections on Sierra Leone by a Former Senior Police Officer)

In the summer of 2000, Vitabu interviewed Banja Tejan-Sie in London over several weeks. Born on August 7, 1917, Tejan-Sie died August 8, 2000, aged 83. He was the last governor-general of Sierra Leone.  

There were breakers ahead when the news came out in August 1961. There was opposition both in C.B. Rogers-Wright’s party, the United Progressive Party (UPP), as well as the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP).

The party’s newspaper, the Vanguard of August 19,1961, noted that “C.B. Rogers-Wright has done nothing to justify his being returned or for that matter, to be granted a merger with the SLPP.”

At the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) Convention in 1962, a merger of the United Progressive Party (UPP) and the SLPP was formally approved with Dr. Margai declaring that he was prepared to accept every true Sierra Leonean into the fold of the SLPP.

At the end of the day, Dr. Margai had effectively broken up the opposition members left in parliament at the beginning of 1962.

Kester Campbell, a UPP member, had crossed to the SLPP in 1961 on the instigation of Rogers-Wright.

Dixon-Thomas and Nelson-Williams dropped their party identifications but declined to join the SLPP until they had retained their seats as Independents in the 1962 election.

Four backbenchers considered themselves members of the United Front, but not for the SLPP.  

Only V.M. Caulker and J. Barthes Wilson retained their identity as members of the UPP.  Tamba Mbriwa maintained the Sierra Leone Progressive Independence Movement in Parliament.

I.T.A. Wallace-Johnson was the sole Member of Parliament who represented the newly formed All People’s Congress in Parliament.

The People’s National Party (PNP) had already been dissolved and merged with the SLPP. Dr. Margai had made peace with his brother, Albert, leader and founder of the PNP. 

With this situation, Dr. Margai was for the moment supremely comfortable in terms of any opposition. The problem for him, however, was in  the selection of candidates for the different constituencies.

The number of constituencies for ordinary members had been increased from 39 to 62 seats. There were twelve more across the country, with additional seats except for Koinadugu, Bo, and Kenema having increases of three to eight and one to six respectively.

The general elections were held in July 1962. The All People’s Congress (APC), the main opposition party, won only sixteen seats out of 32 contested, while the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) won twenty-eight seats out of the 39 contested.

The Kono party, the Sierra Leone Progressive Independence Movement, which was reported to have amalgamated with the PNP, won 4 out of 47 seats contested. 

Fourteen seats were won by Independents. The paramount chiefs had twelve. They, of course, by convention, had no choice but to allay their fortunes with the majority party.  The results were in no way satisfactory for the government.

The official candidates of the SLPP won less than a majority of the ordinary members seats and only eight more than the two allied opposition parties. Dr. Margai set to towrk to increase the number of seats he needed to get a majority. 

He did this by every trick in the book. He cajoled the MPs. He offered some jobs. 
With his usual flare for compromise and ready to do anything to destroy his enemies, he offered ministerial posts to some independents and some kind of patronage to others, if they would switch over to his party. They all did so. Some were rewarded, but others were not. Those who did not get jobs were bitter and remained so for a long while. Indeed, I knew one or two who regularly betrayed party secrets to the opposition. 

A few days after the election, a meeting of all the Members of Parliament of the victorious party was held in Freetown to congratulate each other and for the new MPs to be instructed on procedure. As soon as the meeting was declared open, one of the items submitted on the agenda for discussion was my future.

Some friends of mine, who were also my schoolmates, raised the question. Dr. Margai immediately appointed Albert Margai, Paramount Chief Yumkella, and Bai Koblo to come to me and discuss with me the sort of role I 
would like to undertake in the new government. Albert Margai deliberately kept himself away. The other MPs came to see me. 

They told me almost all the MPs were anxious for me to accept high office in the new government and preferably that of the position of Speaker of the House.

Of course the doctor and I had already discussed this before. 

On July 11, 1962, the banner headline of the
Daily Mail read MR BANJA TEJAN-SIE unanimously elected Speaker of the House of Representatives. Mr. Prince Williams was also uniamiously elected Deputy Speaker.

The 1962 House of Representatives consisted of a motley collection of Members of Parliament. You had the professional class, the lawyers, doctors, engineers, and accountants. There were the politicians; many of who did not even understand what politics was all about. A few of the paramount chiefs were only there because it added to their status.

There were others who were there to make money under any circumstances and lastly there were a couple of MPs who were illiterates. They could not read or understand the order papers. They simply voted without knowing what they voted for. Of course they never held the floor throughout the life of the parliamentary session.

There were of course many able speakers on both sides of the House, although the opposition led by Siaka Stevens was able to secure more points on occasions.

On 19th December 1961, the House gave leave of absence to a delegation to present a Mace as a gift from this House of Commons to the House of Representatives of Sierra Leone, as directed by Her Majesty the Queen.


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