You have been a National Assembly Member since 2002. What is your experience as a parliamentarian?
Since my election as a National Assembly Member, I have been focusing on doing my work, helping my constituency and the country at large. Over the years, the experience that I accumulated is huge. Discussing national policies and laws and holding officials accountable are all part of my experience. It is something that helps me carry out my function, as a National Assembly Member. But, we parliamentarians are facing a big challenge. Not least among them is sometimes people misconstrue our roles with those of councilors. This is because they think that we are the people responsible for bringing development to constituencies, which, frankly, is not the case. The reason being that while during the first republic, National Assembly Members (NAMs) can also be ministers, in this [present] republic, a NAM can only be a NAM, not someone responsible for bringing development in his or her area. I hope people will understand this.
What are you doing, as a NAM, to raise the awareness of people of your constituency on these realities?
Quite a lot… I used to have meetings with members of my committee, who constitute the representatives of all the constituents groups from youths, women, elders and all the relevant stakeholders. They are increasingly being aware of what is my constitutionally-sanctioned role, as their representative at the National Assembly. Also, what I used to do to get them involve is that when a bill or policy is given to us NAMs, I come back to them, meet them, and we discuss all what is detailed in the document. They come with their ideas, suggestions. It is these ideas, from my grassroots constituency members that I go with at the National Assembly during debate to broadly reflect their views and opinions. I believe in engaging my constituent members, and encouragingly, they are getting increasingly aware.
This seems to be a deep problem. Very recently during the scrutiny training of National Assembly Members by a Ghanaian parliamentary procedure expert, Dr Draman Rahman, the deputy speaker of the National Assembly, Hon Fatou Mbye, complained about the same thing. What is the National Assembly doing to demystify the myth that they are not responsible for bring development in their areas?
We are playing our part. Whenever we have gatherings with the public we make this clear to them. But still I accept a lot needs to be done in this front, because there are lots of people who are still having the misconception. There is an institution in the country responsible for raising the awareness of people, concerning their civic rights and the role of NAMs, which is the National Council for Civic Education (NCCE). They are trying their best. For that I know. But I am appealing to them to do more to educate people about such things. It makes our work easier. I know there are people who will say, ‘NAMs make promises to people that they will bring this and that to their area’, but that is not how it should be. We are elected to carry out three broad functions: representation, legislation and oversight.
Let me move on to one of the controversial bill NAMs are set to debate: IEC amendments. In it, if passed, not only presidential hopefuls will pay one million dalasi to contest, but would-be NAMs will have to fork out 100,000 dalasi compared to the paltry 5,000 dalasi as it is now. Do you support it?
The bill will be tabled for debate at the National Assembly. There are people arguing that the office of the National Assembly is so important. It comes with trust and respect. I fully endorsed such argument. The mandate given to us by the people is very huge. We will try all our best to live up to that expectation. I, for one, will work towards that all the time. The issue of the amount of money in the bill is interesting. You have people on the one side saying, ‘oh, the amount in the IEC proposal is very reasonable. They are saying that the position of the National Assembly should not come easy. And, on the other side, you have people, saying ‘ it is on the high side’. It is a proposal, which is not yet passed. So let’s see what happens.
Reasonable side or high side, where does Hon Kalifa Jammeh belong?
[Laugh] We have to wait and see how things pan out. It is a proposal from the IEC, and we National Assembly Members will just have to consider, scrutinise and debate it. So let’s see how it shapes up. But it is clear that people are faced with a choice. A clear one, indeed. It is akin, to give a transport metaphor, to someone faced with a choice to board a passenger taxi or town trip. You go with what you can afford, but the destiny that you have in mind is the same. I will never change. Again, I will add that National Assembly Members are given a huge task. Important though as it is to carry these functions, it is important people are in office who have what it takes to deliver the wishes and aspirations of their people.
The proposed debate of the bill has been postponed twice in a row. Why?
I have no idea, frankly. The bill is not coming from the National Assembly, but rather it is coming from the IEC. It is up to them to bring it at the chamber of the House for us to look at it. Whatever is keeping them, I cannot tell. All what we have to do now is not to jump to conclusions.
You are a prominent member of the National Assembly Select Committee on Education. You took part in the committee’s scrutiny tour of the government’s education flagship programme called School Improvement Grant (SIG). What were your findings?
I must first start by telling you that this tour was very important. We were able to criss-cross the length and breadth of the country, engaging education stakeholders. You – Amadou – were among the tour delegates in your capacity as the representative of the National Youth Parliament to observe the tour. That says a lot about our level of engagement the National Assembly committees are having with interested bodies. You will agree with me that we were able to come up with good findings and recommendations on the SIG. This is a policy of government that is helping people enrol in school for free to have the education that they need to move on in life. I will just recount here a story, to bolster a case on how this policy is helping the needy and the less well-off in our country. When we were in Central River Region (CRR), there is a female called Haddy Tobb, who told us her story that she was forced by her parents to get married despite the fact that she had a good grade in the Common Entrance [as assessments from junior to senior secondary schools were called]. But because her parents could not afford to send her to school, she ended up not going to high school in Nusrat. Such was how touching and shocking her story was that the Chairman of the committee, Hon Sulayman Joof, NAM for Serrekunda West, and most, if not all the delegation, including you, were shaking their heads in disbelief, with drips and drapes of tears. The SIG, in a nutshell, will be helping the Haddy Tobb-type across the country. That is why big thanks should go to the President His Excellency Sheikh Professor Dr Alhagie Yaya A JJ Jammeh Babili Mansa, for his foresight and vision for coming up with the policy. From primary school to university, he is supporting Gambians to learn.
The National Assembly endorsed two motions recently on slavery and colonialism. What do you hope to achieve with these motions?
Slavery and colonialism are two things that we cannot deny ravaged African countries and retarded their development. Our political, social and economic fabrics were all affected negatively by these twin problems, which were going hand in hand. All what the motions are saying is that they should be condemned by the international community as war crimes and crimes against humanity. If possible, we can also look at the damages done to African countries and what can be done to mitigate these damages. But what is disturbing is the lack of understanding by some about the effects slavery had on us Africans. I cannot make out whether it is wilful denial or not. We still have modern day colonialism in the form of neo-colonialism. Be it in the political arena with the unacceptable demands the West is coming up with, on the economic scene the skewed nature of international trade bodies, which put Africa at a perpetual disadvantage, and the bogeymen Africans doing their bidding for them, all these are evidences that Africa is still trapped in colonialism. To see our President focusing on this is important. Like Julius Neyere of Tanzania, Nwame Nkrumah, Patrice Lumumba, our President is conscious and focused on standing up for what is best for Africa. He is a great pan-Africanist.
I cannot end this interview without asking you about your hopes as a NAM for this legislative year. What are they?
I hope that we will be carrying our legislative duties diligently, efficiently and effectively. The bills before us will all be debated and the conclusions will be made and available to Gambians for digestion. We operate transparently. There is an active Youth Parliament around, running radio programmes where we NAMs are called on to answer questions. We welcome that. It helps us a lot as lawmakers. On the IEC amendments, they will help them [IEC] actively play their role independently and make the political playing field smooth for political parties. Therefore, I am expecting an exciting legislative session this year.
Thank you for your time Honourable Kalifa Jammeh.
This interview was also aired during the National Youth Parliament Civic Engagement Hour Programme on Capital FM.