By Momodou K Manneh
Since the coalition government under President Barrow assumed state stewardship, a lot of discussions came up both from the print and electronic media, groups and individuals, speaking for or against the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) agreed upon by parties that formed the Coalition. The fact that we have entered the third year of the Barrow administration, and discussions from the two camps are taking an even greater momentum, I feel obliged in the interest of the nation to participate in the discussion, by juxtaposing some of the merits and demerits envisaged from the proposed 3 year governance demanded by the MoU, and those of the 5 year constitutional provision.
Needless to say, the importance of the MoU cannot be over-emphasised, in that it stipulated conditions for state governance which would affect every aspect of our lives as a state. But before considering the socio-economic and political effects of the two terms, let us first identify in the layman’s perspective, the legal qualities of the 3-year Memorandum of Association, in comparison with the 5-year Constitutional requirement.
Taking cognizance of the fact that the MoU was drawn up by the big-wigs of the opposition parties, had it signed and registered with the Independent Electoral Commission, it could be regarded that the contents of the MoU is binding on the Coalition members. The urgent question is whether or not the party heads are obliged to fulfill the demands of the MoU and whether the document is enforceable by the courts. At this juncture, we need our legal experts to expound on this and explain crystal-clear the extent of the Coalition members’ obligation to the MoU. According to certain circles, the 3 year governance required by the MoU was sold to the Gambian populace, and was bought. Relevant questions requiring answers here are: how was the MoU sold to Gambians, and, how was it bought? As far as we know, no formal and recognized step was taken to sound national opinion. For example no national consultative process was undertaken to gain popular consensus for the 3 year term, and the MoU was neither tabled at the National Assembly for discussion. Most significantly, there is no constitutional provision that supports a 3 year term for state governance in the Gambia.
When the AFPRC seized power, a National Consultative Council was set up to establish the period in which the Junta should hand over power. It was after the two year term accepted by the populace, that the council members retired from the army to form the civilian APRC party. Hence with all powers behind them, the AFPRC consulted Gambians to determine their tenure of governance. So we would agree that the two year AFPRC government was not imposed on us. Of late, we have all witnessed the untiring efforts of the Constitutional Review Commission to consult Gambians both within and in the diaspora, in a bid to build the supreme laws of the state. So on completion, we would accept that the new Constitution has gained popular mandate and was not imposed on us.
In like manner, the Coalition MoU should have been referred to the citizenry in order to receive popular mandate. The mere pronouncement of some contents of the MoU at few rally points during the hot 2016 Coalition campaign, is far insufficient and could not suffice national consultation obligations. Therefore, the Coalition government voted in through the right and proper constitutional process is required to fulfill the demands of the Constitution and stay in power for 5 years to satisfy it s obligations to the nation. The constitutionality of the 5 year tenure of governance glaringly stipulated by the Constitution, shows that, “the Constitution is the supreme law of the state, and any law found to be inconsistent with the provisions of the Constitution shall, to the extent of its inconsistency, be declared null and void”. The strength and binding force of this provision lies in the popular mandate and national recognition clad with the Constitution, which is evidently lacking in the Coalition MoU. The MoU conspicuously suffers significant defects which invalidate the 3 year tenure.
Contrarily, if the incumbent government steps down at the end of its third year to fulfill the demands of the MoU, then the MoU could only be regarded as an imposition on Gambians.
That said, let us turn attention to future socio-economic merits and demerits to be derived from implementing the 3 year MoU as opposed to the 5 year tenure of governance. Firstly, we need to remind ourselves that going to the polls would require allocating substantial sums of funds for the election process. It was two years back in 2016, besides the sufferings and hardships encountered by the populace, the nation expended millions (if not billions) of dalasi to determine state leadership. Gambians are yet to recover from the sores suffered from the politicking and need some repose.
The Finance Ministry and the Janneh Commission have evidences that our nation was robbed of its hard-earned resources by the former President unprecedented in the annals of this country. Where is the wisdom then to opt for elections next year which would require us spending some further billions from our depleted coffers? Invariably, going for another massive electioneering just after three years of encountering an unprecedented political campaign, would precipitate very undesirable consequences on our politico and socio-economic life.
The all embracing 4 year (2018-2021) National Development Plan must not be underestimated. The NDP aims at ushering development in all sectors of the economy, viz. agriculture and fisheries, tourism and culture, education and health, energy and infrastructural development, youth empowerment and, by no means of less importance is the emphasis on good governance and respect for human rights. Invariably, the ambitious qualities depicted by the NDP are so mind appealing, that it attracted our partners in development to pledged over 1.5 billion Euros to the incumbent government. This is a litmus test for the government and all aspects of government apparatus would need to be employed to achieve the goals aimed at in the NDP. But should we go to the polls and experience a change of government, where is the guaranty that the objectives of the National Development Plan would be fulfilled by the new leadership?