By Madi Jobarteh
Once again, the President has decided to abuse the Constitution by imposing a state of emergency by blatantly ignoring the National Assembly. When a state of emergency is declared which the President has the power to do so, it needs to be extended or revoked. The extension is the function of only the National Assembly when the President requests for it. But once again we see this President extend a state of emergency from July 1 to 8 without parliamentary approval.
It was on June 11 that the last state of emergency was declared by the President without seeking approval from the National Assembly claiming that he has powers from Section 34(6) of the Constitution. That public emergency expired on July 1. But few days before its expiration the Speaker announced before lawmakers that the Executive had withdrawn a motion seeking an extension of the state of emergency. Consequently, the President went ahead to declare a unilateral extension of a state of emergency from July 1. Once again, the President said he is relying on Section 34(6) of the Constitution.
This action by the President is indeed a travesty of the Constitution because the President has no powers to extend a state of emergency. He cannot rely on Section 34(6) to do that because that is not the purpose of that subsection. It is now clear that this President is engaged in deliberately misinterpreting the Constitution for the purpose of perpetrating violation of the Constitution.
Let us recall that the President first made a declaration on March 18 in line with Section 34(1), and this expired in April. On April 3 the President requested an extension which the National Assembly approved for 45 days as per Section 34(5) which was to end on May 18. By this time the National Assembly was in recess but they were recalled to consider an extension request by the President. The lawmakers failed to extend it and then went back into recess. Consequently, the President relied on Section 34 (2) to make a declaration of 21 days which ended on June 10.
According to the Constitution the President should have come back to the National Assembly to seek another extension. But we saw this President refused to do that but claimed that Section 34(6) empowers him to declare unilateral declaration which he did. Why did the President refuse to come to the National Assembly to seek an extension as per Section 34(5) but only choose to rely on an unnecessary provision (Section 34(6)) to declare an extension?
Democratic and good governance norms should have informed this President that he must abide by the Constitution and submit himself to the scrutiny of the National Assembly. It is neither in his interest nor in the national interest for him to seek to manipulate the Constitution or bypass the National Assembly. Now again we have seen this President go to the highest extent of abuse by withdrawing his request for extension from the National Assembly. Why would the President refuse to seek National Assembly approval by withdrawing his request?
The Constitution is clear that the President can initiate a state of emergency but its extension can only be done by the National Assembly. Even with Section 34(6) it is not the intention of the Constitution that the President could impose one declaration after another as he likes and without National Assembly.
A state of emergency is a very peculiar situation which gives huge amount of powers to the Executive that allows for severe curtailing of fundamental human rights. Furthermore, a state of emergency imposes both serious limitations and as well as wide leeway on the processes and institutions used to manage public resources.
This means under a state of emergency the potential for rights violations and the abuse of office, plunder of public resources and lack of accountability are huge. It is precisely because of that the Constitution therefore made a state of emergency a power and a tool that is shared between the Executive and the Legislature with strict checks and balances to prevent abuse.
Right now, it appears the Executive has decided to lower the standards of our Constitution and therefore undermine good governance by creating a situation where the National Assembly is completely ignored and disempowered. By removing the National Assembly from the process of enacting a state of emergency it means the National Assembly cannot now play any specific oversight over the current state of emergency.
I wish to therefore call on the Speaker and the NAMs not to accept this unlawful situation but to take full control over the governance of this country. The National Assembly must not sit by to watch over the blatant abuse of the Constitution by the Executive. If they allow it then NAMs are, individually and collectively complicit in the abuse of power and violations of the Constitution. NAMs have all the powers and tools available to bring the executive to book and I urge them to use them in full immediately.