Barrow has no power to appoint governors for Banjul, KM – Lawyer

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By Tabora Bojang

Lawyer Lamin J Darbo has said President Adama Barrow does not have any constitutional powers to appoint governors for Banjul and Kanifing Municipality.

The president stirs nerves after announcing last week that he is going to appoint governors for Kanifing Municipality and Banjul which are all manned by opposition mayors to put a halt to what he described as “efforts undermining his government’s programs.”

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Speaking to Kerr Fatou yesterday, Darbo, a prominent lawyer, argued that governors cannot control democratically elected councils.

“The Constitution has provided a high degree of autonomy for the local councils. The president or whoever is administering that scheme should ensure that the conduct of government complies significantly with that constitutional language. So if they say a high degree of autonomy, you cannot come from the State House and say I want to administer your councils for you or I want to administer your councils for you through the Ministry of Local Government as we are seeing now.”

He said the 1997 Constitution has vested powers in itself as the supreme law of The Gambia and any law that is found  to be in conflict with it is void.

“It does not matter what the president wants. The law is clear. If you go on a journey of your own because you believe you are an all-powerful president, you can probably pass legislation especially if you control the National Assembly and that is not a problem. But that legislation will conflict with the constitution and you cannot implement that legislation, because if you do and you are challenged at the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court may declare it null and void. The Constitution has stated how the local government should be set up with a high degree of autonomy in a democratic climate. So we are talking about decentralisation of power; not all the powers belong to the president. The president has powers to appoint commissioners or now governors and those ones are actually outside the local government set up as far as democratic universal suffrage is concerned. Nobody votes for a commissioner or a governor, so a governor cannot control a democratic elected council,” Darbo further argued.

“The issue of the appointment of CEOs in councils is very troubling and it should not be there [in our laws]. It is troubling because now we have seen how it is being used. A CEO from nowhere will be used to serve as the boss of the mayor, the head of the council and be in all the subcommittees of the councils and nobody voted for him or her.”

Asked if the president would have powers to amend the 1997 Constitution to allow him a legal base to appoint governors for the metropolitan councils of KM and Banjul, he said going by the recent Supreme Court ruling the president cannot do such.

“The Supreme Court specifically said you cannot curtail the term of councils by 3 months. Why do you pick up a fight with the Supreme Court and amend the Constitution? That would be irresponsible. Don’t amend the Constitution to suit you because nobody is a country. The country is there. You will leave the country there and if you destroy it, you destroy it along with your legacy but you will not live forever. So even if he [president] has the numbers [in the National Assembly] I don’t think he would amend the Constitution on such trivial grounds. This is not an important issue. People voted for members of councils, for their chair persons under a universal adult suffrage. Why do you want to change that?”