By Madi Jobarteh
First things first: The National Assembly is the embodiment of our collective sovereignty, power and voice! We cannot and must not allow anyone to violate, ridicule or weaken our National Assembly. Let us defend and strengthen our representatives!
The sacking of a sitting National Assembly Member by the President of the Republic indeed tantamount to a coup since it is an act where an organ of the State has been denied its independence, integrity and security. The act of removing Hon. Ya Kumba Jaiteh clearly manifest that the President can as well sack the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker and appoint in their place a person of his choice. When the President can have such power and audacity it means therefore the independence and security of the National Assembly has been damaged hence a direct threat to the sovereignty and democratic governance of the Gambia.
Democratic governance is a political system in which institutions function based on democratic norms, processes and standards that restrain power, ensure transparency and accountability, combat corruption, ensure effective service delivery and create opportunities. Democratic governance in a republic like the Gambia is based on the idea that sovereignty of the country resides in the people and all organs of the State derive their legitimacy from the people and perform their functions on behalf of and for the welfare of the people as espoused in Section 1 subsection 2 of the Gambia Constitution.
Democratic governance therefore is a system where power is restrained so that no one person or institution is left unchecked or all-powerful but that all institutions submit themselves to the rule of law and not allowed to encroach on other institutions thereby undermine the function and responsibility of that institution. This is what is the rationale behind the idea of the rule of law and checks and balances system as espoused in the Constitution.
Of all the institutions that bear responsibility to check each and every other public institution is the National Assembly which is the apex State organ. In multiple places of our Constitution, the National Assembly plays the role of oversight and decision making for various purposes such as approval for appointments or removal of various public officers, approval of budget allocations or distribution of resources and ensuring the effective, transparent and responsive management of those resources as well as the protection of human rights among others.
In terms of the Executive, the National Assembly has even a greater role and responsibility to ensure that the Executive is checked since the Executive is the main State organ responsible for the direct management of national wealth, provision of public goods and services and protection of human rights. It is the Executive that has all the tools, weapons and institutions of force and violence such as the military, intelligence, police, prisons and customs. Hence more than any other institution it is the Executive that is practically in charge of the lives and future of each and every Gambian.
Therefore, when that Executive is left unchecked or given too much power then the rights, properties and lives each and every Gambian is at great risk! Remember Yaya Jammeh!
The National Assembly checks the Executive and the Executive is answerable to the National Assembly. Period!
To now have the head of that Executive having the power or ability to determine who can be a National Assembly Member specially to determine who can be the Speaker is in itself a direct threat to the rights and lives of Gambians. This means in effect the President can now determine who and how the National Assembly can check him or not. It is a practice that undermines the sovereignty of Gambians since if the President can appoint and remove National Assembly Members it means therefore the President has more power than the power of all Gambians combined.
Therefore, fellow Gambians, let us not just focus on the fact that the very idea of Nominated Members is undemocratic and therefore this issue does not matter. Yes, I agree, and I wish in the new constitution this monarchical colonial practice will be removed. But until then the authority to nominate individuals into our National Assembly by the President is in the Constitution. But just because the President can nominate individuals into the house it does not mean he owns or controls or can remove them as he wishes. Those Nominated Members are full-fledged members of the National Assembly and therefore their removal cannot be done by the President as per the Constitution.
Secondly let us also not only focus on the fact that our NAMs have indeed failed to stand up to effectively check the Executive since they took office in April 2017. Yes, most of them received vehicles from the President without question and the President even bribed some NAMs with money, not to mention the dubious transfer of millions of dalasi into the First Lady’s bank account! Just because the National Assembly failed once and many times before it does not mean we should not stand up to defend the National Assembly and our democracy and sovereignty anytime it comes under threat.
Thirdly let us not make this issue just another partisan affair. Whether you like or dislike UDP or PDOIS or GDC or any other party or politician, let us rise above such partisan consideration and realise the urgent national duty we face on this issue. The Gambia as a whole is more important than our individual parties and loved politicians. Let us realise that what is at stake is the very soul, future and sovereignty of Gambians.
Pres. Adama Barrow and his Cabinet and their advisors should have known more than anyone that indeed the practice of the President removing a Nominated Member is an undemocratic and unconstitutional malpractice that should not have been contemplated in the first place. When we voted out the Dictatorship in 2016 it was precisely to put a stop to these kinds of dictatorial tendencies. Two years after citizens brought democracy to the Gambia, we must not allow any elected politician or government to violate that democracy ever again!
All Gambians must therefore stand up against this illegal removal of Hon. Ya Kumba Jaiteh as a Member of the National Assembly and demand that Pres. Barrow completely refrains from acts that injure our democracy, good governance and sovereignty. Adama Barrow is not an absolute king or coloniser of the Gambia and therefore he has no authority by law to flout democratic norms and the Constitution.
I am ready to join any Gambian to go to the Supreme Court to challenge this most unconstitutional act. I urge the political parties to stand up and take this matter to court. I call on the Speaker and all NAMs to go to court and refuse to entertain this undemocratic and unconstitutional misconduct by the President.
Let us not fail ourselves once more as we did for 22 years. Since Independence we have failed to create a robust democratic governance environment simply because of our indifference, partisanship and selfishness where we take fundamental issues for granted. Let us disagree with each other on all issues but when it comes to our very collective sovereignty and the protection of democracy let us see eye to eye and stand together against any attempt by any person or institution that threatens us.
For the Gambia Our Homeland.