By Madi Jobarteh
It is indeed quite concerning that the Cabinet has expressed objection to the draft constitution on the issue of presidential term limit that it discriminates and targets Pres. Adama Barrow. That statement by the Cabinet is utterly false, irresponsible and a threat to peace. The Gambia does not belong to Adama Barrow or any other single citizen alone.
Hence when Gambians expressed that no Gambian should serve for more than 10 years as President that view must be respected and protected by all. For Gambians to allow a citizen to serve for even 24 hours as President of the Republic of the Gambia is an invaluable honour for which that citizen must be eternally grateful and thankful to Gambians. Hence it is utter greed for power and a gross display of irresponsibility for the Cabinet to insist that Pres. Barrow, a mere individual citizen to serve for more than 10 years in our country.
Therefore, let all Gambians defend this draft constitution and demand the President to act immediately to make it become the supreme law of the land. Until then Pres. Adama Barrow and his Cabinet have no authority to change even a comma in the draft constitution submitted to him by the Constitutional Review Commission. Let me repeat for purposes of clarity, the President and his Cabinet have no power whatsoever to add or subtract any letter, punctuation or format of the draft constitution submitted to him. The CRC Act has given him no such expressed powers in anyway.
Even if the CRC Act did not also expressly prevent him from touching the draft constitution, he cannot use his own discretion to change it as he wishes. Doing so would be to undermine the spirit and objective of the constitution building process and the sovereignty of Gambians. The draft constitution is the opinion of the people of the Gambia. Not only has CRC conducted a broad-based consultation with Gambians at home and abroad but the Commission also held consultations with specific institutions and constituencies such as the Executive, National Assembly, political parties and CSOs among others to obtain their opinion as well. Hence everyone had his or her say on this constitution already.
What is required now for the Barrow Government to do is to take this draft constitution before the National Assembly. Given that the 1997 Constitution requires that a bill to amend the constitution requires to be gazetted for at least 100 days, the time is now for the President to make the Minister of Justice to kickstart that process.
Here is the timeline the Government needs to follow: If the Gambia is to hold the next presidential election in December 2021, then it means the draft constitution should be gazetted not later than 1 June 2020 so that the bill for the tabling of the draft before the National Assembly can take place in September 2020. This will cater for the 100-day period required for the consideration of the bill before the National Assembly to approve the draft so that the Speaker can send it to the IEC for referendum.
A referendum should be held between October and December 2020 so that there is a new constitution by January 2021. With this new constitution, the necessary reforms of the Elections Act could also be done by March 2021 and in any case by the June 2021 National Assembly session latest. This is to ensure that we meet the six months’ requirement for electoral law reforms before the next election as required by the ECOWAS Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance. In between June and September 2020 the IEC should also carry out voter registration so as to update the voter roll in time for the referendum between October and December 2020.
This is the timeline that the Gambia has without which there cannot be a new constitution in time for the 2021 presidential elections. It must be clear to Pres. Adam Barrow that the country cannot afford to go to the 2021 presidential elections with the 1997 Constitution. Citizens are not prepared for that hence he has a duty to ensure that he upholds his own Government’s plan to ensure that there is a new constitution in 2021.
Failure to do so means not only is Barrow once again betraying the people of the Gambia but he would also be threatening the peace and stability of this country. I call on citizens not to accept Pres. Barrow and the National Assembly to either change any letter in the draft constitution nor to delay the passing of a new constitution. Any attempt to do any would be a betrayal and a threat to peace.
At the ceremony at State House where the CRC submitted the draft to the President in March 2020, the Justice Minister said Gambians will be updated on the state of affairs of the draft constitution given the COVID 19 pandemic. Yet it is more than one month now and Minister Tambadou is yet to tell Gambians what is their agenda for the draft constitution. Why is Minister Tambadou silent until now?