By Omar Bah
The government’s first attempt to find consensus on the draft constitution has suffered a deadlock.
In September, Gambian lawmakers rejected a draft constitution to replace the 1997 Constitution. About 31 National Assembly Members voted in favour of the bill to be passed while 23 members rejected the draft .
The Barrow government then turned to mediation specialist and former Nigerian president, Goodluck Jonathan to find consensus on the draft constitution ahead of its planned return to the National Assembly.
But Mr Jonathan’s first attempt to find consensus in three days of intensive discussions with the country’s political parties ended in a deadlock. The former Nigerian leader is expected to return to the country in January to continue the mediations.
According to our source who attended the meetings, presidential term limits, retirement benefits for judges, the low threshold for the impeachment of the president, confirmation of ministers before the National Assembly, citizenship and the justiciability of economic rights leading to floodgates in litigation were the six points the executive wanted to be amended in the constitution.
All the political parties, except for the PDOIS, attended the consultative meeting. Last Wednesday, the PDOIS secretary general, Halifa Sallah, told journalists the issue of the draft constitution is strictly a parliamentary matter requiring consultation between the executive and parliament.
“They even invited an international delegation. To do what? What mediation? This is about a bill to be brought to the National Assembly, to be decided by a three-quarter majority before we can proceed to the next stage and even to a referendum. That is a parliamentary matter,” he said.
The GDC national president, Modou ‘MC’ Cham, said although some of the political parties including his, were open for a compromise, the UDP represented by Ousainu Darboe, Ya-Kumba Jaiteh and the majority leader Kebba Barrow were adamant that the constitution should be taken back to the people.
UDP human and legal affairs secretary, Almami Taal, told The Standard that his party’s position is for the draft constitution to be taken back to the people to decide.
“We are not in a constitutional crisis at all, we believe that the activities that are going around are an attempt to subvert the will of the Gambian people,” Taal said.
The CRC process, he argued, was widely consultative and all Gambians have had their say.
“What remains now is for Gambians to validate what they have said and that process is not complicated. Just give them a referendum. I think what is happening now is a waste of time and resources. I really think the former president of Nigeria is not on a goodwill mission because he is wasting everybody’s time including Ecowas. I think it is an insult to the sovereign rights of Gambians. This is a mockery,” he added.
“Let us be absolutely clear here, saying that you are ready to reach a compromise, over what? The will of the people?”
GAP secretary general, Musa Batchilly, insisted that the 1997 Constitution should be amended if necessary.
The APRC deputy spokesperson Dodou Jah said although the representatives at the consultation are yet to brief him on the outcome of the meeting his party’s position on the constitution remained unchanged.
“I don’t think Goodluck Jonathan engaging political party leaders and the likes will make any difference. The parliamentarians are the lawmakers and they have made a difference,” he said.