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Saturday, August 15, 2020

Disharmony in governance: Barrow versus the National Assembly

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By DA Jawo

The sore relationship that now exists between the Executive and the National Assembly does not seem to auger well for development in this country, and it is definitely not in anyone’s interest. It is only when all the three arms of government; the Executive, Legislature and the Judiciary work in tandem that we would expect to see meaningful progress in all spheres of development.

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Unfortunately, however, there seems to be bad blood between the Executive and the National Assembly, apparently as part of the fall out between the United Democratic Party (UDP) and President Adama Barrow, which appears to be getting toxic every day.
However, to understand the genesis of the apparent rift between these two important arms of government, one needs to go back to the very early days of Coalition 2016, which formed the government after the defeat of the dictatorship of ex-President Yahya Jammeh and the ushering in of the New Gambia. While much earlier on, there were obvious signs of fundamental differences between the members of Coalition 2016 when they started to contradict each other on some policy issues, but things came to a head during the run up to the National Assembly elections in 2017. We can vividly recall when the leader of the UDP, Ousainou Darboe, insisted that his party was not going to contest the elections as part of the coalition but instead they were going on their own. He eventually formed the Tactical Alliance with Hamat Bah of the National Reconciliation Party (NRP) and Mai Ahmat Fatty of the Gambia Moral Congress (GMC). That was no doubt the death knell of Coalition 2016, as it never recovered from that blow.

Of course, it would not be fair to heap all the blame of the disintegration of Coalition 2016 on Ousainou Darboe or the Tactical Alliance alone, but all the coalition partners played a part in it. However, it is necessary to point out that the People’s Democratic Organization for Independence and Socialism (PDOIS), particularly its Secretary General Halifa Sallah, and the interim leader of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), Omar Amadou Jallow (OJ), tried everything possible to keep the coalition intact, but they failed, apparently because of the absence of goodwill on the part of some of the members.

While all this was going on, one would wonder what role President Adama Barrow might have played in the eventual disintegration of Coalition 2016. Of course, it was quite obvious to everyone who cared to know that he was doing everything within his power and means to support and empower the UDP, despite the fact that as coalition flag bearer, he was expected to be neutral amongst the coalition partners.

This is no doubt because even at that very early stage of the coalition and despite his promise to serve only three years, he seems to have always harboured the idea to not only complete the five year mandate allowed by the Constitution, but he was thinking of a second term. Therefore, he was doing everything possible to endear himself to the UDP with the eventual objective of being adopted as party leader and presidential candidate in 2021. He himself had confirmed that he made significant financial contributions to the election campaign of the UDP candidates in both the National Assembly and Local Government elections, apparently all in a bid to win their hearts and minds. It is also alleged that for quite a while, he had been giving cash on a regular basis to some UDP National Assembly members, apparently as part of his campaign to take over leadership of the party.

Therefore, when it became obvious to President Barrow that the UDP leadership were reluctant to hand over leadership of the party to him on a silver platter as he had expected, then his relationship with the party started its downward trend, eventually leading to Ousainou Darboe’s sacking as Vice President and the removal of the other UDP cabinet members who continued to identify with the Mr. Darboe faction of the party. While the UDP supporters and militants would insist that the party is still intact and therefore not correct to talk about the Darboe faction, but the reality is that President Barrow succeeded in dividing the party and going away with a good chunk of the members, including some elected officials. He eventually formed his own party; the National People’s Party (NPP) and began setting up “polotical” bureaus all over the country. This led to the expulsion by UDP of some National Assembly members who clearly identified with the Barrow camp and the latest of such expulsions include the Chairman of Brikama Area Council and some of his councilors.

This rift between the UDP and President Barrow is clearly being reflected in what happens in various sectors of the government, including the National Assembly. Of course, we have been hearing of rumours of certain senior public servants being redeployed or getting the sack just because of their alleged connection with the UDP, but the unhealthiest aspect of the rift is the way that the UDP National Assembly members tend to oppose everything that emanates from the executive. We expect our National Assembly members to look at all issues before them quite objectively and vote according to their conscience rather than basing everything on partisan lines. For instance, it is the continuous voting against his proposals for extension of the State of Public Emergency by the UDP in the National Assembly that had forced President Barrow to be using his executive powers to extend it. It is certainly not a healthy situation for him to do so when the National Assembly is in session, but as the pandemic is still with us, it makes quite a lot of sense to extend the SOPE and if the National Assembly would not do it, then he has to fall back on his executive powers.

However, while many people may blame the UDP for the rift, but it appears that there is an element of belligerency on President Barrow’s side as well. There is no doubt that if he had engaged the National Assembly more positively, he could have prevented the deterioration of the situation. For instance, when the National Assembly first rejected his 45 days proposal to extend the SOPE, if he had gone back to them with an amended proposal, it is very likely that it would have been passed, but he instead decided to ignore the National Assembly and went ahead to use his executive powers to extend it. That move, apparently, worsened the rift between him and the National Assembly. It is however foolhardy for both President Barrow and members of the National Assembly to believe that both sides would do their work comfortably without the support and cooperation of the other. Therefore, we expect them to do everything necessary to mend fences in the interest of the country and the people.

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