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Friday, September 25, 2020

The Gambia deserves better: Constitutional violations and petty political rackets in government are threats to our democracy

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It is an irrefutable fact that the current bewilderment in your government has the potential to create a high sense of mistrust among the politicians who all vowed to have had a common goal-to fight a common enemy and set the Gambia on the right footing, even though they might have different approaches in how to move the Gambia. In fact, there is already mistrust.

Since coming to power, controversy upon controversy have the characteristic of the new government, especially among the coalition leaders. This and other unpleasant issues warrant me to write, reminding you that the Gambia deserves better. We are very much aware that the coalition was formed on ‘marriage of convenience’, since the parties have their different political orientations and how to move the country, but unnecessary and petty arguments are the least we expect of the people we entrust our country with. It is for this reason that you must be aware of what the politicians around you are fighting for; this fight is not for today but for tomorrow (whose party will be in power after your mandate ends?). I call such people ‘the distracters’ of our development.

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The recent racket on the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding that brought together seven political parties and an Independent Candidate to democratically eject Yahya Jammeh from power is indeed unnecessary and disappointing. It has gone to the point of a coalition member saying that whether the pact was signed or not is immaterial because the aim was to get rid of Jammeh which is now achieved. It has been a debate as to whether you should serve for three years or five years. My position has been and shall remain that you should honour the coalition pact by serving for three years.

It has been argued by some that the coalition pact clearly violates the constitution; an argument I cannot still fathom. This particular camp is with the view that the constitution mandates the president to serve for five years, further citing section 4 as the provision which emphasises the supremacy of the constitution and that the coalition pact violates this particular section. Here I disagree because section 4 of the constitution for the sake of paraphrasing, states that any other law found to be inconsistent with any of the provisions of this constitution shall be null and void. It must be understood that laws are legal binding instruments and contrary to this, the coalition MoU is not in any way legally binding, thus it is only a moral duty to honour it and not a legal one. Since the coalition agreement is not a law, it may not be seen as a violation of the constitution as per section on constitutional supremacy. No one will take a legal action against you for not honouring the coalition pact, but common sense should dictate our actions.

In addition, it must be understood that this marriage of convenience (coalition pact) was necessitated by the common desire to uproot Jammeh and put in place a proper system of governance where the fundamental rights and liberties of all will be guaranteed and protected without discrimination. But the question that comes to mind is, were the generality of Gambians prepared for post-Jammeh Gambia? It seems our concern was just to get rid of Jammeh and the work is done. A statement like ‘getting rid of Jammeh was what we wanted’ tends to corroborate this.

In addition Mr. President, it has been argued as well that Gambians voted for five years and not three years. Again, I bet to differ. If Gambians honestly have any regard for the constitution, they should have rejected the coalition with their three year promise during the campaign. Since we supported and voted in the coalition, arguable we voted for three years. The rift that coalition pact was signed or was not signed is a clarification that needs to come from the leadership, yourself in particular. However, whether signed or not signed, ‘pacta sunt servanda’ (agreements are to be honoured. Gambians must be told the truth as we truly deserve better!
Mr. President, the issue of Vice President then comes to mind. This has been a call for so long, that the Gambia needs a Vice President. A hasty provisional amendment was in fact made just for appointment to this very position. It is over a month today since this amendment has been made, yet no appointment.

Speaking to journalists, even the government’s spokesperson (Information Minister) could not tell why there is no Vice President to this day and when the appointment shall be made. At this juncture, my call to Gambians is to take to the streets and demand the appointment of a Vice President now. This is an outright insult and a manifestation of high secrecy in your government which is a threat to democratic accountability. Again, the question remains, have you even assented to the bill? If no, then our constitution have been violated again as CHAPTER XII (3) of the constitution states, “If the President fails to assent within thirty days to a Bill
passed by the National assembly in accordance with

subsection (2), the Bill shall be returned to the Speaker who
shall refer it to the Independent Electoral Commission shall
cause a referendum to be held on the Bill in accordance
with subsection (4) and, if the Bill is supported on such a
referendum by the majority of voters provided for in that
subsection, it shall again be presented to the President for
his assent”.

It is more than 30 days today after the amendment without the appointment of Vice President even though you might have assented to the bill without the appointment but common sense may tell us that you are yet to assent to the bill. If in anyway, you are yet to assent to this bill, it shall be returned to the Speaker of the National Assembly who shall refer it to the Independent Electoral Commission for a referendum to be held.
It has also been on the news that the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Defense has been appointed on the National Security Council. This is clearly a violation of the constitution as he is ineligible to be appointed to such a position. Section 78 states, “There shall be a National Security Council which shall consist of-

(a) the President;
(b) the Vice-President;
(c) the Secretaries of State responsible for defence and
internal affairs;

(d) the Chief of Defence Staff and two other members
of the Armed Forces appointed by the President;
(e) the Inspector General of Police;
(f) the Director-General of the National intelligence
Agency; and
(g) the intelligence adviser to the President.

(2) The National Security Council shall be responsible for
advising the President on all matters relating to the security
of The Gambia and the integration of domestic and foreign
policies relating to its security, and, under the direction of
the President, shall take appropriate measures to safeguard
the internal and external security of The Gambia and to
provide for the co-operation of the departments and
agencies of the Government in that regard”.

Clearly, the Permanent Secretary is not the President, not the Vice President, not Minister of Defense, not Chief of Defense Staff or a member of the Armed Forces, not the Inspector General of Police, not the Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency (now SIS), and not the Intelligence Adviser to the president. On numerous occasions our constitution has been violated especially in appointments and such will not be regarded as mistakes but errors. In fact, they are deliberate and we must put a stop to it. When you came to office, you appointed an ineligible Vice President, violating our constitution; a bill was presented for the amendment of the upper age limit without following proper procedure, violating our constitution; the name of the National Intelligence Agency was hastily changed without following due process, violating our constitution. Constitutional violations ought to be a thing of the past if the ‘New’ Gambia is anything to go by.
Mr. President, the Gambia deserves better
Yours in the service of the nation
Essa Njie

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