Sorrow continues to shake my heart and certainly the hearts of many Gambians whenever the name “Draft Constitution” is mentioned. It reminds one on a fateful Tuesday of 22nd September 2020 when a group of 23 National Assembly Members (NAMs) passionately but without “reason’ and consideration of supreme interest of Gambians, stroke the (2020) Draft Constitution Promulgation Bill out of the National Assembly’s Chambers. This in fact was hastily done without even exploring the parliamentary processes and procedures that give them the option to correct the claimed “faults” in the Draft Constitution and pass it on for the sovereign Gambians to directly decide whether to be governed by it or otherwise through a referendum.
It is a public secret that this unwise and unhealthy enterprise was organised and orchestrated by president Adama Barrow and his self-serving political executive to serve their short political interests and gave deaf ears and blind eyes to the needs and desires of Gambia citizens. Evident to this is the cabinet’s strange reactions towards the Draft Constitution; that it limits the powers of the president and discriminates against the person of president Adama Barrow; citing Scheduled 4 S.5(.2) of The Draft among other strange reactions widely published by the media.
Also, the failure of the Attorney General and Minister for Justice who virtually failed to defend his Bill [Draft Constitution ] before the NAMs at the introduction stage, but rather “help explain the technical legal issues in the Draft” to the NAMs “to make their own decision” like he was hired for a legal consultancy at parliament. In my 25 years of existence, I haven’t seen such a process, where motions/bills are introduced in chambers without support by the relevant ministry who introduced it. That was the first in fact since Barrow came to power.
After months, the cabinet in clear attempt to “doctor” The Draft to accommodate their narrow political interests, formed a committee for a so-called “consensus building on the Draft Constitution”. Gambians are following all the unfolding and will never accept the re-introduction of the Draft when a dot or a comma is changed from it.
The Draft Constitution is a product of thorough and compressive consultations with Gambians across the length and breadth of all the seven administrative regions of the Gambia and the Diaspora. One of the most thorough constitutional building processes in the history of The Gambia.
Politics in simple terms is all about negotiation, compromised and consensus; this in fact is central in any genuine constitutional building process. The CRC adhered to its statutory established functions and delivered not a perfect Draft Constitution, but a “well thought out Constitution that is not only people-centered, but also involves the opinions of the people through a process of participatory democracy..” as chairman of the CRC, Justice Cherno Jallow puts it in his statement delivered at State House on 30th March 2020 as the CRC submits the Draft Constitution and accompanying report and an explanatory memorandum to president Adama Barrow.
There is never a perfect Constitution because simply; Constitutions are created by ‘imperfect’ human beings; Constitutions never drop from the skies.
The Chairman in the same speech also observed that:
“No matter how we try, no matter what brains of wisdom we assemble, no matter how well we craft language and no matter how we resolve our intention, there will always be those who will feel aggrieved and wished the Constitution had addressed matter of interest, or omitted some matters that are disagreeable or had simply been silent on some matters. Some would even have wished that the Constitution was shorter or longer or crafted in such a way. […] That is precisely why the discretion is vested in the Constitutional Review body, abiding by guiding principles set for it, to use its best judgment to develop a Constitution that, in its considered opinion , best serves the current and future interest of the country.”
In fact if there is truth in the so-called “Consensus building” enterprise, wouldn’t that be best done in parliament where the NAMs had opportunity to consult with CRC to be rightfully guided on the Draft or allow and refer the Bill to the appropriate Committee in order to facilitate a thorough investigation of the Draft and facilitate a consensus building environment rather than prematurely striking the Bill out in the second reading stage of the parliamentary process?
And one may also ask that: would the so-called “Consensus building committee” or whatsoever ‘perfect’ the “bogus” Constitution as one Hon. Majanko Samusa blindly described it?
Njundu Drammeh (2020) held in his published article “Is there anything like a ‘Plagiarised’ Constitution” “…credit we should give the framers of our Draft Constitution is their ability to glean the best features of the world’s Constitution they reviewed, modified the chosen provisions of these constitutions to “avoid the faults that have been disclosed in their working”. And adapted them to the existing conditions and needs of the Gambians.”
The CRC should be commended for doing a tremendous work and living to expectations as provided by the CRC Act, 2017 that required the CRC in delivering a new Draft Constitution and an accompanying report, have regard to national values and ethos and safeguard and promote:
. The existence of The Gambia as a sovereign State
. The Gambia’s Republican systems of governance, including democratic values and respect of rule of law and fundamental rights and freedoms
. The separation of powers
. National unity, cohesion and peace
. The importance of ensuring periodic election based on universal adult suffrage, including the introduction of term limits for serving presidents an;
. The Gambia’s continued existence as a secular state.
Behaviorally, one cannot take the Barrow’s administration seriously in delivering the most needed reforms especially constitutional reforms which should be a critical foundation for all legal and administrative reforms. The president and his cabinet are slowly going politically astray and increasingly deviating from their desired outlined in the NDP (2018-2021) that:
“…offers a renewed opportunity to build a modern accountable state based on the foundations of democracy, good governance, respect for human rights and security and prosperity for all.”
The civil societies organisations of all characters, political parties and relevant stakeholders both home and abroad should double efforts and prevent the executives and their agents and actors from doctoring the Draft Constitution to satisfy their short political interest and the expense of the interests of Gambians. The draft thus; should be re-introduce as it was and chance be given for it “consensus building” in parliament; nothing less and nothing more.