The motion by Hon. Touma Njai to summon the Minister of Fisheries to answer to issues within his area of responsibility is a step in the right direction. Our NAMs must realise that the National Assembly is the primary accountability institution in the Gambia. It is a house that can give relief to citizens without having to make citizens pay a butut. By bringing public officials to answer to issues within the purview of their duties and institutions serves to enhance democracy, good governance and sustainable development in the most cost-effective manner.
Hence Hon. Touma Njai should be commended and by so doing, to urge all NAMs in general to begin to bring public officials to face them for direct engagement on pertinent national issues. It is also important that when NAMs do so, they actually do their homework first by equipping themselves with all of the necessary information and knowledge about the issues. When a Minister stands in their midst, no stone should be left unturned, hence NAMs must be well equipped with the relevant information.
To do this, NAMs should go out to search for the relevant information. They can get this from members of the community, or from the civil society actors engaged in that particular issue or from the media and journalists working on these issues. They can also engage experts to give them the right analysis and information.
When one follows the Ministers responses, one can see a lot of gaps and excuses which should not have been the case. A Government Minister cannot express ignorance or forgetfulness on issues under his purview. This is because the ministry is an institution with qualified staffs and backed by law. Whatever they do must be based on evidence and confirmed by research and guided by law. Hence Minster Gomez cannot say he forget or did not know to bring a particular agreement to parliament for ratification simply because there was no parliament at the time. If that was the case, then do not enter into any agreement until there is a parliament in place so that the action is considered lawful. Simple.
Our NAMs must not make it easy for members of the Executive because the issues they deal with are life and death issues. With all the high-sounding slogans and self-righteous pontifications of the Minister, the fact is fishmeal factories are wreaking havoc on our environment and livelihoods in the coastal regions. Both agreements with the EU and Senegal are not beneficial to the country as it should hence it is the Gambia that is losing. The fact that we cannot fish in deep waters or tuna is a fish that migrates does not mean we should go into any kind of agreement.
The recent riots in Sanyang erupted squarely because of the fishmeal factory there. That riot was predicted by the Faraba Commission Report that the contracts for these factories are not proper. They reported that the necessary environmental regulations are not met, the proper community consultations are not done and the protection of the environment to prevent pollution are not guaranteed. Hence the Commission said there was high likelihood for riots in Sanyang, Gunjur and Kartong to also erupt if nothing was done, as it happened in Faraba in 2018.
So how could Minister Gomez gonna tell us that things are cool in the coastal regions! NAMs must insist on more investigation of the Ministry of Fisheries and the environment in general. From the Malagen newspaper report last year it is obvious that there have been dubious activities by the Minister and his Permanent Secretary which is why Dr. Banja was suspended and investigated. Yet until today, no one knows what is the state of that investigation.
But we also know that Minster Gomez was once invited by these fishmeal companies to have dinner in Senegal! How could Gomez therefore hold these companies to account when they could invite him for diner in a foreign country? Is that not conflict of interest? But these are not issues raised by NAMs.
Therefore, NAMs must realise that they have Section 75 in the Constitution which gives them the power to sack any minister who is not performing to their satisfaction which includes misleading them, or abusing office including corruption or violating any provisions of the Constitution.
The National Assembly must realise that democracy in any republic lives or dies in the parliament. If the Gambia is to be a democratic country with good governance it is the making of the National Assembly. If the Gambia is to become a banana republic with dictatorship, it is the making of the National Assembly. Therefore, will the national Assembly salvage or betray the Gambia? Time will tell. History is recording.
Bravo to Hon. Touma Njai. We need more such motions.