By Tabora Bojang
Various members of the National Assembly have expressed mixed feelings to the Supreme Court’s ruling against their proposed D54 million loan scheme.
In a landmark ruling on Monday, the apex court ruled that the constitution does not accord the National Assembly the power to create a new budget in the estimates, since any motion seeking to create a new budget line must be done by the executive and not the Assembly.
The court further declared as unconstitutional the lawmakers’ attempt to create the D54 million loan scheme for parliamentarians and staff of the Assembly and called for its retirement from the 2021 budget.
But while a few lawmakers welcomed the court ruling, several others expressed dismay at the decision.
Jarra East NAM, Sainey Touray said he received the decision with “mixed reactions” because he expected the court to “strike” out the case for lack of merit.
“I was definitely of the view that people who took the matter to the court have no case against us. I expected the court to dismiss it but on the contrary, my expectations were dashed,” Touray said.
He argued that the Supreme Court could have decided otherwise if it was guided by section 153 of the 1997 constitution.
“I have nothing to say but respect the verdict of the court because a lawmaker will always remain a lawmaker and not a lawbreaker,” he added.
The Member for Banjul South, Touma Njai congratulated the civil society for taking the matter to the Supreme Court, saying it is a demonstration that “our democracy is at work.”
“I have always been against these loan allocations from the onset because I don’t subscribe to personal gains while in office and I will not support any member [NAM] to enrich him or herself. We cannot create a budget line and do an oversight function on that same budget,” she said.
Touma added that her fellow NAMs could liaise with the Ministry of Finance and get them to create a budget line and then request the allocations.
Foday Drammeh, member for Tumana said even though he does not subscribe to the loan allocation, he is “disappointed” with the apex court’s decision to overturn it.
“I am disappointed because I was never with the notion that the court will overturn the scheme since lawmakers have powers to propose certain things in the budget. But again, this is the beauty of democracy; the court’s judgement has to be respected and it may well serve as a lesson for both the lawmakers and the public,” Drammeh said.
Minority Leader and Member for Niamina Dankunku, Samba Jallow said he is “very happy” with the decision of the Supreme Court.
“This shows that there is democracy working in our country. We represent the citizens and since they felt our decision was wrong and subsequently sought redress at the Supreme Court, which has powers to interpret the laws and they ruled in favour of the citizens that we represent, then I am happy with the ruling,” Jallow said.
Asked if the NAMs would apologise to Gambians for the “unlawful move,” Jallow replied: “No! No! I don’t think it needs an apology. When we were doing it, we did it with the right conscience and the right principle. We [NAMs] are bound to make errors and if the court declares it unconstitutional, I don’t think it warrants an apology.”
Central Baddibu NAM, Sulayman Saho reacted: “We have to respect the decision of the Supreme Court but I am not happy with their judgement because parliament can allocate and this is what we have done. I don’t think there is anything fundamentally wrong in what we did; maybe they could argue about the timing.”
He said the current parliament is only setting the precedence to ensure lawmakers are financially independent to serve their purpose.
“We are not stealing or begging but taking a loan we thought we could pay,” he added.