Dear Honourable Members of the National Assembly,
Congratulations on your election and nomination to the highest of our august representative bodies. You all fought a tough competition. You emerged the choices of your constituencies. In his “Speech to the Electors of Bristol” Edmund Burke said:
“Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests; which interests each must maintain, as an agent and advocate, against other agents and advocates; but parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole; where, not local purposes, not local prejudices, ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from the general reason of the whole. You choose a member indeed; but when you have chosen him, he is not member of Bristol, but he is a member of parliament. If the local constituent should have an interest, or should form a hasty opinion, evidently opposite to the real good of the rest of the community, the member for that place ought to be as far, as any other, from any endeavour to give it effect……”
Honourable Members of the National Assembly, your roles and responsibilities are clearly cut out for you. Just take a walk down the 1997 Constitution. In your serene moments reflect on the great expectations, what you must do as a representative. When you contested for the seat, you did under a political party and in a constituency. Now that you have gotten elected, you represent the whole country, as a single constituency, and your party is The Gambia, your constituency’s interest is now the national interest. There would not be any law or policy or budget primarily for your constituency or party. You have placed on your shoulders the herculean task of rebuilding a nation which has suffered unbearably but, like the phoenix, is rebirthing itsel. However, you can hold the Executive accountable if…..
Honourable Members of the National Assembly, your task is both unenviable and honourable. Your oath, solemnly taken, is much more than a pledge or an exercise in religiousity or ritualism. It is a religious contract between you and the God you believe in, as well as a social contract between you and the people of The Gambia. At both levels is accountability, one hereafter, the other on earth. Please keep that in mind. But yours is also a noble task of guiding and guarding the national interest; of subduing and subjugating party interest for national interest. This is an art only those schooled in selflessness can carry out with grace and magnanimity.
Honourable Members of the National Assembly, you are members of the principal representative institution of the country. You are responsible for representing the interests of all sectors of society, articulating these interests into relevant laws and policies and making sure that these are implemented efficiently. You should be the number one champions of human rights, good governance and dignity for all. Now you have the opportunity and the capacity not only to influence the decisions and actions of the government but also to connect with communities and constituencies to influence opinions and actions. Your main functions to legislate, oversee government activities and allocate financial resources through approving national budgets make your status second to none. Institutional and legal reforms as well as appropriate economic policies are fundamental to the broader, coordinated goal of achieving the national agenda. I hope you will carry them out to the best of your abilities.
Honourable Members of the National Assembly, you are now in a very important leadership position. You are the ears and the eyes of the people of The Gambia. You must defend the supreme interest of the people, or at least be concerned with the greatest happiness of all the people or of the greatest number. Most of the parliamentarians before you became aloof, completely detached from the people. As a Parliamentarian, you should be able to feel the pulse of the people all the time, to have your ears to the ground to hear the unheard, to be a transmitter of concerns, fears and aspirations from the people to the Executive via the Parliament. There is often a wide gap between the facts of national life and what a government assumes them to be, between what the people think they want and what a government gives them. Maintaining a clear, uninterrupted communication line between you and the people may make you a better representative.
Honourable Members of the National Assembly, for many of you this will be your first time. Your baptism of fire has started; there is no school where the art of representation will be taught to you. It is learning by doing; a daunting exercise. But among you are few Parliamentarians who have learned the ropes, you know the art of representation, who know what ropes to skip with and what to jump. Set aside personal egos and party differences and learn from them. Allow to be mentored by them. Consult them when you are in doubt. Listen to them…. Practice does not make perfect. It is perfect practice which makes perfect. And you can make your practice perfect when you are willing and ready to learn from those who have travelled the road before you. Leadership is a process.
Honourable Members of the National Assembly, you are now role models. How you behave; what you say; where you go; how you dress; what company you keep; what connection you keep with the people; all of these would now come under the microscope. Before you become a parliamentarian, everything about you was private, a none-of-our-business thing. Now that you are a parliamentarian, you have a very small private life; everything you do affects or has a bearing on public office and the public trust you carry. Those who take public offices must be beyond reproach. We now look up to you. You must safeguard thy honour and maintain an unblemished, unimpeachable character and integrity sheet. You have to be the lengthened shadow of the Assembly. The name you keep, the honour you maintain and the pride with which you carry yourself will determine greatly the respect we accord the Assembly, the esteem or price we put on the Assembly.
Honourable Members of the National Assembly, the time of nation healing is upon you, more than ever before, more than anyone else. The electioneering, of December 2016 and April 2017, has left some of our communities and people utterly divided. A certain terrible animosity is engulfing our communities; people who once were great neighbours have been torn apart by politics, by politicians. Instead of building bridges, high concrete walls are being erected. Where there was camaraderie and good neighbourliness, now we have festering hatred and deep seated anger. Hate is corroding and consuming once happy and helpful neighbours and eating away the vital parts of society, communal harmony, love, fraternity, bonding and protection. Yours now is to not only preach peace but be its very embodiment, rising above the narrow confines and setting yourselves up as the ‘representatives’ of all the people.
MLK Jr. averred that laws give rights but they do not deliver them. On you is placed this noble task, to guide, advise, counsel, warn, monitor, hold accountable….. The citizens will continue to put the searchlight on your acts of commission and omission.
I wish you all the best in your new endeavour.
A sovereign citizen