By Madi Jorbateh
According to the Gambia Constitution the President cannot serve as a Minister. Section 71 addresses the issue of Ministers. Subsection 1 says there shall be such number of ministers as decided by the President. This means the President is not part of these Ministers. Subsection 3 says it is the President who appoints Ministers hence the President cannot appoint himself. Subsection 4a went further to say that a Minister loses his or her seat when he assumes the Office of President. This means a President and a Minister cannot share the same position. They are mutually exclusive positions in the Cabinet.
In light of the above, President Adama Barrow must appoint a Minister of Defense. He cannot serve as a Minister of Defense because this is a violation of the Constitution, which he swore to defend at his inauguration. I therefore call on the President to immediately appoint a Minister of Defense in line with the Constitution and to complete the composition of his Government.
The President is the Commander-in-Chief of the Gambia Armed Forces. The Armed Forces is headed by a Chief of Defense Staff and each of the units of the Armed Forces has a Commander which are appointed by the President. There exists specific accountability and reporting relationships between the Commander-in-Chief, military commanders and the Minister of Defense. Therefore when we have the President also serving as the Minister of Defense then this accountability relationship is diluted which in effect compromises national security and good governance. In times of war, there are specific and separate roles for the Commander-in-Chief and the Minister of Defense and the CDS and the rest of the commanders.
The practice of a president assuming the portfolio of a minister is a practice prevalent under weak and fragile states or states under authoritarian rule. It is a practice where corrupt and weak leaders hold the misconceived idea that unless they are the minister of defense themselves, then their regimes are not safe. Such presidents do not trust institutions, systems, processes and public officers hence they seek to bring all institutions and centres of power and decision making under their personal control. This was how and why Yahya Jammeh personalized the Gambia Government and all its resources and institutions. At one point he was the minister of Defense, Agriculture and Energy among others!
In a democratic state where the rule of law is respected and institutions are effective, a culture of certainty, predictability and trust prevails within institutions hence ensure stability and security. In such a state, the president does not fear because such a president knows that he or she is governing according to the rule of law. It is such leadership that ensures good governance and delivers sustainable development to its citizens hence there is no cause for fear or mistrust to warrant personalizing the state.
In same vein, I wish to call on Pres. Barrow to also separate the Vice President and the Minister of Women’s Affairs. The Vice President cannot also be a minister or perform the functions of a minister. The accountability relationships and the functions of a president, a vice president and a minister are such that they are all mutually exclusive. One cannot serve in the position of the other. Let Barrow deliver the system change we voted for. To continue the same Yahya Jammeh system is not what we envisaged!
For 52 years of its life, the Gambia has never had effective and democratic institutions. Where they exist, we have failed to make them strong, professional and accountable. This was why both Jawara and Jammeh were able to rule this country for decades only to deliver more poverty, exclusion, corruption and violations. Now that we have ended the APRC authoritarian misrule, it is necessary that Barrow envisions a new society where the primacy of laws and institutions are sacrosanct and protected. I think Barrow’s contribution and legacy should be to build a culture and system of institutions that are transparent, accountable and responsive.
For that matter, Barrow must refuse to accumulate all powers in his hands thinking that this is what will secure him and his Government. Those Yahya Jammeh enablers that he appointed and are advising him to do so are only misleading him as they misled Yahya Jammeh before. There is enough lesson that even if he makes himself the Minister of Defense, there is no guarantee that he will not be removed from power one day either democratically or unconstitutionally. Hence the task before him is to ensure that constitutionality prevails at all times in order to secure the best interests of this country.
Therefore I call on the Minister of Justice to advise the President to appoint a Minister of Defense as required by law. Failure to do so by either Minister Tambadou or President Barrow, I wish to call on the National Assembly to intervene by advising the President to uphold the Constitution by appointing a Minister of Defense immediately. By the powers vested in them, the National Assembly Members have all the authority to compel the President to appoint a Minister of Defense in the event he refuses to do so.
The ball is therefore in the court of the President and the National Assembly to uphold or ignore the Gambia Constitution.