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Friday, July 19, 2024

Seedy Njie, Deputy Speaker, National Assembly

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By Lamin Cham

Seedy Njie, a relatively young, popular and sometimes controversial politician and Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly is a man of many seasons, and a survivor of strenuous circumstances. The outspoken politician served under the former ruling APRC as a nominated member of the National Assembly for ten years , the party’s Spokesman and Press Secretary up to 2018 and later short- lived minister of information in the dying days of the Jammeh dictatorship. Njie bounced back to become one of the most powerful and trusted allies of new president Adama Barrow, a trust that catapulted him to be Deputy Speaker.

His transformation from the most controversial voice in the defense of the Jammeh regime to becoming Number 4 in the new regime has surprised many. As a result, Njie is loved and hated in equal measure.

On a hot late morning last week he sat with Editor Lamin Cham to talk about his work, life and political future both for him and the ruling National Peoples Party.

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Cham: Giving the political polarization of Parliament and difficulty in presiding under such situations how are you fairing as deputy speaker?

Njie: Well you know I have been a member of parliament for ten years previously so I have a wealth of knowledge and experience in the business of the National Assembly viz-a-viz processes and procedures However in my new capacity, I have adjusted because this time my job is to preside over proceedings meaning I have to execute my role based on parliamentary rules, procedures and the standing orders, among others. Therefore , I have to know the standing orders, the constitution and procedures to my finger tips and rule base on that. This is not easy because I have to separate partisanship from national interest and winning the confidence of members, especially in maintaining decorum.

Cham: But you managing well anyway, I suppose?

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Njie. To the best of my ability yes because at the end of the day, like myself, the members got to learn that we all need to rise above partisan politics to look at national interest. And don’t be fooled by all these public banter in the chambers. After the sittings, all of us interact as brothers and sisters. That is what inspired me a lot.

Cham: What were your most memorable moments of presiding or deputising for the speaker?

Njie: There have been a few that were significant and are precedents. The first one was I made a ruling that when there is business in the chambers, motions, or committee reports, all officials of government or line ministries affected must be present at such debates so that they can take note of the concerns of members and where necessary the ministers will respond and take part in the debate. I instructed the Office of the Clerk to write to the concerned authorities to ensure that that became the norm. This will ensure the right application of the oversight responsibilities of members. The other major ruling I had done was on the presence of firearms in the chambers.

Cham. What? Firearm in the Assembly?

Njie . Wait , if I explain you will understand. The Office of the Clerk is currently on working it and what I ruled is that henceforth no guard or security officer escorting members of the executive or so, should enter the chambers with firearm. I directed that the Assembly should work with the Inspector General of Police and the ministry of interior to have a mechanism whereby firearms on security personnel escorting members of the executive or indeed anyone are kept safely somewhere and not brought into the chambers. The standing orders talk about the Sergeant- at- arms to be in custody of such firearms but as it is we don’t have the necessary set up in terms of the required knowledge of the handling of those type of equipments or their storage and who should keep them. All these were in my ruling. I even ruled that the IGP and the ministry of interior should come here and train the Assembly personnel concerned about the handing and storage of such things.

Cham: Why do you think this important?

Njie: Because the drafters of the rule anticipated that in the heat of debates anything can happen. Members of the National Assembly are protected by law and they must not be intimated or be scared of the presence of firearms that would hamper the effective discharge of their duties.

And also this is best practice in other jurisdictions. In fact some National Assemblies/Parliaments in other countries are so protected that I think our’s is one of the most easily accessible in the whole region. I think this is a very important aspect of the rules that must be seen to be adhered to


Cham: How do you see the quality of NAMs in this new legislature?

Njie: I can safely say that the NAMs are standing up in their duty as people’s representatives. We always have very rich debates, processes and procedures and this shows the caliber of the members. Going by the statuesque too , the National Assembly also continues to build capacity of members and staff.

Cham: Let us go to your party. The NPP lost some significant grounds especially in the elections that followed the presidential election. Many believe this so because your party is divided?

Njie : Well it depends on what you understand as a loss of ground. I think we have got a satisfactory result even though it was not the desired result I must admit. We went to the National Assembly elections with only one MP and came out with the majority; We went o the Area Council elections with just one councilor and came with a majority and in the recent mayor elections we went without a single mayor and came out with four. So to say that we lost ground is funny here. We have learned a lot from all these elections. Again another factor was that most independent candidates in the National Assembly elections are in fact NPP who went against the party’s official candidates. But internally we have dealt with these issues adequately now.

Cham: Since you don’t’ want to admit that there was a division in the party, then how would you call the recent row over your party’s diapora congress when one side called the other rebels?

Njie: That matter has been resolved.

Cham: Tell me how.

Njie: There is nothing more to say about that other than the fact that it has been resolved.

Cham: At your last congress, your position and that of the second national president Demba Sabally were not open for contest prompting your own delegates to say that Barrow wants to protect you two.

Njie: That is false ,What happened at our congress was an internal democratic process by party delegates.

Cham: It was suggested that President Barrow had hinted that he may be going but his lieutenants in party said he will be a candidate in 2026. Which one do we believe?

Njie: We are not aware of any suggestion that he has hinted that he is going. He of course always say that one day he will go as others before him did. As a modest and humble person the president never forget that he has come to serve and will leave the job sooner or later. The president’s priority in his mandate is to build strong institutions and grow the seed of democracy in the country within the 1997 constitution and other laws of the Gambia.

Cham: Let me be direct. Is President Barrow going to run in 2026?

Njie: I have no information to the contrary.

Cham: The opposition are saying that your party’s support has dwindled to drowning point. Do you agree?

Njie : That is false. If you look at the election results you would see that both the UDP and NPP each have their bases.

Cham: Well they say your base is only in the provinces.

Njie: That is not true either. What happened is that most of our supporters did not treat the other elections with the importance they did with the presidential election. Most of them would say, well we have elected our president and that’s all. We have diagnosed this issue and are now sensitising our party officials from the grassroots for them to be aware of the importance of all elections. The future will tell.

Cham: People say your government has failed especially in the energy sector. is not only expensive but in fact not available.

Njie: The programmes, policies and project of the government on the energy sector is to electrify the whole country by 2025 and that is on course.

Cham: How is that possible when even as I speak electricity is going off.

Njie: The high cost of energy is a global problem that is beyond the control of any government. But the investment this government did on energy with its partners is huge and this includes renewable energy. It is with every government’s wish to provide electricity for her people free but this is not possible anywhere. But the fact remains that the president’s focus and his government’s focus is to make electricity available for all by 2025 and that remains of course.

Cham: Finally let us talk about the newly purchased D2.5M National Assembly vehicles. Gambians said you as Assembly members have betrayed the people by choosing to drive these very expensive vehicles when you could go for far cheaper ones. What is your take on that.

Njie: The vehicles for NAMs have been processed following due process and very transparent transactions. It is processed from a loan scheme which is found in all government, parratstals and even in private sector institutions. In the case of the NAMs each will pay half of the cost, fuel and maintenance the car on their own and therefore own it. Also every quality and durable machine comes with a cost. Imagine the huge amount of cost it would take to maintenance cars that are not strong for the rough terrains they have to ride on. NAMs need a strong car to run missions in their constituencies and other places.

Cham: Thank you for talking to The Standard.

Njie: My pleasure.

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