By Tabora Bojang
Members of the National Assembly yesterday declared the Senegalo-Gambia fisheries and aquaculture agreement as illegal since it was not ratified by parliament.
The lawmakers also urged the minister of fisheries, James Gomez to as soon as possible table the deal signed in 2017, before the National Assembly for ratification.
According to the minister, the agreement was signed during President Adama Barrow’s maiden visit to Senegal shortly after his election victory in 2016.
“It was at that visit that we agreed to have this deal signed. What we failed to do at that point was to bring it to parliament because there was no parliament,” James Gomez stated. But he was reminded by lawmakers that the president does not have powers provided in the constitution to sign bilateral agreements without parliamentary ratification. “Unless this agreement is ratified by the Assembly it is not law,” one lawmaker observed. The minister responded that he fully agreed that the deal is illegal in consideration of the lawmakers’ position that “an agreement unless ratified by parliament is unlawful.”
“I consider that to be an infringement at the moment and I will make sure I liaise with the Minister of Justice to see that we do the right thing. I apologise to the Assembly,” he said.
The minister reported that revenue generated from the agreement since 2017 stands at D 7,539, 738.
However, the discussions generated tense arguments among lawmakers when member for Foni Kansala Musa Amul Nyassi tabled a motion without notice for the minister to suspend the agreement and ask the Senegalese to cease fishing immediately, pending ratification by the Assembly. Nyassi argued: “What is currently happening here is illegal and this parliament cannot continue watching what is illegal to continue happening when we have powers to summon those documents to come before us, get them scrutinized and we either accept or reject it.” His motion was countered by member for Banjul North Ousman Sillah who wanted the minister to instead table the agreement before the National Assembly for scrutiny and ratification instead of the suspension calls. Several other members who took part in the heated debate including NAMs Alagie S Darboe, Fatoumatta Njie, Sanna DK Jawara, Ya-Kumba Jaiteh, Alagie Sowe supported the suspension while others including Sidia Jatta, Alagie Mbow, Saikouba Jarju, Saihou Marong, Fatoumatta Jawara and Billay Tunkara supported the idea that the agreement be tabled before the Assembly.
“There is nothing before us, so what we are demanding should be for the minister to bring the agreement before the Assembly for ratification or rejection,” Sidia noted.
Nominated member Ya-Kumba Jaiteh reminded her colleagues that they have an option to either charge the minister with contempt of the Assembly for snubbing parliament or ask him to stop implementing the agreement until it comes before the parliament.
Touma Njai confronted and warned her colleagues that they cannot be seen to be lawbreakers instead of lawmakers.
“The minister accepted that what they are doing is illegal and as lawmakers we cannot encourage the law to be broken,” Touma charged.
However, following a long debate over the matter, the speaker of the National Assembly suspended the House for a break to allow the movers of the motion to consult among themselves. When the House resumed, NAM Nyassi relaxed his previous stance and now agreed for the minister to as a matter of urgency table the fishing agreement between Senegal and Gambia before parliament.
Speaking to The Standard on the sidelines, the Minister argued that this agreement did not start with the Barrow government.
“It started during the Jawara regime and has been renewed several times, this was why when President Barrow went to Senegal, we were asked to reconsider the continuation of the agreement which we did. Let us not forget that we have an agreement with Ecowas, so we cannot stop people from fishing in our waters because there is free movement of people, goods and businesses and Senegal is our neighbor. Can we begin to say we don’t want them to fish in our waters? What international implications will that have?” the minister asked.