On the State opening of the National Assembly: What we expect

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It is in fulfilment of a constitutional requirement that, you shall today address the National Assembly session on the condition of our country, by outlining the policies and programmes of the government under your leadership and the overall administration of the state. In this session, you are to state the achievements of the new government as the Chief Executive Officer but more importantly, outline the plans of the government in the various sectors of development.

Mr. President, expectations are high as the nation waits to listen to what your government has been doing and intends to do in the coming years. This is indeed one of if, not the most important moment in our new democratic dispensation. From Agriculture to health, education to infrastructure, justice to the various other sectors, Gambians are waiting to hear how committed your government is in fulfilling its mandate by tackling the pressing issues to bring the much needed change they voted for on December 1.

Mr. President, constitutional reform is expected to occupy centre-stage on your government’s agenda as a promise made to Gambians during your campaign seeking for presidency. You did promise Gambians that the government under your leadership will embark on a serious and total constitutional reform that will put an end to the second republic we are in and usher in a third republic with a new constitution which shall reflect the voice, needs and aspirations of Gambians by restoring hope in our ill-functioned justice system in line with independence, impartiality and high sense of professionalism. Part of the reforms in the constitution which needs serious attention is term-limit. This was high on your campaign promises and even constituted one of the 12 demands made by then opposition parties in 2015 as part of their call for electoral reforms. It is rather unfortunate that the first attempted provisional amendment in the constitution was age-limit and not term-limit.

We equally hope that, the other matter that will be given attention is the move from ‘simple’ to ‘absolute majority’ voting system. We hope that a bill will equally be passed in respect of the constitutional rights of Diaspora Gambians to vote in election. In essence, we are hoping that the bad laws embedded in this existing constitution which was shockingly approved by Gambians in 1996 will be thrown into the trash bin and be replaced with an inclusive one that represents the voices of generality of Gambians.

On justice, we expect you to tell us the direction your administration will take in ensuring that justice is served accordingly. You have been talking about the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee which is indeed commendable, but it should be clear that, justice cannot totally be ignored. This is an opportunity for you to inform Gambians how far you and your team have gone in your efforts to heal the wounds of 22 years of tyranny characterized by torture, killing, enforced disappearance and the list goes on.

Mr. President, although considered a relative term, corruption is today enemy number one of Africa’s development. But sadly, it seems your government is not much committed to eliminate this unfortunate synthetic phenomenon. Other than the establishment of the Commission of Inquiry to look into the financial engagements of former president Jammeh, his associates and family which is indeed a move to unveil 22 years of corrupt practices endemic under Jammeh’s rule, we expect a more robust stance to be taken against corruption in our public institutions. To this end, we expect the government in the soonest time possible to speed up the legislation of an Anti-corruption Commission and Asset Declaration Bills to fight this enemy of progress.

With an already dead economy, Gambians expect your statement to highlight how your administration will bring back our economy to life so as to boost growth and productivity and avoid unnecessary public spending. We must prioritize our spending in line with rights based approach to development. We expect to know how far the government has gone in its plans of settling the debts owed to public institutions (domestic) and of course internationally to lending partners. More importantly, Gambians expect to know the long-term plan of your administration on loan. Mr. President, the Gambia cannot continue to be a civilised dishonourable beggar through aid (loans and grants) which is today the cancer of Africa’s development. You should tell us your plans of how to stop taking loans and utilise our sovereign national wealth for development.

On foreign policy, the Gambia is a sovereign and an independent country just like any other state in the world today and our foreign policy must be guided by the principles of mutual respect and interest in line with our foreign policy objectives and goals. Indeed, the Gambia cannot afford to be isolated and we must forge ties, but relations that will guarantee the territorial integrity, independence and sovereignty of our much-loved country. Our foreign policy should be directed towards countries that will respect these principles without compromise.
In this era of global insecurity, especially the post-Jammeh security dilemma we are faced with, your administration should inform us about the security measures and plans put in place to ensure the protection of lives and properties and the general protection of the country from any possible outside enemies.

Mr. President, the areas of health, education, agriculture, energy to youth unemployment are matters of concern to Gambians. The deteriorated health care and rotten education systems amid backward agriculture and energy sectors and mass unemployment and underemployment among our youth folk especially, continue to pose threats to our development. Indeed, the challenges are numerous and complex and would therefore need your administration’s short, medium and long-term attentions.

This event is not meant for you to occupy the seat of the honourable speaker only to read a lengthy address, but we expect an address that will truly speak of the challenges we face and how they will be solved in the form of tangible plans, policies and programmes.

Yours in the service of the nation
Essa Njie