Supreme Court has spoken

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By Mamsait Ceesay

The Supreme Court has spoken. In a unanimous decision, the apex court delivered a landmark judgement on the case involving the mayor of Kanifing Municipality Talib Ahmed Bensouda & 54 Others and the Attorney General.

Mayor Bensouda and 54 others had earlier petitioned the court to interpret and make a decision on Sections 9, 20 and 27 of the Local Government Act vis-à-vis the 1997 constitution of The Gambia.

After perusing the evidence on record, the Supreme Court found no merit in the “period of at least twelve months between any local government elections and elections to the National Assembly is inconsistent with Section 194(a) of the Constitution and same is therefore hereby declared ultra vires and void”.

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“Accordingly, the said provision is hereby severed from the remaining provisions of Section 9 of the Local Government Act.

This Court finds it unnecessary to disturb the next local government elections already scheduled for 2023. However, all local government elections subsequent to those to be held in 2023 shall be held every four years as mandated by Section 194(a) of the Constitution and the remaining part of Section 9 of the Local Government Act.

Section 9A of the Local Government Act Cap. 33:01 Laws of The Gambia, which provides that a Local Government Council shall stand dissolved ninety days before a local government election and empowers the President to appoint an Interim Management Team to perform the functions and exercise the powers of a Council until the day preceding the first meeting of a Council after a Local Government election is inconsistent with Section 193 of the Constitution, and is therefore ultra vires and void;

Section 20 of the Local Government Act Cap 33:01, which contains provisions for the removal from office of members of councils is not inconsistent with any of the provisions of the Constitution, is intra vires and therefore valid; and

Section 27A of the Local Government Act Cap. 33:01 laws of The Gambia, which contains provisions prohibiting members of councils from travelling outside the Gambia without the prior approval of the Minister is inconsistent with the provisions of Section 193(1) of the Constitution, which provides for the high degree of local autonomy of councils, and is therefore ultra vires and void”.

This judgement, undoubtedly, clears every doubt as well as brings finality to the appointment of an Interim Management Team to perform the functions and exercise the powers of a Council ahead of the 2023 Local Government election.

We do also recognise that while the petitioners will surely welcome the judgement, the respondent will feel disappointed. But that is the beauty of democracy. In all democratic contests, there will always be a winner and a loser. But once the exercise is over, it must give way to the parties working together, all in the collective interest of the citizenry and the nation at large.

We are satisfied that at last, the curtains on this very important hearing have finally been drawn.

However, we will like to plead with the respective parties to the lawsuit to set good examples for their followers by showing good leadership and political maturity to cool the political temperature of the nation.

More especially, we appeal to the leadership of the NPP led Coalition government, since the decision did not go in their favour, to hold their nerve and be measured in their reaction so as not to disturb the peace of the nation.

The media, which we proudly belong, especially the electronic media, bear a particularly weighty responsibility to ensure that the commentaries do not incite hatred against the judges nor threaten national cohesion.

The role played by radio in fomenting and inciting the ethnic attacks that snowballed into the Rwandan genocide must continue to serve as a cautionary tale about the dangers to national cohesion that reckless partisan journalism can provoke.

In our context, local language radio deserves particular mention in this regard, as often the language and overall tone of the discussion and commentary on these channels are needlessly intemperate and provoking, often crossing the bounds of professionalism and journalistic ethics.

The growing number of overtly partisan FM stations owned and controlled by known party politicians and activists is a particular source of concern, especially the careless abandon with which they have blurred all the journalistic standards.

We must draw inspiration and lessons from how far a journey we have travelled since 2017, particularly in the light of our history before then. We can be justifiably proud of the gains we have made as a young democracy.

With resounding success, we have reclaimed our rights and freedoms, restored democracy in the country, and rescued our dignity and honour as a nation. We have registered phenomenal successes in various aspects of development embracing infrastructure development and transitional justice amid other achievements. We have even lived to see an independent Judiciary, a free press and a vibrant National Assembly in The Gambia.

These gains and lessons must continue to inspire us to deepen our commitment to democratic pluralism while working to preserve and enhance our national cohesion, always remembering that these two qualities—our democratic pluralism and our enduring national cohesion — while still work-in-progress, are among our principal sources of strength, our soft power in an often-turbulent neighbourhood.

May we continue to keep it that way.