By Omar Bah
Deliberations at the National Assembly yesterday were characterised by tension and suspense as members scrutinise the draft for a new constitution with its contentious and controversial clauses. The nation will now wait at least on Monday to know fate of this most important document.
Some of the hottest topics included the presidential term limit, citizenship and secularism.
The 51 deputies who turned up at the assembly debated on the general merits and principles of the bill to be followed by a vote at which three-quarter of the members will be required to vote YES before the bill can proceed to the next stage of the process.
On the issue of citizenship, the member for Wuli West Sidia Jatta insisted there should not be any resistance to people born in the country automatically becoming Gambians as opposed to Chapter IV of the draft which says children born in the country are only qualified to be citizens if their parents or grandparents are Gambians.
“Gambians like to enjoy international standards but they don’t want to reciprocate that. We know that Gambian women leave this territory and go to foreign land in Europe and America to have their children there who get automatic nationality. Why can’t we reciprocate that? Our people are enjoying that and we don’t want to give that to other people to enjoy. People have been living here for 40 years, 50 years, all their lives, their children are born here and they’re not Gambians. This is terrible,” he said.
Jatta also said the Constitution must make it an obligation for lawmakers to begin speaking local languages at the National Assembly.
“Otherwise where is our freedom? Where is our identity as a people? Without languages we don’t have any identity. The more we are speaking English the more we are developing English to the detriment of our national languages. This is what must stop,” he said.
The member for Jarra Central, Kebba Jallow contended that the draft constitution is full of cut and paste. “Why was the Constitutional Review Commission set up? What surprises me was that the CRC in some instances while drafting this constitution, would just go directly and cut from the Kenyan constitution and paste. I am not disputing the fact that they can go and do their research on various countries’ documents as how they work but, cutting and pasting was not the reason why we instituted CRC,” he argued.
The member for Brikama South, Lamin J Sanneh endorsed the constitution, saying it will promote the principles of good governance.
He welcomed parliamentary approval of ministerial appointments, arguing that the ministers have for the past years been dancing to the tune of the president, sometimes agreeing to things that are detrimental to the Gambian people.
“I also welcome the complete autonomy of the local governments. We are here not because we are better than those who elected us. We spent over D100 million to get this constitution; we must not reject it for no just reasons. I am 100% in support of this constitution,” he added.
The member for Serekunda, Halifa Sallah argued that “those who are saying they will not vote for the constitution because it doesn’t have secular or it contains Sharia Law should rethink.
“The principle of secularity of The Gambia is not written there directly but if you look at [clause] 88 that was the problem we had in the past where the president would just get up and say I’ve declared Gambia as an Islamic state,” he added.
He requested a committee meeting with the drafters to review and consider possible additions and omissions.
On the issue of alleged plagiarism of the document, Sallah said: “The CRC has given references of the consultative process that they have undertaken in order to come up with the draft and part of the references I can see is; 32 Malawi Act, 33 Malawi Constitution and 34 Kenya constitution. Plagiarism is to quote without making references and ensuring that you give authority to where authority is due.”
“This parliament is not an ordinary institution – an outsider cannot come and stand here and speak. Before we make allegations, we must make sure that it is situated in truth otherwise we are undermining the integrity of this National Assembly,” he argued.
The member for Brikama North, Alhagie S. Darboe said the CRC has done a good job in drafting a constitution that will stand the test of time. He singled out provisions on Gambia’s sovereignty and citizenship as one of the provisions that are clearly spelt out.
The objective of the bill is to promulgate the 2020 constitution and to repeal the 1997 one.
The debate will continue on Monday.
Meanwhile, this morning the president will deliver the state of the nation address at the assembly.