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Sunday, October 1, 2023

The National Assembly did not ratify the creation of new Seyfo Districts in the West Coast

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By Lamin J Darbo

It is a select group, a mere fifty-eight of them throughout the country. They address each other as Honourable, and refer to themselves as such. Fifty three are directly elected by the people every half decade, and the other five, aptly observed as the group that hear and see no evil, are elected by the President of the Republic.

From this absolute minority must be elected the Speaker, and his Deputy, a monstrous perversity sanctioned by the supreme law of the land, and turning the separation of power on its head by gifting the Executive a significant inroad into the Legislative domain.

On 14 June 2023, the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry for Lands Regional Government and Religious Affairs (the Ministry) instructed one Pa Kalifa Sanyang to write to the Clerk of the National Assembly (the Assembly) recommending the “… Creation of New Seyfo Districts” in Old Yundum, Busumbala, Brikama North, and Brikama South.

According to a copy of the letter making rounds on social media, the letter was referred to the “… ABC for consideration” on 15 June 2023. Going by debates on the floor of the Assembly, the ABC did not consider this letter from the Ministry suggesting a truncation of the process.

Placing reliance on section 58(2) of the 1997 Constitution of the Republic of The Gambia (the Constitution), and section 133(2) of the Local Government Act 2002, the Permanent Secretary stated as their “… consideration that this submission will be considered for tabling as a motion before your august Assembly”.

On the face of the Permanent Secretary’s letter, there was no indication the Minister consulted with the Governor of the West Coast Region about the creation of New Seyfo Districts as mandated by section 58(2) of the Constitution.

On this lapse alone, the Assembly should have refused consideration of the Permanent Secretary’s letter proposing the creation of new Seyfo Districts if only because it failed to comply with a fundamental Constitutional precondition.

In addition, under the revised National Assembly Standing Orders dated 25 June 2020, a “Motion is a means of initiating an Assembly debate, in which a course of action is proposed and/or an Assembly decision sought on a relevant issue. Motions may be tabled by Ministers, Committee Chairs on behalf of the Committee and by Members”.

According to section 100 (1) of the Constitution “the Legislative power of The Gambia shall be exercised by Bills passed by the National Assembly and assented to by the President”.

As far as the Legislative power of the Assembly, what does a “motion” achieve?

What is a “recommendation” under section 58(2) of the Constitution? A Bill drafted, gazetted, and placed before the Assembly in line with its legislative authority?

Standing Order 52 of the Assembly states:-

1.         Notice of a motion shall be given by being handed in writing to the Table Office not less than five clear days before the sitting at which it is intended to be debated

2.         All notices shall be signed by the Vice President, Minister, Committee Chairperson or Member proposing the Motion.

3.         When a notice of a motion is received, the Table Office shall record the date and hour of its receipt and submit it to the Speaker

4.         Subject to the decision made under Standing Order 57 [Speaker’s duties as to motions and amendments], all notices received by the Table Office shall be printed the next day in their original terms and stand referred to the Assembly Business Committee for scheduling or returned to the Vice President, Minister, Committee Chairperson or Member submitting it as inadmissible

As mandated by Standing Order 52 (2), the Minister should himself sign the letter emanating from his Ministry on this issue of additional Seyfo Districts and dated 24 June 2023. He did not and there was therefore no motion before the Assembly to be debated as it failed to comply with the legal tapestry that controls this particular motion and its treatment in the Assembly.

As an issue of governance, a preliminary responsibility of the Assembly must be the examination of whether the letter from the Ministry was in a form capable of triggering the jurisdiction and lawful consideration of the Assembly. It was not and nothing was ratified!

It is the responsibility of the Speaker to purge the Assembly of the shame of its unlawful act by internally initiating the process for the Ministry to resubmit its motion as legally mandated.

The fallout from within Members in the same camp has reached crescendo level but the fact remain the Assembly as a whole failed in its due diligence. It should have noted there was no communication to trigger its jurisdiction and must therefore decline consideration if only because the Minister concerned did not personally sign the letter it purportedly acted upon.

If the Assembly failed in this mundane task, can it be relied upon to negotiate and deliver complex transactions with significant financial and other outcomes for the country that continue to spend millions on each of them to go with the title Honourable.

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