Yesterday marked the final and last sitting of the fifth legislature of The Gambia and as the curtain draws on it, the sixth parliament will come into effect following the 9 April elections. Fifty-three members will again be directly elected through the first-past-post system, and a further five members appointed by the President to represent the wishes and aspirations of the millions of Gambians. They will be entrusted with the task to steer the affairs of not just those who elected them into office, but the entire populace for that matter – to make laws and decide upon government budgets.
It is therefore significant as a country that we take stock of the progresses or lack thereof of the outgoing fifth legislature and evaluate how far we have come to attaining those development goals, and how much further we need to strive on.
Indeed, from the revision of its Standing Orders, to the consideration, scrutinisation, and the passing of numerous legislations impacting ordinary Gambian lives and livelihoods, it is clear that the achievements of the unicameral body are many. Over the past five years, it has passed at least 53 bills ranging from the National Human Rights Commission, to the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commissions acts. Those are some of the achievements it registered over the years.
But it also equally registered many failures and challenges, not least its failure to pass the progressive Draft Constitution that many Gambians so desperately called for. Another telling failure of the fifth assembly is its failure to pass the much talked-about anti-corruption commission bill, and its inability to launch any meaningful crusade on corruption, despite the incredible powers at its disposal.
The Assembly, and by extension the Barrow administration, has also failed to amend the many draconian laws in the Gambian constitution that continue to make it impossible for competent and genuine patriotic Gambians to vie for public offices. A case in point is CA’s Mr Raffie Diab, whose ambition to represent Bakau has been shattered thanks to a clause in the 1997 constitution of former ruler Jammeh.
The bottom line is, The Gambia needs a new constitution. It is obvious that most of the country’s woes, from corruption to security to the rising cost of living are attributable to some of the bad laws that continue to exist in our law books. It manifests the wisdom in the saying that “an unjust law is no law at all.” As such, citizens and their representatives have a right, if not a duty, to embark on a corrective course of action and set things straight.
As 9 April nears for the election of new representatives, it is fitting that citizens are reminded of the significance of voting and putting the right persons into office. Many Gambians yearn for a vibrant legislature, knowing well that it plays a critical role in any democratic system. Despite all their achievements, the outgoing legislature is seen, in some quarters, as a rubber stamp parliament for its actions or inactions in the many simmering issues over the past years.
To that end, the sixth legislature must not only legislate or amend laws, it must be seen to be working for good governance, and welfare of the people it always claims to represent, and serve as a check on the executive arm of government.