By Madi Jobarteh
The Constitution of the Gambia states in Section 42 subsection 5(c), in very simple English language, that a person who, within the past two years identifies himself or herself with a political organization or supports the election of a NAM or a local councillor, cannot be a member of the IEC. Election management bodies are guided by principles, standards and processes such as in the above section. This is to ensure that elections are conducted in a transparent, fair and inclusive manner so that there is legitimacy, credibility and public trust in the process. Without that elections are said to be a sham., a source of conflict.
Furthermore, the Gambia is a democratic republic governed by the Constitution. When we elect a President, he or she takes an oath of office which says he or she shall uphold and defend the Constitution of the Gambia. Hence, to me, the main terms of reference for the President is the Constitution. It is like the main terms of reference for an imam is the Holy Quran just as the Holy Bible is the main terms of reference for a priest, in my mind.
Therefore, when the President makes decisions especially on issues such as elections, it is just natural that he should check the Constitution first to know which steps to take. The 1997 Constitution clearly states in Section 42 subsection 3 that, “members of the Commission shall be appointed by the President in consultation with the Judicial Service Commission and the Public Service Commission.” Is this difficult for any person to understand and follow?
Clearly a President, Prime Minister or King or Queen is the only citizen in any country with the largest number of advisors and resources to find out about things. A Constitution is not a tool that is buried underneath a mountain or kept in the middle of the ocean such that one has to expend huge effort and courage to find it.
After all, the President has a Cabinet to seek advice from. Nothing stops the President from engaging the IEC Chair himself to seek his advice. The President can even call the Chief Justice for guidance. Good leadership qualities could even drive him to reach out to political leaders to discuss this matter. Literally the President has uncountable options open to him just to get things right. Such approaches would have placed the country on a strong path of democracy and good governance with strong institutions.
Above all, the President has a designated legal advisor in the person of the Minister of Justice who happens to be Dawda A Jallow, who was, in fact one of the best, if not the best civic educator ever in the Gambia. In fact, the primary function of the Minister of Justice is to provide such legal advice. So, did Barrow ask Dawda before appointing Oremie how to do it?
Therefore, how come President Barrow could make such an unconstitutional act only for him to regret it within 24 hours? And then his Spokesman Ebrima Sankareh came out claiming that the rescinding of the decision came ‘in the wake of emerging evidence’? What is there that the Presidency, as a Government did not know before that they came to know only after appointing Oremie Joiner as IEC Deputy Chairperson? What evidence are they talking about?
What is even more ridiculous is for the Spokesman to go even further by claiming that “the decision is consistent with President Barrow’s commitment to pluralism, transparency and total accountability both in the administration of justice in the Gambia as well as our electoral process”! What consistency is Ebrima talking about, for God’s sake?
It is public knowledge that this President is second only to Yaya Jammeh in the lack of transparency and accountability in everything. Not long ago the Supreme Court ruled against one of the decisions of the President as unconstitutional. Is Ebrima not aware of the numerous anonymous donors to this President? What about the blatant transformation of a constitutionally mandated country tour into a pure partisan campaign?
As if Ebrima was drunk, he went further to make the ridiculous statement in his unfortunate press release that the decision to rescind the appointment of the man did not diminish Oremie’s so-called sterling qualities! Who cares about Oremie, much more his “sterling qualities”? In fact, if Oremie indeed possessed those qualities, he should have told the President that his appoint was unconstitutional. If Oremie had done that at the very moment he was offered, we would not have been at this ridiculous position. Yet Ebrima said Oremie is a patriot with sterling qualities!
Rescinding this unconstitutional decision must not be left unaddressed. The fact that the President could have the temerity to wilfully bastardise the Constitution must be punished. I urge the political parties to go to the Supreme Court to declare this action as unconstitutional and on that basis, I urge NAMs to undertake impeachment proceedings against the President.
The President has violated the Constitution and no amount of regret or withdrawal can nullify that illegal act. It is when we ignore this series of violations that we allow our country to plunge into misrule and insecurity. The time to be proactive is now.