By Tabora Bojang
Tension erupted along the corridors of the National Assembly yesterday as Vice President Isatou Touray and Banjul South lawmaker Fatoumatta ‘Touma’ Njai exchanged barbed comments.
For the second time in as many weeks, Ms Njai’s private member’s bill failed to proceed to a third reading because the required threshold of 42 members was not met.
Her bill sought to amend the 1997 Constitution by enlarging the composition of the National Assembly and provide for the reservation of 14 seats for women and persons with disabilities.
Following its second reading last Thursday, the bill could not proceed to vote as there were only 35 members present which warranted the speaker to suspend sessions until yesterday.
However, when the bill was called yesterday morning for members to vote on it, only 34 NAMs were present, falling short of the required 42 members.
Speaker Mariam Jack-Denton subsequently ruled that the bill now stood “negative” noting that a bill that seeks to amend or alter any constitutional provision shall not be passed unless it is supported on the second and third readings by votes of not less than three-quarters of all members which is 42.
The bill has now been dropped and can only be passed by the next parliament which will come into effect after the 9th April parliamentary elections.
Having overseen the third reading of the Public Service Pensions Bill, VP Touray stepped out of the chambers and was seen consoling a group of displeased women who were in parliament to show support for Ms Njai’s bill.
But the strident Banjul South representative expressed her displeasure with the VP who is herself a famed feminine activist, for failing to throw her weight behind the bill which was envisaged to empower Gambian women.
An aggrieved vice president swiftly rounded on her and asked Ms Njai to refrain from pushing such views.
“Please stop that lie. You are lying. Who says I am not supporting this bill? It is not true!” she countered.
Tensions mounted and several women were seen coming between the two.
After Ms Njie was whisked away, VP Touray turned to the women and cautioned them against being used as political tools for personal gains. “Don’t let anyone use this bill and politicise it for personal reasons,” she warned.
The heated exchanges spawned commotion and several lawmakers including member for Serekunda, Halifa Sallah, rushed out of the chamber to calm the situation.
Sallah took away the vice president and sought to console her. She returned minutes later and left the chambers.
Speaking to The Standard, Ms Njai denied that she confronted the vice president.
“I did not confront her. I was talking to my ladies that the vice president and the speaker are female and yet this thing has been thrown out. So where do they stand for women’s rights? And then she insulted me. That was the least I expected from her as a vice president. But I cannot be intimidated. This is my assembly. I would not go to the executive and start abusing cabinet members, so it is the same respect I expect from the VP,” Ms Njai explained.
She said she remained optimistic that her bill “is not all done and dusted”.
“Be assured that I am coming back to this parliament and this bill will come back because I will not rest until I see women fully represented,” she said.