April 6 shall go down in our history as the beginning of democracy even with the sadness that only three women have been elected. For the first time we have 7 separate parties including an independent represented in our parliament. A diverse parliament is good for democracy and good governance. The base of a constitutional democracy is the parliament. This is because while the president represents the whole country as one constituency, at the same time the parliament is equally representative of the whole country and also representative of the various constituents of the country. Hence it is in the parliament that public interest can be best promoted and secured because of the debates, engagements, negotiations, agreements and disagreements of the various members of the parliament.
The role of the parliament is not merely to make laws. But more importantly when parliament makes the laws, it now comes to monitor the Executive to ensure that it is effectively implementing those laws. These laws are not just about provisions of our constitution or the criminal code, but these laws also include our budget and taxes. The role of the Executive is merely to enforce the law. Enforcing the law means only two things: to protect human rights and to satisfy needs of citizens. Hence the function of the Executive is merely to collect taxes, provide goods and services and protect our rights. This is what constitutes law enforcement.
But for the Executive to do any of these actions, it requires the approval of the parliament first. Hence the Executive is at the mercy of the Parliament. This is why therefore the parliament is the most important and most powerful national institution. The Gambia is a republic under a constitutional democracy, which means we are an independent people within a nation-state and governed by our own ideas codified into a body of laws. Politically we are not governed by the Holy Quran or the Holy Bible. We are not governing ourselves based on the culture of the Aku or Manjago, Fula or Serer, Mandinka or Wolof, Sarahuleh or Jola. We are governing ourselves on the basis of the Gambia Constitution and other laws that have been enacted by the parliament and assented to by the president.
The crux of our constitution sets up three arms of the state as the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary with separate functions within a system of checks and balances. These checks and balances are guided by the rule of law as spelt out in the constitution intended to make sure no one arm has too much power. This is to restrain public institutions and officials and ensure that they deliver effectively in protecting our rights and satisfying our needs. This means the Gambia is not run on the opinion of the President or Speaker or Chief Justice and indeed not on the opinion of any one citizen so long as that opinion is not in line with the constitution. It is only the Judiciary that has the power to determine if that opinion is in line with the constitution or not.
Now that we have a new parliament, the process of remaking the Gambia has begun. Mr. Adama Barrow came on the ticket of a Coalition of parties, which has a manifesto with a three-year mandate. The new dispensation also comes against the backdrop of a 22-year brutal regime that butchered the constitution severely just to entrench itself in power forever. The task therefore before our parliament is to enable the Gambia transition from dictatorship to democracy. How will they do this?
We therefore expect each and every parliamentarian to uphold the supreme interest of the Gambia. By this, we expect that parliamentarians, individually and collectively to realize that the life and death of the Gambia is in their hands. We expect each and every one of them to have a vision of a Gambia they wish to create. We expect the parliamentarians to work together in unison with the Executive in ensuring that they carve a solid statecraft that will usher in a new democratic dispensation in which the sovereignty of the Gambia shall prevail supreme at all times.
We will remind the parliament that heinous crimes and atrocities were committed in the Gambia over the past 22 years under the APRC Tyranny, which needs investigation to expose the truth and ensure justice. Those responsible for human rights violations must be identified and brought to book. In the same vein, our parliament must make a clean break from the APRC-dominated parliament of yesteryears. We do not need a rubberstamp parliament that aids and abets tyranny. The country faces major challenges in terms of development such as poverty, unemployment, high cost of living and inadequate provision of social services. We face major challenges in the public service, which is grossly weakened over the years. Above all, the country urgently needs major constitutional, legal and institutional reforms in order to usher in a modern statecraft. Thus the task before this parliament is already cut out for them.
The unprecedented presence of multiple parties in the parliament means we expect quality discussions over bills and policies. We expect an enhanced scrutiny of the Executive and all sectors of our society to ensure the full protection of human rights, efficient delivery of pubic goods and services and uncompromising adherence to the rule of law. The parties represented in the parliament have no excuse to fail the Gambia because they have lived the experiences of our people. They cannot claim to not know the urgency of our moment and the needs of our society.
The parliament is our defender. The parliament is our leader. The parliament is our guide. The parliament is our manager. The quality of development and democracy in the Gambia rests with our parliament. If there is a high incidence of corruption and poverty in the Gambia, none is responsible other than the parliament. It means the parliament would have failed in its monitoring and accountability role. If our public institutions and public officers fail to deliver to respond to our needs, the responsibility lies with our parliament. The constitution has given the parliament all necessary powers to ensure that good governance and the rule of law prevails in the Gambia at all times.
Democracy has now started. Democracy is a noisy game. Democracy is participatory. Democracy flourishes when citizens get interested in national issues and the way and manner the government and politicians address them. It requires that citizens are vigilant to speak out and to protest. Democracy flourishes when citizens form themselves into groups to campaign together to hold the government to account. The time has therefore come for the Gambian citizen to actively participate in the governance of the country.
Congratulations to Gambians! God Bless The Gambia.