GAMBIA – THE NEED FOR SERIOUS LEGAL REFORM

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Now that politics is over and a new executive and a National Assembly are installed, I wish to prevail on our country’s new leaders to take up their sacred duty of serving our nation with utmost sincerity to us the citizens including themselves and their own children.

This post in intended for the attention of the members of the national assembly as the law makers of the land. Although it is evident that our type of government gives the executive branch every responsibility including the drafting, presentation and defense of bills in the assembly to become laws, members of the assembly are nonetheless the most important denominators in the law making process. It is prudent therefore that they the members of the assembly know the laws that are being brought before them and properly scrutinize them for their ramifications and everyone.

As a former police officer, I can attest to the fact that The Gambia is among few countries that makes very bad laws and tie the hands of the police and judges in enforcing them. It is a country where you will find a lot of criminal law and constitutional provisions that are at total variance with the dictates of any civilised, democratic and independent nation. Although some of these laws were inherited from the British colonialists who made them with the intent to curtail the rising trends of anti colonialism movements in Africa during the struggle for independence, I cannot understand why we still have such laws in our statutory books over half a century after independence. What makes matter even worse is that our own national post independence governments instead of repealing such draconian laws, amended them and make them even worse for us thanks to our irresponsible representatives we put in parliament.

Let us take a short tour on our Criminal Code. Section 52 of the Criminal Code of The Gambia provides for a fine of between 50,000 to 250,000 or an imprisonment of 5 years or both for publication of a seditious material. A seditious publication is anything that is intended to bring the person of the president to disrepute etc. There is the giving false information to a public officer act which we will all recall as in the last ten years hundreds were sent to prison for that act for writing to the president for grievances.

Section 69 defines Unlawful assembly as any three people or more assembled with intent to engage in riot. And when they start to carry out their actions, it does not matter whether they harm anybody or not, their action now constitutes a riot which is punishable with up to 5 years in prison without an option of a fine.

What is even more scary about that Public Order Act is section 73 which states that law enforcement officers engaged in dispersing such riots will not be held accountable whether in criminal or civil courts for any injury or death resulting from such dispersing. As far as these laws are concerned, it does not matter whether such protests, assemblies or riots result in victims or not or breach of peace or not. It only gives a verge phrase of “causing fear” which is subjective.

You will recall that these were the laws used to put the entire UDP executive in prison together with dozens of their members following the late Solo Sandeng incident. The sooner we conduct a thorough cleansing of our statutory books, the better for us all as no one knows who the next victim will be. As we speak, we have at least 2 cabinet ministers and at least another 2 in parliament who were victims of this very law.

Our constitution is also in a similar mess. Look at the membership of our national assembly. Can you imagine a whole constituency voting for a member in an election only for him to lose that seat when he is dismissed by his party leader. The seat becomes vacant and that constituency will have to go through a bye election to get someone to represent them. Now we are wondering why our parliaments are rubber stamp and parliamentarians are loyal to thief party leaders instead of their constituents.

If we accept such provisions in our law books and constitution, what more do we expect as a people other than being victims of our own complacency.

Another law I had always had issue with is our Social Security and Injury Compensation Act. How can a person be involved in an accident and gets permanently disabled and you pay him only fifty thousand dalasis. When he dies, he gets only a 100,000. How will the disabled support himself for the rest of his life let alone the young dependants the victim leaves behind?

This is my little contribution as a citizen and I hope that President Barrow and his parliament will carry out their parts as well in our best interest and we will not see a repetition of the last 2 regimes.

Long live The Gambia and her citizens.”

From a concerned citizen

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