The political campaign has now been buried with the declaration of results. Time for work began ticking. I must admit the inauguration of the NAM radiated soothing hope of building solid democratic process in new Gambia. The time to work and put country before scoring political goals for one party or the other just got started yesterday. However, it is pertinent to appreciate we cannot build democracy on the foundation of legal blunders. If any NAM observes and points out a legal error, it is the responsibility of all to ensure it is rectified before brushing it under the carpet or viewing the person as a stumbling block. Loving a government means holding it accountable genuinely but not excusing it’s excesses. Hon Sallah’s reminding his colleagues and the Chief Justice that it would have been appropriate to gazette the opening of parliament before swearing in members is a procedural convention. He eventually rescinded and took the oath after exchanging notes with Hon Sedia Jatta, a veteran in the house. Halifa’s take generated a lot of healthy debate enticing others to run back to the constitution for answers. Others, as usual, got personal and immature.
Lamentably, most of us are only mixing and matching our perceived opinions with laws and conventions of our land to excuse legal omission by our leaders. It is now time to build solid governance institutions and a democracy devoid of avoidable legal errors. Secondly, our concluded concepts of certain people have limited our objectivity to genuinely appreciate their impartial opinions of the way forward. Yes Halifa is human and not omniscient but most often in place regarding constitutional procedures. Love him or hate him he knows it inside out. Bamba Sering Mass also affirmed, “Come on we are not all perfect and even enemies or critics of Hon Sallah cannot doubt his knowledge of the Constitution but he that comes to ‘Equity must come with clean hand'”. Most importantly, we must stop viewing our NAMs in rose-tinted party lenses. They are expected to represent the nation and enact laws that are in the interest of all. Until we recognise that democracy is not sustainable on bad laws and legal blunders we will continue to recycle the 1997 constitution in new forms. Hon Sallah, in some quarters is accused of cheap popularity and scoring a faul political goal for not raising his objection before members sat to take their oath. Here, it gets tricky. Would he not have also been charged with jumping the guns? Notwithstanding, I concurred with those who opined he should have raised the alarm earlier than he did. His last minute actions equate throwing a spanner in the wheel. Similarly, some did ponder who was right, Halifa or the Chief Justice? Both were right according to the constitution but their difference lies in one’s conviction and interpretation of it.
It is interesting to note section 34 of the Constitution stipulates the Proclamation to be gazetted which is Halifa’s stance. However, in Section 97(1) of the Constitution provides: “The first session of the National Assembly after a general election shall be held in such place in The Gambia as the President may, by Proclamation, appoint.” In this instance, the president is only required to summon parliament. It does not necessitate gazetting for parliament in its first session. Therefore, the Chief Justice is equally right on this section. Madi Jobarteh, however, disagreed with the Chief Justice. “Hence I do not agree with the CJ that a verbal public announcement could suffice for a gazette”. He went on to raise fundamental queries, “The question therefore is how does a president do a proclamation? Could he go to the national television or sit in his office or at the market to make a statement, or should he, in addition gazette that verbal announcement as well?” Here lies the issue of personal convection, interpretation and understanding of laws. Ideally, a gazette would do the magic and avoided this debate. In its absence logic and reasoning become the barometer for informed deduction. Obviously, any proclamation or notice for public consumption from the president office must reach its target to bear usefulness and the only places are a gazette and GRTS. The most important thing here is the lessons learned. We must, if we are serious about contributing meaningfully to the democratisation process, be prepared to know our constitution, Conventions, Financial Instructions and General Orders. These will help us appreciate governance and hold our leaders accountable without prejudice.
Some are challenging me for engaging President Barrow in my series and branded me an opposition. Well if holding my government accountable qualifies me as an opposition then happy days.
We are all satisfied that there isn’t a maroon in the NAM this election term. But majority of them are inexperienced and we are told to allow them learn on the job. I am uncomfortable with that premise. While parliament is in recession, they can have seminars and workshops to prepare them for their herculean task of law and policy making. Very soon they will be subdivided into committees with specialist responsibilities. On the job training alone would be asking a blind to lead the deaf in an expedition.