Sunday, July 21, 2024

Anxiety Grips New National Assembly

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By D. A. Jawo

Many people are still trying to make sense of President Adama Barrow’s choice of the five people that he nominated to the National Assembly, in complete contradiction of the letter and spirit of that provision of the 1997 Constitution that gave him the power to nominate people to represent certain interests in the legislature.

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While it is not specifically spelt out in the Constitution, but commonsense dictates that the President was expected to nominate people to represent certain marginalised/interest groups that otherwise would not have had the opportunity of having anyone amongst them being elected. Therefore, in the interest of equity and national inclusion, the President is given the power to pick people to represent the interests and aspirations of those marginalised/interest groups in the legislature.  In this country, such marginalised/interest groups that had always craved for such representation in the legislature include, the differently-abled persons, the minority Christian community, the Lebanese/Syrian community, trade unions, as well as the women and the youths, amongst several others that deserve a voice in the legislature. Even with all his buts, former President Yahya Jammeh tried to respect the spirit of that constitutional provision by nominating people to represent some of those marginalised/interest groups.

However, if we closely scrutinise even the demeanor of those that President Barrow nominated, it is quite obvious to anyone who cares for the truth that his objective was simply to boost the numbers of his National People’s Party (NPP) in the National Assembly rather than for any other reason.

Of course, his nominations for 2017 were also not the best, because, apart from having three women, one of whom represented the differently-abled, all the five nominees, except one, were members of the United Democratic Party (UDP), which, like the NPP today, was enjoying all the privileges of a ruling party. However, it was quite obvious then that President Barrow was courting the UDP with the intention of having the party to adopt him as their leader in anticipation of not only reneging on his campaign promise to serve three years, but serving his full term, and also running for a second term. We all saw what happened when he failed to achieve that objective; things fell apart and eventually, there was a divorce, culminating in the formation of the NPP, and the rest is history.

Indeed, no matter what justification one may try to give, nominating controversial characters like Fabakary Tombong Jatta, Seedy Njie and Fatoumata Jawara was the worst choice that President Barrow ever made. We all witnessed the negative roles that both Fabakary and Seedy Njie played during the political impasse that occurred immediately after the December 2016 presidential elections when former President Jammeh was defeated by President Barrow. The duo; Fabakary as then Majority Leader of the National Assembly and Seedy Njie, as information minister, tried everything possible to thwart the will of the Gambian people, almost plunging this country into civil conflict, just to protect their own interests and that of their master. Therefore, morality demands that those two gentlemen should never have been allowed anywhere hear the National Assembly, let alone become its leaders.

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As for Fatoumata Jawara, it is hard to justify forcing her on the people when she has already been rejected as not suitable material for the National Assembly. This is certainly the height of disrespect for the people of Tallinding Kunjang Constituency, in particular, who in no uncertain terms voted against her in the National Assembly elections.

In view of all the above and several other compelling reasons, one would wonder whether President Barrow sought proper advice before making his decision to nominate these people. We are all aware of the bad blood that already exists between Fabakary as leader of the APRC and the breakaway faction of that party which contested and won all the five seats in the Fonis, as well as members of the UDP. In such a situation therefore, it is difficult to see how such a person would earn the respect of those members in the National Assembly.

Of course, if the Speaker of the National Assembly does not enjoy the respect of a majority of the members, then it is hard to see how anything productive can come out of that institution. What is therefore likely to happen is that most of the time of the National Assembly would be wasted on petty squabbles and bickering between the Speaker and those members, thus leading to a stalemate on most issues of national importance. One would have therefore thought that President Barrow would put all such a possibility under consideration when he was making his decision as to whom to nominate.

Another reason that made Fabakary unsuitable for leadership of the National Assembly is his uncompromising position on many issues of national concern, especially with regards to the transitional justice programme. We all heard how critical he had been of both the Janneh Commission and the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC), as well as his unmeasured opposition to the draft constitution. Probably his opposition to the draft may have been one of the reasons President Barrow encouraged his supporters in the National Assembly to vote against it, thus throwing away millions of Gambian tax payers’ money. He was publicly quoted saying that the TRRC report should be thrown into the dustbin. Therefore, it would be foolhardy for anyone to expect that such a character would hesitate to use his position as Speaker to try and sabotage anything pertaining to those issues whenever they come before the National Assembly.

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Many people were critical of the last National Assembly for failing to achieve much during its tenure, but with all the signs and symptoms we seem to be seeing in this new legislature, it is hard to expect any better results. In fact we should be lucky if the anticipated acrimony between the Speaker and some of the members did not lead to chaos of gigantic proportions that could derail our fragile democratic dispensation.

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