Monday, July 22, 2024

Barrow’s partisan Commission of Inquiry and matters arising

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President Adama Barrow, on Friday, February 24, 2023, swore in a Commission of Inquiry to investigate the conduct of Local Councils just a month before the upcoming Local Government Elections, scheduled on May 20, 2023, in The Gambia.

The move by the president received criticism from different politicians and individuals. Some described it as a “witch-hunt” targeting opposition-led councils, with few praising him for the move.

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At a press briefing held at the Kanifing Municipal Council (KMC) by The Gambia Association of Local Government Authorities (GALGA), Landing B. Sanneh, the Chairman of Mansa Konko Area Council and President of the Association, read a statement.

Sanneh claims that most commissioners set to conduct local government councils and related activities are known members of the National People’s Party (NPP). See the full video at The Fatu Network (17:29 onwards), an online media house in The Gambia established since President Yahya Jammeh.

Given the controversy over the constitution of the Commission of Inquiry, DUBAWA attempts to discover who the commissioners are, their political connections or affiliations with the President’s party, the criteria used in selecting them and whether or not these criteria were adhered to. We will also explore the legal implications associated with the choice of personnel for the Commission.

What did the law say about Commissions of Inquiry?

CHAPTER XVIII Section 200 of the 1997 constitution of The Gambia gives the president the power to establish a commission of inquiry to look into the conduct of any public officer. This includes District Seyfo (a district chief), Alkalo (village head), or persons managing any department or authority of the public service or any local government or public enterprise.

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What are the criteria for selecting Commissioners? 

Amid controversy over who should be appointed a Commissioner and whether or not they can have partisan lenses, DUBAWA found as follows;

CHAPTER XVIII Section 201 of the 1997 constitution of The Gambia subsection (1) outlines the criteria for selecting a presiding commissioner/chairperson in a commission of inquiry.

Subsection (1) states that a person shall not be appointed a sole Commissioner or the Chairperson of a Commission of Inquiry unless:

(a) he or she is or has been, a judge of a superior court, whether in The Gambia or outside it; or

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(b) he or she is qualified to be appointed a judge of a superior court.

It is clear that partisan considerations are not part of the criteria for selecting a Commissioner. However, the functions of the Commission are why the critics of the president are demanding a non-partisan representation.

Functions of a commission of inquiry?

Section 202 of the 1997 constitution states the functions of a commission of inquiry.

(1) A Commission of Inquiry shall:

(a) make a full and impartial investigation into the matter in respect of which the Commission is established; and (b) furnish in writing a report on the results of the inquiry, including a statement of the reasons leading to the conclusions of the Commission.

(2) A Commission of Inquiry shall have all the powers, rights and privileges of a judge of the High Court at a trial in respect of:

(a) enforcing the attendance of witnesses and examining them on oath, affirmation or otherwise;

(b) compelling the production of documents;

(c) issuing a commission or request for the examination of witnesses abroad, and

(d) making interim orders.

What are other people saying about this new commission?

Demba Ali Jawo, a former Information Minister under President Barrow, is of the view that the president is within his constitutional power to establish a commission of inquiry into the conduct of local government councils; however, he doubts the timing and impartiality of the Commission members as the country is heading to the polls in a few weeks.

“The timing of the commission is not only suspicious, but it seems to have all the hallmarks of a political witch hunt, with the next local government elections just a few weeks away.

“We have all seen or heard how President Barrow, both in words and action, had shown his determination to wrest control of the councils, particularly the KMC and Banjul, from his main political rival, the UDP, in the forthcoming local government elections,” he said.

Others described the commission as a “witch-hunt” targeting United Democratic Party (UDP) candidates occupying most of the seats.

“This latest attempt at election interference by the Barrow administration is calculated to impose Barrow’s preferred albeit incompetent, ethically and morally compromised choices on The Gambian electorate at the local level,” UDP said in a press release.

Who are the commissioners?

Chairperson Jainaba Bah Sambou, others include Samba Faal, Oreme E. Joiner, Sukai Secka Sanyang, and Alhaji Sillah, a former Banjul Lawmaker. 

Initially, Imam Baba Leigh, who works at the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), was on the list. However, he quickly withdrew his appointment to the newly established Commission of Inquiry, saying accepting such an appointment would breach the NHRC Act 2017.

DUBAWA investigations further revealed that Oreme Joiner, among the five commissioners, was once a co-opted National People’s Party (NPP) member before President Adama Barrow appointed him as the Vice Chairperson of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) in 2021. =

This appointment was condemned by many, with some calling for his removal as Vice Chair of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) and suggesting opposition parties go against the appointment, saying he is not fit to occupy that position. See the report on The Fatu Network online media.

The United Democratic Party (UDP), the main opposition party in The Gambia, issued a press release condemning the appointment of Mr Oreme Joiner.

Photo source UDP Facebook Page

Mr Oreme Joiner, a retired Banker, appeared in the NPP Banjul Executives as a co-opted member in 2021.  Image source: Photo of NPP 2021.

After a huge public outcry erupted over the appointment of Oreme E Joiner, amid reports that he is a National People’s (NPP) member, the government rescinded the appointment. Meanwhile, Alhagie Sillah, a former Banjul National Assembly member, replaced Imam Baba Leigh, who withdrew from the commission.  Even the replacement was not without controversy.

DUBAWA contacted Modou Lamin B. Bah, National Assembly Member for Banjul North Constituency, who accused Alhagie Sillah of openly supporting President Adama Barrow in the run-up to the December 2021 Presidential elections and also campaigned for his candidates in the April 9 Parliamentary election.

“Hon Alhagie Sillah has been openly supporting the NPP, and a clear manifestation was during the Presidential election in 2022. We saw him openly with an NPP vehicle campaigning for the President, and during the Parliamentary election in 2022, he was campaigning for NPP aspirants,” Bah said.


He further revealed that the appointee was seen “openly doing house to house for the NPP Candidate for Banjul North.”

“Antouman Ngaache Ngalaama Sa Legai Rafeet Na!” (Wolof language) Translations of the text in the pictures (Thank you, Abdoulie. Your Job is Very Good. April 9th, 2022, Victory is for Wadda by Allah’s grace,” Ousman Wadda wrote on his Facebook page.

Pictures of Alhajie Sillah campaigning for the NPP aspirants during the parliamentary election of 2022 are on his Facebook page. Two of the five commissioners sworn by the president have a political connection, while there is no evidence of their involvement in politics for the rest of the three.

Conclusion

President Barrow’s appointment of Commission of the Inquiry members to investigate the local councils has no doubt generated a heated debate. It has led to many rescissions by the appointees. While the president may not have breached the law in appointing persons believed to have partisan affiliations to his party, that singular action may have robbed the Commission of the perception of independence, fairness and objectivity needed for it to do its job.

The researcher produced this explainer per the DUBAWA 2023 Kwame KariKari Fellowship partnership with (The Fatu Network) Daily Trust to facilitate the ethos of “truth” in journalism and enhance media literacy in the country.

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