The Foreign Minister Ousainou Darboe said in an interview on the ‘Mengbe-Kering’ program with Pa Modou Bojang that there is no time stated in the constitution as to when the president should appoint a vice president. He said anyone who has seen the constitutional provision, which states the time, should show him. This gives the impression that therefore Chief Servant Barrow can appoint a VP anytime he desires. I completely disagree and I wish to show Mr. Ousainou Darboe that indeed Section 65 subsection 2 is the provision that gives the time when the president should appoint a vice president. It says,
“Whenever the office of President becomes vacant in the circumstance set out in subsection (1), the Vice-President, or if there is no Vice-President in office at the time, the Speaker shall assume the office of President for the residue of the term of the former President.”
The issue therefore is who knows exactly when the office of the president could become vacant? No one knows that. Of course we do know that the term of the president ends after five years. But in between the election to the end of that term, the office of the president can become vacant due to various reasons. For that matter alone therefore a VP is necessary right now.
The circumstances that could give rise to a vacancy in the highest office of the land have been addressed under Section 65 subsection 1. It says the office of the president could become vacant either through death or resignation, or on account of various constitutional provisions. These are, Section 63 on the expiration of the term of the president, or Section 66 on the removal of the president on account of mental and physical incapacity or through impeachment for misconduct under Section 67.
In fact according to Section 64, when there is a claim that the president is mentally or physically unfit to govern, it is the vice president or the Speaker who becomes interim president while that matter is investigated by the Chief Justice.
The question now is, what guarantee does anyone have that none of these scenarios could happen anytime? No one can tell when a person would die or suffer from a mental or physical incapacity or misconduct himself or herself. Any of these incidents could happen to Pres. Barrow right now. He could die from natural causes or foul play. He could suffer from a severe neurological disorder right now or encounter an accident that could render him completely incapacitated physically. Hence what will happen to the office of the president if any of these scenarios happen right now?
The answer to these questions is what therefore dictates that the first action of an elected president in the Gambia is to appoint a vice president. There should be no delay in anticipation of Section 65. In this case, I therefore state that this is the time set by the constitution.
Furthermore, the constitution says where there is no vice president, then the Speaker of the National Assembly will become the interim president. But soon the National Assembly will stand dissolved for the election. Is it not possible that something could happen to the president between the dissolution of the National Assembly and the election and swearing-in of a new parliament? Where there is no vice president and there is no speaker, who then becomes the interim president of the Gambia in the absence of the actual president? Is that not a recipe for national disaster?
Still going further, Section 70 states that the vice president is the principle assistant to the president in the discharge of executive functions. Right now, who is assisting Pres. Barrow in his functions especially when he travels out of the country? Section 73 subsection 1 further states that there shall be a Cabinet, which comprises the ‘president, vice president and cabinet minsters’. Hence there cannot be a cabinet without a president, vice president and cabinet ministers all together.
On the responsibilities of the Cabinet, Section 74 says,
“The Vice-President and Ministers shall be collectively responsible to the National Assembly for any advice given to the President in Cabinet, and the Vice President and each Minister shall be accountable to the President and the National Assembly for the administration of the departments and other business of Government committed to his or her charge.”
Here again we see specifically that the position of a vice president is non-negotiable. In fact in Section 77, the constitution says it is the vice president who will answer in the National Assembly for matters affecting the president, and that the president shall send messages to the parliament to be read on his or her behalf by the vice president.
Thus both the letter and spirit of the constitution make it crystal clear that the position of the vice president must be filled immediately a president is sworn-in. This is a requirement that feeds directly into every aspect of government functions and national governance. There are many other provisions and functions in the constitution which require a vice president. Thus Pres. Barrow does not have the liberty to take his time to appoint a vice president. It is already long overdue, dangerously.
I wish to state therefore that Mr. Ousainou Darboe is completely wrong in his analysis of the issue of the Vice president. Based on the letter and spirit of the constitution, it is very clear that as soon as a president is elected and sworn-in, the first move should be the appointment of a vice president. This means the time is definitely stated in the constitution, which is now and not later. This is a good governance and national security decision that ensures the peace, stability and continuity of the government at all times. At this very moment, the Gambia is in a very volatile situation simply because there is no vice president.
In fact, it is precisely because of this scenario why emerging democracies now adopt the concept of running mates so that a president and vice president are elected together. One reason is that in the event of a vacancy, the interim president would still be an elected officer just as the president; otherwise the vice president would become president without the mandate of the people. This is why we have seen countries like Ghana and Nigeria adopt that practice as in the United States.
I would therefore urge Pres. Barrow to exercise his executive functions as per Section 70 subsection 3 to appoint a vice president immediately. Without a vice president we do not have a Cabinet. Without a vice president we face a looming constitutional and national security crisis, which must be avoided. Without a vice president there is huge vacuum in our governance structure and no society can afford a vacuum in its governance system. Hence Barrow must appoint a vice president now.
I hope the Minister of Justice Abubacarr Tambedou would advice the president accordingly.
God Bless The Gambia.