Editorial: Why Donating 57 Pick up Trucks to Parliament violates principle of separation of powers

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“The greatness of a nation relies on its fidelity to the Constitution and adherence to the rule of law” Chief Justice Maraga  of Kenya..

President Barrow and Speaker of the National Assembly Mariam Denton

The principle of separation of powers and independence of public institutions are the hallmarks of a sound open Democratic society. Strong Democracies around the world respects and jealously guards this fundamental pillar of a free Democratic society.  At any given time a leader or group of leaders could take advantage of their privileges in power and abuse the system in their own favor at the expense of the rest of the people. Leadership especially for an institution or nation is one of the highest honors any human being could earn during their life time. It comes with sacred duty to do right by self and others who entrust you in making life and death decisions on behalf of a population. This is an honor that few privileged people fail to realized once they find themselves in those positions of power.

To ensure that leaders who have control of state machinery are restrained from using those instruments of power to abuse their positions, founders of universal democratic principles created the separation of powers with checks and balances.This is the basic tenet behind the separation of powers in a governance framework. The executive, the judiciary and legislative institutions are equal branches of government that must be independent of each other to effectively hold each other to account in pursuit of a just and equitable society. Without the power for each of these bodies to oversee or check on the other, a nation easily turns into a dictatorship where the affairs of the state is controlled by one branch most commonly the executive. Thus, the importance of the independence of these institutions cannot be overemphasized.

Last week Gambians were once again reminded of how our nation was unilaterally controlled by the executive branch of government under Yahya Jammeh’s 22 years rule. Jammeh effectively neutralized the other two equal  branches of government by making sure that the legislative and the judiciary were stripped of their independence and powers to check on the executive. He did this by not only appointing citizens who will dance to his tunes, but he also used state resources to ensure that National Assembly members and judges were enticed to a level where they could no longer have the backbone to stand up to his whims and caprices. He blurred the lines so severely that nothing could happen without his initiation and approval. As a result, he was able to get the National Assembly to amend any bills and pass any laws he wanted. He ensured that judges were so demoralized which in turn weakened the institution that had the constitutional obligation to protect the interest of the nation.

While we are not with the illusion that the new government in the Gambia will degenerate to the level of dictatorship, it scares many who fought so hard to not only change personalities in power but the manner of government operation and decisions. One of Jammeh’s signature mode of operandi was donating exorbitant resources to government and private institutions to buy their unconditional loyalty and silence. With his departure and the magnitude of abuse of office being revealed at the commission of Inquiry, Gambians expect the Barrow government to take a different approach in handling government affairs. This is why when citizens hear that the President has donated items to government institutions such as GRTS and the National Assembly, it brings back terrible memories of horror that Gambians lived under for two decades.

Many Gambians are fully conscious of the lack of resources many government institutions are experiencing post Jammeh. However, it is also a fact that government institutions as well as services to citizens across every sector of Gambian society were so badly abused and deprived of resources they are almost at a state of despair. This is why at the onset, Gambians expected this new government to institute emergency economic and security measures to ensure that the confidence of the public is slowly restored in the proper and independent operations of government institutions. The security as well as economic measures were not adequately addressed and without the intervention of ECOMIG forces and the economic packages of International donor partners, this government would have collapsed upon taking over. While we have seen some security measures taken by rounding up NIA operatives, the state’s provocative actions or lack thereof in maintaining some senior security operatives and government officials left a lot to be desired. The economic front apart from the Ministry of finance’s review and slicing of the 2017 budget expenditure and auditing of the civil service, almost all expenses under the former regime continue to be in place. Government personnel travel and payments approvals for per diems continue unabated. Appointment of former Jammeh officials who openly aided the dictator in compromising the independence of our institutions continuous without regard to citizens’ concerns.

In effect, the Barrow government needs to be very conscious of it’s decisions. The idea that the President’s personal efforts as echoed by many speakers at the presentation of the 57 pick up trucks to National Assembly members is what led to the undisclosed source of donations is a cause for concern. Regardless of the transportation needs of National Assembly members, the picture that the President would personally orchestrated the donation to law makers simply does not adhere to the principle of separation of powers. Worst, hearing the speaker of the national assembly, the third inline to the successor of the presidency praise singing the president brought back nightmares for many.  It smells and feels more like Jammeh economics patronage that anything else. It reminded political activists of bad memories of fighting a dictator who would not stop at crossing any ethical and constitutional lines to get his way. Obviously, there is nothing wrong with the government advocating for the independence of parliament through the allocation of resources. But there is a proper way to do this without compromise; through budgetary allocations or supplements in ensuring that institutions such as the National Assembly have the proper tools to do their job.

This proper channel was not followed in this case and as a result, many citizens are concern about the source of funding of providing expensive vehicles at a time of economic crisis. Many simply want to know the source of funding of the vehicles; were they in fact donated by the President or were they donated by Gambia Revenue Authority, the nation’s sole revenue collector? Why was the Director of GRA present and was repeatedly featured with a huge smile during the presentation? If GRA is the source of funding of these vehicles, how can anybody justify the public revenue collector for government treasury to make unilateral decision to spend that much money without Parliamentary oversight? If the National Assembly is the beneficiary of such generosity purportedly from the President’s personal efforts, how can they effectively question the source of the funding?

Gainako and many other independent citizens have drawn the attention of the government to lack of ambulances and basic public transportation to transport doctors and Nurses to and from hospitals? As a result, we urge conscious National Assembly members to consider donating their pickup trucks to their local medical facilities. Better yet, they could issue a declaration acknowledging the efforts of the President in helping facilitate their work but respectfully reject the patronage on the principle of separation of powers and the Independence of the National Assembly. Like Kenya’s historic supreme court decision to annul the recently conducted elections, this would send an unprecedented message to the President’s office that Separation of powers and the independence of government institutions cannot and will not be compromised in the new Gambia. Anything less would only lead to more erosion of public confidence from Gambians that this government put little weight into the concerns of the very citizens who elected them in office.

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