Open Letter to Chief Servant Adama Barrow on the Need for a Non-Partisan Speaker of the National Assembly

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Building The New Gambia

Re: We Need a Non-Partisan Speaker of the National Assembly

Mr. President,

With a deep sense of humility and patriotism, I write to you on a subject of high importance to our country, which is the nomination of National Assembly Members as required of you under Section 88(b). This is your next big move!

Let me say at the outset that the issue of the nominated members is extremely critical simply because Section 93(1) of the Constitution says that the Speaker and Deputy Speaker shall be elected from among those nominated members. Hence the persons that the president shall nominate must be viewed from the context of the role and contribution of the Speaker and Deputy Speaker. This is even more important given that the Speaker is the third highest office holder in the country and a potential president. Thus we do not need any kind of person as Speaker.

In light of the foregoing, the issue of nominated members must therefore be carefully considered in order to use it as a means to strengthen our democratization process. The role and position of the Speaker is a very significant position in a constitutional democracy like ours. As the leading accountability institution in the country, the parliament must be clearly independent from any influence. The independence of the parliament rests very much on the independence of the Speaker. The ability or the power of a parliament to check the Executive rests squarely on the Speaker. The trust and confidence that parliamentarians would have in the Speaker depends on the kind of person holding that office. The respect, trust and confidence that Gambian citizens will have in the parliament rests very much on the kind of person as the Speaker. The quality of discussions in the parliament lies squarely in the effective leadership provided by the Speaker. Hence the Speaker has a huge role and position.

Hence Mr. Barrow, you must consider all these issues in identifying these nominated members so that we can have a Speaker and a Deputy Speaker who will play an effective role to enable the success of the Gambia. A very good Speaker will help to guide our transformation from dictatorship to democracy. A very good person as Speaker shall ensure that the critical reforms that your administration envisages are done. A very good Speaker will bring about unity within the parliament between the different parties and ensure that the parliament as a whole is effective, efficient and responsive to the needs of Gambians. Hence the parliament is indeed indispensable and instrumental to your presidency and the peace and stability of the Gambia.

One can draw lessons from around the world to realize the power and influence of a speaker. Everyone knows that in the United States, the second most powerful person is Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House of Representatives in the US Congress. His power and influence in policy and lawmaking and holding the Executive to account can be felt not only in America but also around the world. Similarly the power and influence of John Bercow, the Speaker of the House of Commons in the British Parliament is all too clear for all to see. Just few weeks ago, he stood up to say that Pres. Trump would not address the British Parliament when he visits the UK later this year at the invitation of the Queen. Yet no one can over-rule him. Not the Queen, nor the Prime Minister. These speakers are persons who have integrity, deep understanding of the issues and command a huge amount of respect and power.

This is the kind of Speaker we need especially at this critical time. It is because of such kinds of strong individuals as speakers that have made the US Congress or the UK Parliament one of the most powerful institutions in the world. This is precisely the reason why democracy is durable, effective and responsive in the US and UK and many other countries. This is what the Gambia also needs. I wish that you would consider this issue deeply and pursue it in such a way as to build your own legacy in truly creating a modern democratic Gambia.

Do not follow the Yaya Jammeh pattern of identifying clueless persons such as Fatoumatta Jahumpa Ceesay as speakers who possess no iota of values, knowledge or patriotism. Do not pick speakers who will only serve sectional interests such as Abdoulie Bojang against the supreme national interests of the Gambia. Therefore do not nominate politicians or persons affiliated with political parties whose only role would be to make our parliament a partisan, rubberstamp and biased institution.

Therefore I advise that your nominated members should be Gambians who are not affiliated to any political party, but professionals in their own fields who are well-educated, respectable and credible individuals. Do not use the position of nominated members as a means to reward your supporters and allies. Choose independent persons of integrity and knowledge. This is important to ensure that the Speaker and Deputy Speaker provide the necessary unbiased leadership to the parliament and the Gambia. Given that the parliament is composed of multiple parties, having a non-partisan person of integrity as speaker will ensure more decent and thorough debates that will generate fairness and justice to issues. It will also mean no one will be able to control the speaker.

Mr. Barrow, you must understand that you need a parliament that is genuine and devoid of partisan bickering and politicization of issues and therefore cause delay or derailment to your agenda. To avoid that, a speaker without any party affiliation will be better able to guide discussions towards national interests and your objectives. But if you nominate politicians or partisan-affiliated persons, there is every tendency for that person to be biased against other parties in parliament. If that happens, the other NAMs could lose trust and respect for the speaker, which means the parliament will only become a Bantaba for insults and infighting. Such a parliament does not help you as president in anyway. Rather such a parliament will derail and delay your government. In fact it will be such a parliament that will further fuel tribal politics in the country.

In order to therefore choose your nominated members, I suggest that you should find a way to identify these persons. There are a number ways to do that. You can bring the issue to the Cabinet to discuss in order to identify excellent Gambians of integrity and knowledge. Or, you can also consult with the parties in order to identify the best persons possible. Alternatively, you can engage with various sectors of the society in order to obtain suggestions. For example, you can contact the civil society through TANGO for suggestions. You can also contact the business community through GCCI, or you can engage the Christian and Islamic councils, or the academia through UTG as well as the media fraternity through GPU, among others. At the end of the day, it is all about identifying credible and knowledgeable Gambians with the integrity and patriotism to help the country transition to a full-blown democracy under your leadership. This is about your legacy for which history will judge you, kindly or harshly. The ball is in your court.

Therefore identify credible Gambians who will remain faithful to the Gambia and ensure the parliament delivers the best for the country. We need this more than ever before given that we are coming out of a tyranny with lot of contentious issues to address. Hence we need a very levelheaded, well-informed and non-partisan citizen as Speaker to help steer the nation towards democracy and good governance.

Remember, you have already filled your Cabinet with lot of politicians. The parliament is filled with only politicians. Now that you have this opportunity, I think common sense and patriotism require that you identify other Gambians outside of partisan politics but with integrity to serve the country better. God Bless The Gambia.

Yours In the Service of the Gambia,

Signed. Madi Jobarteh

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  1. I don’t see that there is a problem if the speaker comes from the UDP. No matter how seemingly independent of the the speaker is, the fact remains that (s)he who pays the piper calls the tune. If the speaker is President’s Barrow’s (a self proclaimed UDP supporter) appointee, it is only sensible to presume that (s)he was appointed with the expectation that should it come to the crunch, (s)he will do the bidding of the ruling party – and that is not to say that all such bidding will not be in the public interest, even if controversial. Going against the programmes of the piper would be political suicide, and probably economic suicide too.

    Therefore making sure the speaker of the Assembly is independent, is just one of those things – it cannot be done when the appointment is made by the President, whom, traditionally belongs to the ruling party – in this case the UDP. It would in fact make more sense (in the interest of transparency, and accountability, if the speaker comes from the ruling party, but be one with sufficient character and probity to preside over procedural fairness in all deliberations of the house, whilst ensuring that each member has equal opportunity to make their view heard, debated, gazetted, and reported. Such a person could be anyone really. But it can be problematic for the Government when the speaker is of a different orientation to it, as it could not be sure whether (s)he was being professional, or obstructive. Further,in real life, the speaker never votes on issues anyway, save for when there is a deadlock (unlikely in the 2017 Gambian Assembly). This means that if they were to come from the UDP ruling party, that party is sacrificing one vote every time (again not an issue for the UDP given their massive majority) a vote is taken. But because in such cases the speaker’s fortunes can be expected to rise and fall with those of the ruling party (without voting), that might give her an incentive to, at the very least, ensure procedural fairness etc in the conduct of assembly affairs.

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