The New Gambia is witnessing unprecedented democratic exercises where for the first time in over two decades the National Assembly made history by rejecting a supplemental bill presented by the Minister of Finance worth D1.2 Billion Dalasis. The bill which claimed to seek for budgetary supplement for the remainder of the year was overwhelmingly rejected by the National Assembly last week. The national assembly members exercised their independence and voted the bill while hundreds of citizens were gathered outside the Parliament to protest against the bill. The Barrow government suffered its worst defeat in the August body for the first time since it took over power two years ago.
However, on an unprecedented move the Finance Minister lobbied the Speaker of the National Assembly to reintroduce the bill and attempt to get it revoted overnight. Thursday December 20th the speaker held the National Assembly in house well into the wee hours of the morning. Several members were absent as they had left for the day after the normal sitting session.
Many National Assembly members contended that reintroduction of the bill was unconstitutional in the first place and that the house should never vote on that bill again. However, the speaker appeared to have been determined and motivated by the Office of the President to get the bill passed whatever it takes. The speaker is not an elected member of the National Assembly. She was appointed by the President as stipulated in the 1997 constitution. Despite the unconstitutionality of the bill the speaker went ahead and tabled the bill. She called a roll call vote and there was a tie 16 votes for and 16 against. This indicates that only 32 members in a House of 58 members 5 nominated and 53 elected. So at least 21 eligible voting National Assembly members either were absent or refused to take a vote.
According to Section 106(2) of the constitution “the person presiding in the National Assembly shall have neither an original vote or casting vote…”. This means the speaker or deputy when presiding over the NA cannot exercise neither an original or casting vote. While the standing orders of the National Assembly allows the speaker to vote provided she is an elected member, the constitution clearly makes it unconstitutional for the speaker to vote. Therefore the desperate speaker who is under pressure to pass this illegal bill may have violated the law. Section 107 further makes it an offense for any person who sits or votes in the National Assembly knowing or having reasonable grounds for knowing that he or she is not entitled to do so. It is also stipulated within the standing orders that if there is a tie vote in the National Assembly the bill should be considered rejected. By the speaker voting illegally to break the tie in favor of the government, the bill that was passed last night is illegal.
Many Gambians across the political spectrum are outraged that the speaker will jam such a bill in the middle of the night against the interest of the Gambian people and personally vote to pass the bill. Political pundits and media practitioners are calling the act a sabotage and are calling for citizens to challenge the constitutionality of the bill in court. Some prominent civil society members have called for citizens to protest against the illegal passage of the bill.
It is ironic that the Minister of Finance Mamburay Njie is claiming that civil servants won’t be paid for this month because of the failure of the bill to pass. However, the same minister of finance knowing that the government is short of money is going around and signing multi-million dollar contracts with lobbying firms in the United States. Many wondered what is the rationale behind asking for supplemental spending bill and at the same time allocating huge amounts of wasteful spending of public funds. The same minister just requested an extension of a current sitting commission to be paid over D2million dalasis in the next three months. The priority of the government appears to be backwards and the International community must take note of the lack of fiscal discipline by the Barrow government.
Demba Baldeh Associate editor