By Yusef Taylor, @FlexDan_YT
Two Cabinet Ministers have withdrawn two motions from the National Assembly within a period of two days, cutting Parliamentary proceedings short for Tuesday 5th September 2023. The two motions which have been withdrawn are for the ratification of the “Arms Trade Treaty Agreement” (ATT) and the “Agreement between The Gambia Government and the Swiss Federal Council on Cooperation in Migration Matters”.
Speaking to Parliamentarians on Monday 4th September 2023, the Hon Minister for Defence Sering Modou Njie, tabled the ATT Agreement for The Gambia “to join the global efforts to control the illegal proliferation of conventional arms”. Defence Minister Njie explained that “the ultimate objective of the treaty is to contribute to the preservation of a peaceful stable and secure world safe enough for everyone to pursue and maximise his and her happiness”.
Hon Njie highlighted that the prevention of “deadly arms from falling in the hands of unscrupulous elements” is a National Security priority and that the ATT will help to “regulate the trade of conventional arms to prevent illegal arms transfer”. Going further, Hon Njie noted that “The Gambia was invited during the Sierra Leone’s Presidency of the Arms Trade Treaty Secretariat to attend the 7th Conference of State Parties to the Arms Trade Treaty held in Geneva in August 2021”. After moving the motion, Majority Leader, Hon Billay G. Tunkara for Kantora seconded the motion.
The following day was scheduled to feature Parliamentary Debates on the ATT, however, the Minister of Defence and his counterpart from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had other plans to withdraw their motions.
The Gambia-Swiss Migration Agreement Withdrawn
The following day on 5th September 2023, the first agreement to be withdrawn was The Gambia-Swiss Migration Agreement. Relying on Standing Order 53 (k) which allows a motion to be filed without notice, Hon Tangara told Parliamentarians that his “Ministry did not seek for the ratification of The Gambia-Swiss Agreement. The Office of the Clerk requested from my Ministry, signed agreements relating to immigration which was shared following which we received an agenda with three items to be ratified including this agreement”.
Foreign Minister Tangara explained that some of the procedures to be followed before ratification have not been fulfilled which “includes [the agreement] being discussed at Cabinet level and at the Foreign Service Committee before it is brought to the Assembly. Furthermore, we have to pursue our national interest in whatever agreement we sign before agreeing it”. He added that “there are parts of the agreement that need to be fulfilled by the parties before it can be ratified by the National Assembly”. Seeking additional time, Hon Tangara requested for due process to be followed.
After his presentation, Speaker Jatta sought clarification if the motion was being withdrawn to which Minister Tangara said “I beg to withdraw it, Hon Speaker”. The motion to withdraw was seconded by Hon Abdoulie Ceesay, the member for Old Yundum. This was followed by a vote which was supported by the Majority of the members present.
After the vote, Speaker Jatta warned Minister Tangara to avoid future withdrawals of Bills in Parliament. Speaker Jatta warned, “Hon Minister, we would request that before documents are sent to Parliament it is seriously reviewed by the Executive to ensure that it follows all the relevant procedures before it’s tabled at Parliament”.
Arms Trade Treaty Withdrawn by Defence Minister
After The Gambia-Swiss Migration Agreement was withdrawn the Defence Minister followed the precedence set by the Foreign Minister. The second withdrawal started after Speaker Jatta explained that he was just informed that the Hon Minister of Defence wanted to take the podium to move a motion. Similarly, Defence Minister Njie took the podium begging “to move a motion under 53 (k), motion without notice for the withdrawal of the Arms Trade Treaty Agreement. The reason for the withdrawal is to allow us to proceed with the signing of the treaty and then later proceed with the ratification process of the ATT”.
Being the second withdrawal of the day, this meant that Parliament’s business was now being cut short and there were no further agenda items to discuss. Parliamentary tags could be seen raised by a number of representatives including Hon Sainey Jawara of Lower Saloum. However, the motion was swiftly seconded by Hon Omar Darboe for Upper Nuimi. Speaker Jatta then subjected the motion for withdrawal to a vote which received a majority vote in its favour.
Parliamentarians React to Double Withdrawals
After the motion was withdrawn Hon Lamin Ceesay for Kiang West was given the floor which he took advantage of to reiterate the Speakers statement that “it took members of Parliament’s time to look at documents. If the withdrawal is because of another reason, one could understand but just because the Cabinet could not exhaust the process that has to be done before reaching Parliament that [is] supposed not to be done. The Cabinet is supposed to do everything to ensure that what’s supposed to be done at the level of the Cabinet before requesting ratification [is done] but for that not to be done and bringing documents for ratification and the same day two withdrawals because the Cabinet failed to follow the due process is definitely unacceptable and I think this Parliament has to be respected for that …”.
At this stage, Speaker Jatta seized the floor and interjected to explain that “what we understand is [that] the Executive has the right to withdraw at any time. Parliament has the right to request the Executive to do A, B or C at any time. From what the Hon Minister said the process was incomplete and it was sent to Parliament and if you remember when the Foreign Minister was here that is what I told him that the executive must put their house in order before they send acts or bills to Parliament”.
Hon Sainey Jawara of Lower Saloum was then given the floor, however, he was not allowed to complete his statement. Soon after Minority Leader, Hon Alagie S Darbo for Brikama North moved a motion for the Finance and Public Accounts Committee to meet, review and adopt their report. The motion was granted after it was seconded by Hon Fatou Cham. There was some resistance from Hon Alagie B. Ceesay of Sabach Sanjal which was overruled by the Speaker of the House.
After granting the request for the Finance and Public Accounts Committee to meet, the Speaker of the House brought the sitting to a close amidst further resistance from the member for Kiang West who interrupted the Speaker saying “tell the Speaker that what he is doing is not correct”. The whole sitting lasted for less than an hour.