By Yusef Taylor, @FlexDan_YT
The National Assembly Member (NAM) for Lower Nuimi, Hon Mahtarr M. Jeng stressed that Parliament confirming the appointment of Cabinet Ministers is a positive Constitutional provision which will enable Parliament to help the President. During his contribution on the Second Reading of the Constitution Bill 2020, the United Democratic Party (UDP) lawmaker was queried by two expelled UDP NAMs in Hon Billay Tunkara and Hon Alhagie Jawara. The parliamentarian revealed that the National Assembly’s recently revised standing order was cut and pasted from numerous countries.
The Gambia’s National Assembly is currently debating the Constitution Bill 2020 which is expected to usher in the Gambia’s Third Republic. Justice Minister Hon Dawda Jallow laid the Constitution Bill for the First Reading on Monday 14th September 2020 and the Second Reading commenced the following Tuesday and Wednesday. This article focuses on the contribution of Hon Mahtarr M. Jeng. If the National Assembly passes the Bill after its second and third reading it will trigger a Constitutional Referendum which the Independent Electoral Commission has scheduled to take place on Saturday 5th June 2021.
We Cut and Paste the National Assembly Standing Orders
The NAM from North Bank region started by commending the work of the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) which drafted the Constitution. “We have to recognise respect and give regard to what we have,” he said.
Speaking to critics of the Bill that claim the Constitution is a copy and paste job he revealed that “the standing orders. Am sure we did not tell you but you must have learnt that we cut and pasted a lot of things from Uganda, the same Kenya, Ghana and also Britain. You cut and paste so that you could increase your knowledge.”
Next, he turned his attention to the appointment of Cabinet Ministers. In his view, the Draft Constitution has been written in a manner that “Parliament [will be] helping the President to confirm his appointment” of Cabinet Ministers.
Hon Jeng lamented the fact that the Independent Electoral Commission had not conducted a By-Election since the death of their colleague, Hon. Demba Sowe of Niamina West. This proved his belief that “the type of people the President puts in position should be vetted”.
Observation and Point of Order Overruled
Hon Jeng warned fellow lawmakers “if ever we think we are going to get any document which satisfies our complete need we are mistaken. We are done for.”
Midway through his speech he meet some stiff resistance from Hon Billay Tunkara soon after he opined that “we are not going to take it as a contention that you [NAMs] will go to reject this [Constitution Bill]. This is a golden opportunity”.
Immediately Hon Billay Tunkara raised a point of observation which was blocked by the Hon Mahtarr Jeng who declined to allow Hon Tunkara to make his observation. Hot on the heels, Hon Alhagie Jawara followed up with a point of order adamant that “section 29 of the standing order states that every member shall restrict his or her observation to the subject under discussion and what we are discussing is the merits and principles of the draft bill but not about what he is saying beating around the bush.”
The Speaker quickly overruled Hon Alhagie Jawara’s point of order explaining that “if I get him [Hon Jeng] right, he is talking about general merits and principles of vetting. Whether it is right, or it is wrong, but that’s how I see it. [waves both hands].” The Speaker proceeded to allow Hon Jeng to continue his contribution.
As he took the floor to speak one NAM shouted out “you are running out of time” prompting the Speaker to ask “Hon member for Basse are you presiding or what? No! I am allowing him to proceed. Thank you.”
Support Without Omission
Still highlighting more merits in the Constitution Bill, the North Bank Region NAM welcomed separation of powers saying “is very necessary as is provided. It is going to help us.” He recalled that a few NAMs “talked about the autonomy of parliament which is going to perhaps help us tomorrow not to lean too much on the Executive. We will be having that mandate that authority. If our institution is independent, then we will have more powers to adopt our oversight.”
One of the changes which he also welcomed was the change of the Gambia Police Force to the Gambia Police Service. This he believes has the potential to change the way people relate with Security Officers.
One of the areas which he feels needs a “thorough studies and interaction” is the section on citizenship. He believes “that those in forefront of preparing the documents for citizenship will understand their roles in coming up with the conformity to what the provision says.”
On the other hand, he lamented that it’s too long to wait five years for local languages to be implemented, raising the question “what is the essence of the change?”
Finally, in his view “decentralisation is also another important issue to be addressed. Our councils, our municipalities are crying foul because they are being marginalised by the government. The impact is going to a lot more felt down at the local government level.” He stressed some lessons learned from the Covid 19 Pandemic lamenting that “Government does not provide us with this. We don’t have. Even if they have the funds.”
Hon Mahtarr Jeng concluded by pledging his “tacit support to this document without an omission.”