Statement by the Chairperson, Justice Cherno Sulayman Jallow, QC
January 30th 2019, Kotu The Gambia
Good Morning, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen of the Media,
On behalf of my fellow Commissioners, I want to first of all welcome you all to the Secretariat of the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) and to this CRC- Media dialogue. This is the fourth in a series of dialogue between the CRC and the media which serves as a forum for the CRC and the media to have an open and interactive exchange about the important work that we are jointly engaged in as part of the constitutional review process.
Let me reiterate the CRC’s commitment to continue, enhance and sustain the cordial and mutually supportive relationship that the CRC has established with the media since the commencement of the CRC’s work. We recognize the crucial and strategic role the media play in informing, educating and providing opportunities to Gambians to ensure that they participate constructively in the constitution-making process. From the very onset of the CRC’s establishment, the CRC institutionalized an open door policy by making information readily available to the media to facilitate the media’s work of providing factual, accurate and timely information about the review process and to cover all public outreach activities, civic education and the public consultation processes. In addition, we have always tried to accommodate the media’s requests for interviews, especially during the public consultation tours. As a Commission, we acknowledge your commitment and value the partnership that we have. With the mutual trust and confidence we have built together in the last several months, this partnership can only grow stronger and the CRC is humbly grateful for the relationship.
Today’s forum is part of our media engagement strategy to exchange, update and clarify issues relating to the work of the CRC, some of the challenges, and the way forward.
SCOPE OF WORK
As part of its mandate, the CRC had embarked on a series of public consultations from November 5th 2018 to January 26th 2019 – a period spanning over three months. The public consultations entailed direct interface with Gambian communities around the country to discuss issues related to constitutional reform and to establish public opinion on matters that Gambians wish to contribute towards the building of a new Constitution. The public consultations involved face to face dialogue with communities, Schools and individuals; in addition, faceto face dialogue was held in Focused Group Discussions (FGDs) with women, youth and men and the CRC administered questionnaires in all the neighbouring villages around the venues at which public consultations were held. The consultations covered 104 (one hundred and four) communities country-wide.
- The CRC, in its quest to be inclusive as far as possible and recognising the importance of the youth population as tomorrow’s leaders, has been engaging students through school consultations. To date, 30 (thirty ) schools throughout the seven administrative regions of The Gambia have been consulted and the level of participation and engagement has been extremely high and impressive. These consultations would ensure that a new Gambian Constitution is designed and developed upon the basis and spirit of all-inclusiveness, participation and ownership.
- The CRC would like to register its appreciation to all Gambians who participated actively in the public consultations for their invaluable contributions or simply attended the public consultations to express quiet support and give value to the constitutional review process. Special mention must be made of the exemplary role and commitment that communities in the rural areas played during the public consultations. Despite the end of the farming season and the chores related to harvesting, they found time and space to attend public consultations in large numbers and showed a high level of commitment, interest and dedication to the whole constitutional review process. The Regional Governors, particularly in the North Bank Region, Central River Region and Lower River Region participated and attended nearly all the consultations that took place in their regions and were very supportive of the process in their respective regions. The Chiefs demonstrated sterling leadership in the manner they organised their respective communities to participate effectively in the public consultations and the CRC cannot thank them enough. In like manner, the Alkalos, Youth leaders, Women leaders and Area Councilors also rendered their full support to the public consultation process for which the CRC is enormously grateful.
- The public consultations also involve, among others, written contributions, responses to questionnaires, thematic reviews and contributions through the CRC website : (https://crc220.org) The website is designed to be a one-stop-shop for all materials the public will require from the Commission; the 1997 Constitution, CRC Issues Document, CRC Act 2017 and FAQs 1 and 2. The website is also linked to all the CRC social media platforms and all activities and updates on those platforms can also be seen on the website. The general public has been submitting comments and suggestions directly to the CRC official email addresses (firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com) which were facilitated by the CRC’s ICT Unit.
- The Commission has received and is processing position papers submitted by Gambians and other stakeholders in hard copies and through the CRC website. As at 31st December, 2018, written submissions had been received from the following categories of stakeholders:
- 7 Religious Bodies
- 5 Educational Institutions
- 9 Government Bodies
- 17 Non-Governmental Organizations
- 3 Inter-Governmental Organizations
- 51 submissions from Individuals
- 1 Political Party
In addition to these, the CRC has received numerous opinions online and has been reviewing opinions expressed through the social media and the print media.
The deadline for the submission of written opinions was the end of December 2018 and the CRC wishes to thank all those who took the initiative to be a part of the constitution-building process. We value their contributions and assure them that their opinions will be seriously considered along side the views and opinions expressed by others, including opinions gathered during the public consultations that just ended on 26th January, 2019.
- The consultative process would also incorporate the views and aspirations of Gambians living in the Diaspora and it will cover some countries in Africa, Europe and some states in the United States of America. We have prepared the following preliminary draft which is currently under review through dialogue with the Hon. Attorney General.
- In Africa, Senegal and Mauritania have been listed; Angola is under review;
- In Europe, the listed cities are London (UK), Barcelona (Spain), Paris (France), Stockholm (Sweden), Berlin (Germany) and Brussels (Belgium);
- In the USA, the listed cities are New York (NY), Atlanta (GA), Washington DC (DC), Seattle (WA) and Minneapolis (MN).
- The CRC hopes to be in a position to finalise the list of venues for the public consultations with Gambians in the Diaspora and to publish the final list as soon as we are able to confirm the availability of funding for that aspect of our public engagement.
- In order to ensure that all Gambians and each community has the opportunity to express opinion on the constitution-making process, the CRC will provide a separate platform whereby individuals and communities that feel that their views may not have been adequately represented at the public consultations to seek special audience with the CRC and we will do our best to accommodate them. Individuals who wish to meet directly with the CRC are encouraged to contact the Secretariat to arrange an appointment with a designated Commissioner or Commissioners. Alternatively, they can meet directly with the CRC’s Regional Coordinators stationed at all the Regional Governors’ offices and in KMC (for both KMC and Banjul) to present their opinions which will be communicated directly to the CRC Headquarters. This process is now open and will continue until the end of February 2019.
- During the public consultations, a number of issues contained in the CRC’s Issues Document were discussed and people gave their views and opinions. Key among the issues that surfaced were Citizenship, Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, Elections, Local Government Structures and Empowerment, the Executive, the need to establish service commissions for Health, Education, and Agriculture and the Environment, the Legislature, Representation of Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities, declaration of assets, the use of local languages in the National Assembly, Public Finance, political party finance, National Youth Service Scheme and security of tenure for the offices of the Auditor General, Governor of the Central Bank of The Gambia, and chief executives of the Public Enterprises. A host of pertinent emerging issues were also raised by the communities ranging from issues related to foreign investors in The Gambia, acquisition of land by housing estate agents and its negative effects on communities’ livelihoods and grazing lands for animals, access to health care service, education and other basic services, farmers’ lack of access to markets, women’s ownership of and access to land, and youth unemployment; this is just to mention a few.
However, the sum of the most pertinent issues raised by the Gambian community at large relates to concerns about the governance of the country. It is an understatement to say that Gambians generally have lost faith in government – and that is any government. The CRC public consultations process afforded many with a rare opportunity to vent their frustrations at how government is administered. They do not trust the educated class that they seem to view as untrustworthy, greedy, unreliable and without conscience; one even indicated that he does not trust his educated sons because of how he has seen them amass their wealth. Some amongst them have even called for farmers to lead this country. And what was striking in all of these engagements was the absence of political partisanship. People spoke with knowledge and respect and expressed the hope that the educated class will use their positions to truly develop this country and rural Gambia.
The CRC recognises the importance of managing public expectations. The new Constitution cannot embrace everything. However, the people we have consulted with have spoken and we have listened. The CRC Act 2017 mandates us to do that and take their aspirations into account in writing the new Constitution. We will commence that process as soon as we are able to undertake and complete the dialogue with the Gambian Diaspora.
It is important to note that while the public consultations were taking place, a number of Information, Education and Communication activities were also organized to ensure continuous sensitization and engagement on the constitutional review process. The CRC- NCCE Joint team carried out a series of community sensitization programmes throughout the length and breadth of The Gambia. With the full cooperation of the NCCE headed by their Chairperson , Alhaji Sering Fye, the team concluded a nation-wide pre-consultation tour covering the seven administrative regions in The Gambia to sensitize Governors, traditional rulers, women and youth representatives on matters concerning the Constitution as they relate to and/or affect the people within their regions as well as to develop a partnership with these regional leaders whereby their communities remain engaged and sensitised on matters of constitutional review leading up to the finalisation of the draft new Constitution.
- Radio and TV spots and programmes were broadcast on both public, private and community stations. Musical caravans and shows promoting the work of the CRC and the constitutional review process took centre stage in the review process and will continue throughout the process. Musical groups such as Gom Sa Bopa, Black Stars Entertainment, S. T. Brikama Boyo and Kanyeleng Group of Nyarko Manjang developed informative and educative audio visual messages on the review process promoting participation, inclusiveness and ownership.
Establishment of Technical Committees
The CRC Act mandates the establishment of Technical Committees to facilitate the work of the CRC. The Technical Committees will be composed of members of the CRC and persons outside the CRC with expertise in the subject matter of each Committee. The implementation of the mandate of the CRC would require technical expertise and particular attention to be given to certain technical aspects relating to the work of the CRC. Technical Committees and consultants (where they are considered necessary) will be expected to engage in research and review work for the CRC and will offer advice on the issues referred to them by the CRC.
Continuous Domestic Engagements
Engagements will continue at national level with Professional Bodies, Trade Unions, Pressure groups, Business Interest Groups, Religious Bodies, Educational Establishments, Student Bodies, Civil Society Organizations, Non- Governmental Organisations, Political Parties, Government Institutions and International Organisations to add value to the constitution-making process.
In collaboration with International IDEA, the CRC has developed an online survey tool (a questionnaire) aimed at soliciting the views of Gambians both in the country and in the Diaspora on key constitutional law issues. The platform is at an advanced stage of development and when completed it will be linked to the CRC website. That notwithstanding, the statisticians, researchers with support from other CRC staff have been conducting surveys within and outside communities targeted for the public consultations, based on identified enumeration areas (EAs). The relevant sample size for the entire country has been pegged at 9,263 respondents. The CRC will be conducting a survey independently of public consultations in March 2019.
What are some of our challenges?
- Financial independence- In accordance with the CRC Act, 2017, the funds of the CRC are to consist of monies appropriated to it by the National Assembly and donations received from any lawful source approved by the Minister. The CRC, through support from the Attorney General’s Chambers and Ministry of Justice, has established two independent CRC bank accounts with the Central Bank of The Gambia. The Central Bank is faced with the challenge of issuing cheque books to its customers, including the CRC, due to some internal perennial problems we do not comprehend. This in turn is posing unnecessary processes and procedures which meant, for instance, large monetary withdrawals during the public consultations phase; this involved unnecessary risks and posed challenges for accountability. As this unhelpful arrangement continues, it continues to potentially slow down the progress of our work with challenges for ensuring proper efficiency and effectiveness.
Ladies and Gentlemen of the Press, before I conclude, let us quickly remind ourselves once again that the mandate of the CRC is to draft a new Constitution for the Republic of The Gambia and to prepare a report in relation to the draft Constitution. As a Commission, we recognise that the objective we are embarked upon is a national one in which all interests have to be received and considered. Let me reiterate, once again, that the CRC is independent and does not represent any particular interest group. The CRC will ensure that the process is guided by the core values of Participation, Inclusiveness, Representation, Transparency and National Ownership in order to produce a sound Constitution which reflects the collective values and aspirations of all Gambians and our stakeholders.
Ladies and Gentlemen of the Media, I thank you very much for honouring this invitation and we look forward to more interactions with you in the future.
Thank You for your time and attention.