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Statement by The Gambia Civil Society on the Dialogue over the Ongoing Consensus Building Process of the Rejected Final Draft Constitution 2020
Thursday, 24th December 2020 – TANGO Conference Hall, Fajara
The Gambia Civil Society Organisations and Trade Unions have with interest received news of the Government of The Gambia’s decision to revive the Final Draft Constitution through a national consensus-building process, three months after it failed to pass in the National Assembly. The Draft Constitution came on the heels of sustained desire of Gambians for a new constitution. Therefore, when the autocratic regime of former President Yahya Jammeh was ousted on 2nd December 2016, Gambians yearned for a new political chapter, which is founded on democracy, rule of law, good governance and republican values.
Generally, Gambians have recognised that the Constitution of The Gambia 1997 is in many ways deficient in providing a democratic and progressive dispensation, mainly because of the numerous undemocratic and self-serving amendments it was subjected to under the former regime. Following the democratic transition of power from the former government to a Coalition Government, Gambians legitimately anticipated a new Constitution that would among other things overhaul the 1997 Constitution and an array of bad laws used as tools to perpetuate autocracy and dictatorship. Both the Coalition 2016 led by President Adama Barrow that defeated ex-President Jammeh and a national consensus had agreed to implement a constitutional reform process that should lead to a Third Republic.
It was for this reason that most if not all Gambians welcomed the creation of the Constitutional Review Commission in 2018 as a mechanism to enable the country draft a new constitution within a wider framework of transitional justice – a process we as Civil Society considered as widely participatory and inclusive.
Civil Society Organisations, like many Gambians, were disappointed not only by the failure of the National Assembly to pass the Final Draft Constitution to its Third Reading, but also by the lack of a passionate drive by the Executive to defend a Bill it had sponsored. The draft Bill was rejected without a substantive debate on the substantive provisions. The rejection of the draft by a sizeable number of National Assembly Members in only its very First Reading is an indication of the absence of a political consensus among the Members. This, despite the fact that the draft constitution presented to the National Assembly, was the culmination of wide stakeholder consultations of Gambians at home and in the diaspora. As Civil Society, it is rather unfortunate that no meaningful concerted efforts were made by the stakeholders to chart a way forward in the aftermath of the Draft’s rejection.
We welcome and support the new efforts by the Government to revive the Final Draft Constitution through the support of International IDEA and former President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria as facilitators/mediator. We are hopeful this would unlock the key sticking points on the top contentious issues, thus brokering a common non-partisan ground in the national interest. However, we remain concerned about the process and its outcome. Our concern was borne out of the engagements we had with International IDEA on Monday, December 14th and with H.E. Jonathan on Friday, December 18th. On both occasions, we expressed our apprehensions and position on the process and outcome of the consensus-building effort. We hold that the Government, International IDEA and Mediator Goodluck Jonathan cannot tag the Civil Society as stakeholder and yet fail to avail it the ‘Issues and Options Document’ which was purposely prepared to guide the dialogue, despite our numerous requests. As a critical stakeholder in the process, we have not yet been availed the opportunity to meaningfully partake in the political dialogue initiated by the Government of the Gambia.
The inclusion and participation of civil society as a non-partisan entity is urgent, legitimate and critical to build a meaningful political consensus. It protects the legitimacy and integrity of the process and upholds the best interest of the citizenry.
The Gambian Civil Society strongly urges President Barrow, International IDEA and Mediator Goodluck Jonathan to ensure transparency, participation, inclusion and national consensus. For that matter, we hereby wish to state our position on the process and outcome for a new constitution:
1. The current process should be guided by the highest ideals of sincerity, honesty, transparency, and commitment to the national interest by all stakeholders;
2. Any New Draft Constitution must:
a. Uphold and guarantee the fundamental rights and freedoms of all Gambians, including justiciable socio-economic rights;
b. Uphold The Gambia as a sovereign republic based on modern democratic values and the Rule of Law, in which all citizens are equal in rights and dignity;
c. Guarantee a State with clear separation of powers between the three different organs of state and with a clear delineation of their respective powers and authority;
d. Unequivocally set presidential term limits to ensure no President serves beyond the two-term mandate (to prevent self-perpetuating rule);
e. Create adequate checks and balances to restrain power, ensure transparency, accountability and efficiency of public institutions and prevent abuse of office;
f. Empower the National Assembly, as the People’s representation, has all the necessary oversight powers to check the Executive and all other structures of the State to ensure that they adhere to the rule of law, perform their functions efficiently and effectively and prevent corruption;
g. Create and guarantee the secularity of the State in which the State will have the due obligation to protect the right of all citizens to freedom of belief and worship; and
h. Ensure a credible electoral process, pluralism and political participation that allow the people to fully exercise their franchise on constitutional and electoral decisions.
We, the civil society and trade unions, demand transparency, inclusion and accountability of the process which will be the basis for our participation. We wish to assure all Gambians that we will stand by and safeguard the best interest of the country in this process. To that end, we will not hesitate to take all and every necessary, legitimate, lawful and democratic action to guarantee and protect the sanctity of a Constitution that upholds the destiny of our motherland and becomes the solid foundation of our budding democracy.
Thank you for your kind attention.
God bless our dear Nation, The Gambia
Signed John Charles Njie, Chairperson of TANGO, Representing the Gambian Civil Society and Trade Unions