By Yusef Taylor, @FlexDan_YT
The Majority Leader of the Sixth Legislature informed fellow Parliamentarians that the Anti-Corruption Bill would bring sanity to our public sector and government institutions at the opening session of a closed-door retreat with Parliamentarians organised by pro-fiscal transparency civil society organisation, Gambia Participates. The session focused on “fostering understanding” on the “most important Bill” is currently underway at Bakadaji Hotel, today 24th July 2023.
Gambia Participates, Executive Director Marr Nyang, welcomed the presence of “the Ministry of Justice — to support the process. So, if there’s anything that any” Hon member needs clarification on, the forum can help with that.
The Anti-Corruption Bill was tabled in Parliament on the same day as the Access to Information Bill back in 2019. Since then, the Anti-Corruption Bill has faced numerous setbacks while the Access to Information Act made progress and was passed in 2021. The Anti-Corruption Bill is scheduled to return to Parliament in September 2023 for Parliamentarians to debate the remaining 67 clauses, after which it will face a vote, marking its final step in Parliament.
The Majority Leader, Hon Billay Tunkara of Kantora highlighted in his opening speech that “this Bill has been in Parliament for more than 4 years” and that some of the members have changed from the previous Parliament who had initially received the Bill.
AC-Bill is the Most Important Bill
According to Gambia Participates, Mr Nyang “there is no other Bill that is more important than the Anti-Corruption Bill because the Bill will be promoting our own value and our own culture”. He opined that “it is against our culture to have favouritism; it is against our culture for one person to misuse Osusu Money (Local Community Fund)”. In his view, if the Bill is passed “it will strengthen our own values, norms and culture”.
According to Mr Nyang, some 21 clauses have already been reviewed by Parliament in its final consideration stage leaving 67 clauses to be reviewed before the Bill is put to a vote.
Mr Nyang noted that given “all the things that are going on in this country, we cannot really move without an Anti-Corruption Legislation, something that will minimise the misuse of public wealth, promote accountability and so on and so forth”.
He made reference to the Ministry of Justice prosecuting Dr Bamba Banja for corruption when he said: “You’ve seen what the Ministry of Justice has been doing, they are prosecuting corruption cases which is really very encouraging because once there are sanctions it creates accountability”.
The Gambia Participates Executive Director explained that although “we have the Anti-Corruption Bill 2012, this Bill is more progressive because it corresponds to many treaties” pioneered by international bodies such as the AU, ECOWAS and National Laws [Economic Crimes Act] to combat corruption.
He concluded with the hope that “when Hon members go back to the National Assembly it will be easier because all the doubts will hopefully be cleared in this gathering and when you get to Parliament it will be more straightforward to move with the Bill”.
Retreat Will Not Take Parliament Back
The Deputy Clerk, Legal and Procedural Matters, Mr Kalipha Mbye clarified that “this is not a decision-making forum. We are just trying to bring everybody on board on some of the key salient issues that may arise in your decision making”. Mr Mbye explained that “the idea [of the retreat] is just to have a common platform today to see how the experts can take you through some of the clauses that may bring some controversial issues”.
Speaking on the next steps for the Anti-Corruption Bill Mr Mbye noted that Parliament “stopped at clause 21 [and] we are not necessarily going back to undo whatever was done. That’s sealed by parliament, from clause 1 to clause 21 has been sealed. Meaning the decision has been made already so it’s not this forum to decide that. So, we are moving forward. That’s for the benefit of all the members to understand”.
In an effort to avoid further delays to the Bill the Deputy Clerk noted that Parliament is “not going back to debate on issues that have already been settled. So today no matter how innovative Gambia Participates is by mocking Parliament, just bear in mind that whatever you may have today [common understanding] is not binding. You’re going back to Parliament and deciding on it officially”.
He thanked Gambia Participates for coming to the aid of Parliament to make the retreat possible.
AC-Bill Retreat Will Foster Understanding
The Majority Leader, Hon Billay Tunkara delivered the opening remarks for the session and thanked Gambia Participates for “honouring the request of Parliament to create an avenue for [NAMs] to Foster a common understanding”.
He noted that some members have changed from the Fifth Legislature who had initially received the Bill. This he believes warrants the retreat to ensure there is a common understanding between all Parliamentarians of the Sixth Legislature. Out of 53 elected Parliamentarians, there are a total of 33 newly elected NAMs, while only 20 have been re-elected.
Hon Tunkara explained that “the aim and objective of this retreat is to foster an understanding and also bring the Parliament at par in terms of understanding the nitty gritty of this Bill. Of course, when we resume in September we will create a full platform, members of Parliament to deal with the Bill according”.
He reminded his peers that the Anti-Corruption Bill is part of the government’s reform agenda: “When they came to power in 2016, they pledged to Gambians that they would bring in a reform process”.
He informed his colleagues that the “Anti-Corruption [Bill] is a chance to bring in confidence in our governance systems so that taxpayers will understand that there are rules and regulations dealing with public funds and no offender will go unpunished”. Given the work of the Commission, he highlighted the importance of the Anti-Corruption Commission to remain independent.
He concluded by noting that the Anti-Corruption Bill would “bring sanity in our Public Sector, bring sanity in our Institutions” and declared the retreat officially open.