By Arret Jatta and Yusef Taylor
In a move which has split public opinion, the Minority side of The Gambia’s Sixth Legislature boycotted the Former Presidents Office Bill after the Majority of members voted in favour of considering the Bill as a matter of urgency on Thursday 2nd November 2023.
At first, the Speaker of the House Hon Fabakary Tombong Jatta announced that “the noes have it” after he called for a vote without debate for the Former Presidents Office Bill to be considered as a matter of urgency. Upon hearing this, multiple members called for division forcing the Speaker to register the votes in favour and against the Bill to be considered as a matter of urgency. After the count, the Speaker announced that 30 members voted in favour of the Bill while only 17 members voted against the Bill and there were no abstentions. The results completed the turnaround as Hon Speaker Jatta finally declared that “the ayes have it”.
Most of the members who boycotted are from the United Democratic Party (UDP), the People’s Democratic Organisation for Independence and Socialism (PDOIS) and some Independent members. The Majority camp of members who stayed to vote on the Bill included members from the National Peoples Party (NPP), Independent members some of whom are affiliated with the No to Alliance Movement, the National Reconciliation Party (NRP) and the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC).
It can be recalled that members from both sides of the House had voted for the Victims Reparations Bill and the Ban from Public Office (TRRC) Bill on the first day of the Extra-Ordinary Session. However, that was not to continue as the Minority side decided not to participate in the debates after the Majority of the members voted in favour of the Former Presidents Office Bill.
The images in this publication show screenshots of the proceedings and how members voted in favour or against the Bill. Members shown with their tags up all voted in favour of the Bill to be considered as a matter of urgency.
Speaking to the media after walking out, UDP’s member for Brikama North, Hon Alagie S Darboe who is also the Minority leader explained that the reason for the boycott is a result of the vote that was taken to consider the Former Presidents Office Bill via a certificate of urgency from the President.
According to Hon Darboe, their “position on the certificate of urgency attached to the four bills that were presented to the national assembly for consideration is unjustifiable and unrealistic”. The Sixth Legislature had attended a five-day retreat organised by the Ministry of Justice just before the extraordinary session to discuss the four Bills which have all been passed with amendments.
Nonetheless, the Minority Leader enthused that the Minority caucus believes “that this should not be at a haste to call an extraordinary session to treat these bills that has no justification for urgency. And yesterday we attempted to put them through that there is no provision in the constitution that the president is supposed to advance reasons why he is calling for urgent laying of particular matters”.
After the Speaker of the House observed that some members had vacated the Chambers in protest, he decided to review the number of members present to ensure Parliament had a Quorum to proceed with the business of the day. Hon Speaker Jatta referred to the National Assembly’s Standing Orders which requires at least half of the members to be present for the session to start. This was confirmed with at least 47 members present at the beginning.
However, Hon Speaker Jatta continued to quote Standing Order 12 (2) which reads “If at any time the attention of the Speaker is directed to the fact that there is less than ¼ of the members present including the Speaker, he or she shall direct members to be summoned by the ringing of the division bell. If after the expiration of 2 minutes the quarter of the members are not present, he or she shall immediately without question put either;
(a) suspend the sitting to a later time not exceeding one hour, or
(b) adjourn the assembly until the next sitting”.
After reading out the relevant section Hon Speaker Jatta called on the Clerk who confirmed that the number of members present was 33 which allowed the session to continue. Speaker Jatta explained that had there been less than 15 members in the Chambers the session would be ground to a halt. Therefore, the session continued and the Former Presidents Office Bill was approved with amendments.
Another member who decided to walk out was PDOIS’ member for Wulli East, Hon Suwaibou Touray who told the media that “this is a very bad bill, the fact that a former president will still be entitled to presidential benefits namely his family, travels, per diems, vehicles, among others and all these will be taken from the taxpayers’ money then it should really be considered as a bad bill.”
“If other countries that are more developed than The Gambia are not implementing such bills then a poor country like ours should not be giving [the] green light to such bill for the best interest of our citizens” said Hon Touray.
Explaining his reasons for walking out Hon Touray says they “do not want to associate with things that [they] feel will not be in the best interest of Gambians and that is why we decided not to take part in the session. They believe they can use their numbers against us, to do anything they feel like doing thus we will not be a party to that. We want the bills to come the normal way and be given to relevant committees to scrutinize, do necessary consultations and report back and we put the input of the people diligently.”
Bills are usually delegated to a Parliamentary committee or joint committees which in turn conduct their sittings. Sittings are the stage the committees invite experts and stakeholders of the Bills after which their report is submitted to the Plenary. After the Plenary is satisfied with the Report and adopts the report with or without amendments, the Plenary then sits as a committee of all the members to consider the Bill proper. The report is then used as a reference to guide the amendments to the Bill. After it passes the final reading, it is then approved. This process can take months and in some instances years, just like the Anti-Corruption Bill. However, when a certificate of urgency from the President is accompanied with the Bill, then the Bill can be debated and considered on the same day.
In this case, the National Assembly voted in favour of considering the Former Presidents Office Bill as a matter of urgency.