By Hon. Suwaibou Touray responding to a Social Media Comment
My Take on The D585 Million Supplementary Appropriation Bill, 2018
I am compelled to clarify issues regarding my decision on the 2nd Supplementary Appropriation Bill that was tabled for consideration by the national Assembly amounting to 585 million dalasis because of your misplaced comment I read in Facebook.
First of all I would like to clarify that this is a completely different bill from the 1.2 Billion dalasi one that was earlier rejected by the assembly in my absence. As I said during my contribution I would have gone by the suggestion of the Finance and Accounts Committees decision to consider part of the bill and not to reject the whole as there were some legitimate items in the Bill.
Now, lets move on the legality of the bill. According to Section 153 of the 1997 Constitution “ (1) Subject to section 154, if in respect of any financial year it is found that the amount appropriated under the Appropriation Act is insufficient or that a need has arisen for a purpose for which no amount has been appropriated by that Act, a supplementary estimate showing the sums required shall be laid before the National Assembly before the expenditure has been incurred.
(2) Where a supplementary estimate or estimates have been approved by the National Assembly, a Supplementary Appropriation Bill shall be introduced into the National Assembly for the appropriation of the sums approved.
Now, as far as I know the sums requested in this bill have not been incurred and the bill has been introduced to the House and laid before the Assembly.
Has the Bill been gazetted?
According to Standing Orders Government Bills should be gazetted but it has provided exceptions in Standing Orders, Section 73 (1) which states “Supplementary Appropriation Bills shall be dealt with by the Assembly in the same way as Government Bills which are not concerned with appropriations except that such bills may be introduced by the Vice President or Secretary of State without notice and they shall be committed to the Committee of Supply at the Committee stage”.
So as you can see as long as the Supplementary Appropriation Bill is introduced by the Vice President or Secretary of State it does not necessarily have to be gazzeted or notice to be given to the House.
According to Section 51 of the Standing Orders,” Every Government Bill shall be accompanied by a memorandum signed by the Vice President or the Secretary of State responsible stating the objects of, and reasons for, the Bill”.
As far as I know, this has been adhered to by the Minister of Finance.
Now the next thing to be considered by NAMs is whether the Bill has merit which should determine whether it should be considered even before approval is made. Well the Assembly had accepted to entertain it for consideration because they thought it has some merit.
The items in the Bill are all arears government has incurred over time such as NAWEC arears to government for consuming power in its departments and ministries and agencies without settling their bills which includes even the National Assembly and NAWEC needs part of this sums to pay KAR POWER the rent due to it to continue their service so as not to disrupt the continuous supply of electricity and not bring back load shedding. It also deals with fertilizer subsidies to farmers in the 2017 and 2018 seasons which government should pay to the GGC for them to also make orders for the 2019 farming season. It also includes salaries and allowances of soldiers and police and teachers which government incurs over time for various reasons. The bill also entail airlifting of Cuban doctors for their annual leave and allowances due to them which was rejected during the Committee of the whole House and therefore excluded from the sum appropriated.
So I am part of those National Assembly members who voted Yes because I believe that the items highlighted above are legitimate and genuine because debts are statutory and therefore obligatory and government must adhere to agreements and in this case any further delay in payment of these arears may disrupt the normal services provided by these very institutions.
To address your personal concerns such as late introduction of the Bill, you should understand that once the majority leader and the minority leader agree for the introduction of such bills the minister is allowed to do so. Once it is seconded and there is no other motion to counter it the bill is then read a second time. For your information, notice has been given by the minister 3 days before its introduction and the minister had attempted its introduction during those 3 days without success because of lack of time. On the day it was introduced, the Assembly was working on the Basic and Secondary Education Bill up to 1.30AM while the Finance minister was sitting and waiting to eventually deal with his bill. The members knew and were in spirit to deal with all pending and urgent matters since the session was about to end. Members were ready to complete all unfinished businesses knowing that it is their responsibility to do so and had accepted to stay for another 2 hours to deal with the Bill to solve certain urgent problems which I think is very positive.
For your information, according to the Standing Orders, the House sits from 10AM to 1PM but if the House wants to work beyond that time frame a member must move a Motion that the House sits beyond 1PM. And if that is seconded and endorsed the House continues to sit until some member move a Motion that the House adjourn at a certain time and seconded. So the House has accepted to continuing sitting up to 3pm to complete unfinished businesses and no one has imposed that on them.
Other questions came to play later after the Bill has been passed such as whether the Speaker has right to have a casting vote, etc. There is no doubt that the Speaker has no right to vote not to talk of a casting vote. I used my mic and shouted that it was wrong for her to vote during the committee stage but it was late and members had dispersed.
Anyway, some members were with the believe that when the Speaker serves as a Chair to the Committee of the Whole House she should have a right to vote as well as have a casting vote. But If one follows the procedure in Section 46 (1) and Section 74 of the Standing Orders relating to processing Bills at the Committee of Supply, it is not stated anywhere that when the Speaker serves as the Chair of the Committee of the Whole House he/she has a right to vote.
My conviction is that the Speaker mistakenly or rather deliberately voted to abuse her powers by wrong relying on Section 75 (5) of the Standing Orders which is dealing with Committees such as Standing, Select and Special Select Committees. It reads: “Decisions in Committees shall be by majority vote, and the Chairperson of every Committee shall, in the case of an equality of Votes, have a casting Vote in addition to his or her original Vote”.
There is a clear distinction between ordinary committees and a Committee of the whole House.
The ordinary Committees where Chairs can use their casting vote includes:
- a Committee of Selection;
- a Public Accounts Committee;
- a Standing Orders Committee;
- an Assembly Committee;
- a Standing Committee of Priviledges;
- a Committee of Defence and Security;
- a Public Appointments Standing Committee;
- a Foreign Affairs Committee; and
- an Advisory Committee to advice the President of the Republic.
The Assembly also has the right to create any new Standing or Select Committee they deem fit such as Oversight committees such as Agriculture, environment, NGO affairs and Sustainable Development and so on.
So if any member of the Assembly is a Chair of any of these Committees he/she can vote and can exercise right to casting vote in case of equality of Votes.
Some Members Absent
Well, if you are aufait with the procedure of the Gambia National Assembly you will appreciate that when the House is to resume at any stage, the Speaker or the Clerk must ensure that there is a quorum which I know was perfectly done before resumption in this case. However, some members do move out during sessions for various reasons and they have nobody to blame BUT THEMSELVES if any decision is made in their absence. It is unparliamentary behaviour for members to absent themselves during sittings or move out of the House to have side chats while Parliament is on session. Those who stayed up to 3AM or the entire proceedings have done the right thing and should be applauded for it.
Finally, members of the House are not voting as blocks but as individual members who each tries to consider Bills on their own regarding procedure and merit putting of course the national interest and one’s conscience at the fore front of one’s mind. As far as opinions in the House are concerned, no member should impute motives on what others do or say during debates but should respect each other’s opinions. I also want to inform your medium that my decision was not based on any political considerations but rather based on whether the bill serves the interest of the Gambian people or not especially that of my constituents. As I said in my deliberation, I have made my prior investigation to verify whether those items are legit or not which has also influenced my decision.