By Yusef Taylor, FlexDan_YT
During President Adama Barrow’s 2023 State of the Nation Address delivered to Gambia Parliamentarians on 8th June 2023, he boasted about reforms implemented since 2017 and unveiled some of his Legislative Plans for the 2023 Legislative year. The event was punctuated with two Points of Order from the Minority Leader, Hon Alhagie S. Darboe of Brikama North who highlighted that clapping was not permitted in Parliament and Hon Muhammed Kanteh for Busumbala who attempted to raise a motion without notice. Speaker Jatta upheld the first Point of Order and brushed aside the motion without notice after fierce debate.
In between these two interjections, the President delivered a marathon speech lasting over an hour which he described as “a precise outline of how [the] government fared during the 2023 legislative year, with highlights provided on key milestones, setbacks, plans, and legislative matters of direct importance to this Assembly”. It’s worth noting that this year’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) has come much earlier than usual.
Last year’s SONA took place in mid-September 2022, while the 2021 SONA also took place in early September 2021. Meanwhile, the 2020 SONA also took place in mid-September 2020. This is the first time since President Barrow took over, that the SONA has taken place in the first half of the year.
President Lauds Acts Passed
One of the Executive’s main activities which have direct importance to the National Assembly is the Bills tabled in Parliament by Cabinet Ministers. The President first highlighted that his government “has engaged in governance reforms” which “include enactment of new laws, such as the 2018 Central Bank Act, the Access to Information Law 2021, and the Public Procurement Act 2022”.
Focusing on the Access to Information Law 2021, President Barrow revealed that the Ministry of Information “will appoint Information Commissioners and establish an Information Commission Secretariat for the realisation of the ATI-21 objectives”. However, he did not specify a timeline for when Commissioner would be appointed. Highlighting the importance of the ATI, President Barrow believes that “the Act represents an enviable milestone in our democratisation process and serves as a vivid symbol of the leadership’s commitment to universal access to information”.
In total six Bills were passed in 2022 with three being passed by the Fifth Legislature namely; the Appropriation Act 2022, the Public Service Pension Act 2022 and the Information and Communication (Amendment) Act 2022. Another three Bills were passed after the Sixth Legislature was sworn in, in April 2022. These include the Appropriation (Amendment) Act 2022, the Gambia Public Procurement Act 2022, and the Capital Markets 2022.
Bills Tabled in Parliament
Turning his attention to delayed Bills, President Barrow reminded Parliamentarians that “the Anti-Corruption Bill is with this august Assembly for consideration”. The Anti-Corruption Bill was tabled on the same day as the Access to Information Act, however, the Anti-Corruption Bill has continued to languish in Parliament after a recent mistake by Justice Minister Jallow who submitted a wrong version of the Bill and failed to attend a sitting in Parliament during the term of the 5th Legislature.
The President also reminded Parliamentarians that “The Gambia Water Bill 2020 is available for enactment” which will repeal “the National Water Resources Council Act of 1979”. In addition to this is the Labour Act 2007, which has also been reviewed and “is awaiting a third reading by this august body”, according to The President. This means it has already been tabled in Parliament and in its final stages of Parliamentary approval. The President believes that the revised Act will encourage employment and “will bring our labour laws to ILO standard and facilitate labour administration in the country”.
Armed Forces Bill, Labour Act and Others Under Review
Besides the Bills passed and those to be tabled, the President highlighted a number of Bills which are being reviewed by the various sectors, however, he did not mention if they will be tabled this year. Some of the documents under review include the Terms and Conditions of Service for Officers and Soldiers, 1993 of The Gambia Armed Forces (GAF) and The Gambia Armed Forces Bill which will “replace the current act of 1985”.
Still on Defence, the Commander in Chief revealed that the “Immigration Service Bill was submitted to the Ministry of Justice for their input” and will be submitted to Parliament after Cabinet approval.
Turning his attention to Labour Regulations, the President announced that “the Injuries Compensation and Factories Act” is currently being revised and “will be submitted to” Parliament eventually.
The Executive has also constituted a Technical Committee to review The Gambia’s Consumer and Competition Culture and has been tasked to review “the Competition Act 2007 and the Consumer Protection Act 2014 for effective enforcement of the Act and promotion of a competition culture in the economy”.
Also in the pipeline is the Government’s plan to collaborate with the World Bank “under the USD 57 million West Africa Regional Digital Integration Programme (WARDIP)” to fund the improvement of “the connectivity and reliability of our communication infrastructure by investing in a second submarine cable”. President Barrow notified Parliamentarians that the financing agreement will be tabled in Parliament, however, he did not say when.
Bills Coming to Parliament in 2023
One Act which President Barrow mentioned is proposed for adoption “this Legislative year” is the “Start-ups Act” which is a framework that will “articulate provisions for start-ups and give the country’s youth more opportunities to reap the global digital dividends”.
Also, to be tabled this year is the Cybercrime Bill, Data Protection, and Privacy Bill. According to the head of State, “these bills will instil confidence and security for the safe use of our digital systems and services, as well as combat crime and criminal activities online”.
Other Bills which the President says “are under review to enhance the legal environment for youth and sports advancement” include “the Youth Bill and Sports Bill, the NYSS Act 2015, PIA Act 2015, and NEDI Act 2013”. It’s not clear if these Bills will be tabled in the 2023 Legislative Year or not.
On the international stage, The Gambia is a member of the African Union Parliament, ECOWAS Parliament and many more international bodies which places a responsibility on Parliament to domesticate legislation from these bodies. The President highlighted that “three important bills have been formulated, namely: the National Environment Management Bill, the Chemical Control and Management Bill, and the Waste Management Bill”. It’s also not clear if these bills will be tabled in the 2023 Legislative year.
Revised Constitution not Coming in 2023?
Last year, during the 2022 State of the Nation Address President Barrow mentioned that “the Constitution remains a top priority” for his government and “is determined to oversee the crafting of a new Constitution for The Gambia”. To do this the President tasked “the Ministry of Justice [to] resume work towards tabling a draft Constitution before this august Assembly”.
This year his statement highlights that more work is still needed before the revised Constitution will be tabled in Parliament. This suggests that the Constitution may not be tabled in Parliament in 2023. President Barrow noted that the Legal and Judiciary Sector “is working on the Constitutional Review Process. The process is guided by relevant legal and legislative considerations as well as our national interests. For now, it is essential to determine the necessary legislative amendments to support the next phase of the review process”.