Separation of Powers: Checks and Balances to Optimise The Gambia’s Fledgling Democracy


By, Gibril Saine, @GibbySaine

The principle of ‘separation of powers’ denotes the division of political power of the state into three (3) distinct branches of government – legislative, executive and judiciary. Put simply, that means the splitting of government responsibilities into a power-sharing arrangement so that no one single branch may exercise total control. In the United States, it is a fundamental pillar of the governance process in the operability of democratic functions. The idea here is such that each one of the three arms of government has some measure of influence over the other two. A leverage, however imbalanced, is created thus a check & block on policy decisions or executive conduct deem unlawful.

In the Gambia – the executive consists of the president, cabinet ministers, regional governors, the entire security apparatus of the state & various bureaucracies attached to it. Although it proposes laws, the executive cannot make them. The law-making power of the state is strictly reserved for parliament engaged in smart debate to amend, adopt or reject proposals altogether. That shows the power of an ‘independent’ house, and that each member of the legislature has the power to initiate a ‘bill’ touching on every aspect of our lives, from taxation, trade, defence, policing, extractive industries, international agreements among others. The final bolt to the power triangle is the Judicial branch, consisting of a supreme court is the highest court in the land. The function of the Judiciary is to interpret the law as stipulated in the constitution through wise judges, judgements & discretion. It may also act as a bridge between the legislature and executive branch to resolve disputes on contentions of the law – and to oversee a trial in an impeachment proceeding against a sitting president on charges of malpractice & abuse of political office – unchartered territory for The Gambia, what a lesson to learn and discern:

The concept of checks and balances is a direct consequence of separation of powers. In other words, it is two sides of the same coin, hence one cannot stand without the other, or democracy may falter. It is a distinguished feature of prosperous democratic states around the world, and a yardstick upon which good governance indicators are measured. For The Gambia to be classed as a true democracy, each of the three organs of government must exercise oversight on the actions of the other two. Such overlapping of power is what is referred to as checks and balances – enhancing transparency & leverage within the system.

In British politics, parliamentary system of democracy resides designed on ‘fusion of powers’ typology premised on collective responsibility. To young students out there, that means members of the cabinet (ministers) also sit in parliament to debate and defend government policy; the chief architects of new ‘bills’, those cabinet ministers are expected to agree on policy decisions, ‘bite-your-tongue’ or resign. And resign they do from time to time, on principle or ethical grounds. The case of the former foreign minister, Robin Cook, comes to mind who resigned refusing to agree to the Blair government’s stance on the Iraq war. How rightful he really was! And what a credible man he indeed was – a man of high ethics.

In an interview with #FatuRadioNetwork, the leader of opposition GDC political party, honourable Mama Kandeh, spoke candidly on the state-of-affairs thus far, under president Adama Barrow. The man does care for The Gambia, a skillful politician, sincere towards the poor. Previous differences and concerns about the honourable leader are long gone, for he has proven himself to be competent. One thing for sure, a supposedly ‘President Kandeh’ will not have a youth movement, for The Gambia already has a ‘national youth council’. His wife will not start a foundation, for Kandeh likes to move around meet with ordinary Gambians, to address their concerns and needs. He will not open an ‘investment desk’ at the state house, because he has previous government experience – let GIEPA fulfil its remit.

The GDC leader had intimated that ‘convicts ought not to be allowed to serve in government’, as scribed in the law-book. I think all conscious-driven Gambians agree to that – calling on the ad hoc panel on constitutional reform to reflect such good texts in the draft. Despite the cynicism, one was still taken-aback certain people find time questioning Kandeh’s benevolence as ‘politicking’. That is the sad part of the era we live, social media warriors; but then again, where are we heading The Gambia, if one won’t even acknowledge the tremendous effort, just because the adversarial camp sports a different ‘team’?! To be clear, the GDC party leader has every right to step on every inch of Gambian soil fraternise with the people. Although the tradition of democracy is such that one-government-at-a-time, Kandeh was fulfilling the role expected of an opposition – so I encourage more of that, not less!

Still, on governmental setup & powerplay, president Barrow has the power to negotiate treaties, though parliament must approve them before befit binding. He is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, thou cannot declare war or take the Gambia into conflict without parliamentary approval. The Gambia government is a creation of the people, by and for the people, thus presidential power ought to be in check, watched under permanent scrutiny. That is the sort of democracy under mould by a rising intelligentsia designed under utilitarianism ideology & win-win values.

As a matter of urgency – I call on parliament to summon the finance minister to provide an explanation on the ‘excitable’ €1.4 billion donor pledge. The Gambian people expect scrutiny over the deal – incumbent upon the government to explain terms and conditions on loans/grants/debt divide, among others. The speaker of the house, Mariam Jack Denton, must maintain neutral if Gambia’s democracy is to stick, advance and thrive. I’m serious here, and I mean it – for the public expect certain standards.

And I am pleased to say that one has been consistent from day one articulating the Gambia case and story. Sincere gratitude to the press, civil servants especially our teachers and nurses; our farmers, personnel of the police and army serving ‘national interest’. We are proud of you all. In life generally, I came to realise lack of moral compass has led to Gambia’s many problems. The country has had very dishonest business people, who need to realise that money is not the be-all and end-all. Very careful with words here, that foreign Lebanese interest engaged in the Gambian market need to respect laws, not offer bribes for contracts, at the container port & all that.

The Gambia, there is more to life than money, urging civil servants to report instances of corruption. Because, if the ‘Singapore’ city-state dictum is to materialise, for a transparent, democratic & prosperous Gambia we all want, the Coalition-government need to execute ‘smart power’ in the implementation of its ‘national development plan’ – as poverty numbers exacerbate for a frustrated public left asking questions.

‘EID MUBARAK’ to all Muslims in advance.


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