By Yusef Taylor, @FlexDan_YT
After mixed messages on the status of the Draft Constitution by two of President Adama Barrow’s most recent State of the Nation Address (SONA), it was up to Justice Minister Dawda A. Jallow to respond to Parliament’s inquiry on the fate of the Draft Constitution.
During the Parliamentary Questions and Answers Session soon after the 2023 SONA in June last month, Justice Minister Jallow revealed that the Drafting Process by the Constitutional Review Commission was “all-inclusive” and that the Government did not pay attention to the Political Process which resulted in the failure of the Draft Constitution.
Just last month in early June 2023 during President Barrow’s 2023 SONA, he left many people wondering if the Draft Constitution will be reintroduced in Parliament this year when he said:
The Justice “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”.
In a message which inspired no urgency or hints that the Draft Constitution was a “top priority” for his government, President Barrow’s 2023 SONA on the Draft Constitution was much more blase.
It was only in September 2022 when President Barrow told Parliamentarians that “the Constitution remains a top priority, my government is determined to oversee the crafting of a new Constitution for The Gambia; therefore, the Ministry of Justice will resume work towards TABLING A DRAFT CONSTITUTION before this august Assembly”.
The mixed messages forced Hon Momodou L. B. Bah of Banjul North to question the Minister of Justice “on the status of the Draft Constitution and why the Executive cannot still introduce it to the National Assembly for Consideration?”
In response, Justice Minister Jallow started by explaining that;
“Following the failure of the Draft Constitution to pass the [third reading]. We realised that while the public consultation was elaborate there was minimal engagement with Political Actors. This gave rise to an urgent need to initiate political dialogue. In this regard, mediation was seen as the most desirable option”.
It’s important to note that the Draft Constitution failed at the Second Reading and not at the Third Reading as stated by the Justice Minister. The Draft Constitution was not subject to clause-by-clause scrutiny before its Third Reading. Our media house published an article on the failure of the Draft Constitution which can be accessed in the link below.
The Justice Minister revealed that “the Attorney General was given Cabinet approval to negotiate slash mediate the said draft with the Political Actors and other stakeholders. The Ministry felt the need to engage with its Traditional Partners and as such reached out to International IDEA an international NGO which has done a lot of work in the Gambia and internationally on Constitutional matters”.
“Our choice of IDEA is due to the belief that being an independent Institution and having the expertise in Constitutional building process. They are the best partner to accompany us in the mediation process. We are therefore partnering with them in supporting the mediation process amongst the Political actors towards the success of the Draft Constitution”.
International IDEA made numerous efforts to revive the Draft Constitution, with their most notable effort seeing Political Leaders travel to Nigeria for a Mediation talk led by former Nigerian President HE Goodluck Johnathan. However, the talks could not progress as the Draft Constitution remained on the sidelines ever since.
Minister Jallow in responding to the question on the status of the Draft Constitution explained that “it is important to note that the Ministry is not developing or creating a new Draft [Constitution] we are mediating on the contentious issues raised by Hon member during the debate of the Draft Constitution with the aim to reaching consensus”.
Perhaps more important to note are the “two options” that the Justice Minister says are being “circulated at the moment”. He concluded his answer with the following:
“Given that there is consensus on most of the provisions of the Draft Constitution the issue that has risen now is how the amendments of the contentious issues should be carried out. The two options circulated at the moment is for either;
- The Ministry of Justice to update the Draft [Constitution] before sending it to the National Assembly, or
- For the Draft to be sent to the National Assembly in its current form and subsequently be updated at the level of the House”.
“IDEA has secured funding to commence the process of reviving the Draft, however, one of the conditions precedents is for them to set up a country office. That process is currently in the final stages and we are confident that the work of reviving the Draft Constitution will begin in earnest by the end of this quarter”.
The Banjul North Parliamentarian had one more supplementary question on the Draft Constitution and wanted to hear from the Minister for Justice if “the Drafting process was not all-inclusive?”
In response, the Justice Minister answered with a resounding “NO! What the response was trying to say is the Drafting process was well done and all-inclusive. All necessary consultations were made but that is towards the content of the document. But the process of bringing it to life is also a political process. WHICH WE DID NOT PAY MUCH ATTENTION TO AND AS A RESULT IT SUFFERED THE FATE IT SUFFERED”.
“So am not talking about the Consultation as to what should go into the content of the document but the Consultation as to how do we go on the journey of the document until it becomes a document that is the aspect that I said was missing”.
“So those who drafted the document did a good job. Everybody was consulted locally and internationally and we were all witness to that”.
If the Minister of Justice’s statements are anything to go by it appears the whole country will be looking forwards to efforts of reviving the Draft Constitution before the end of the quarter. Given that the Minister was speaking in early June 2023 the end of the second quarter will coincide with the end of June 2023. It’s left to be seen if the Draft Constitution will see efforts to revive it take shape and if the Ministry of Justice will provide regular progress updates to the Public.
At the moment it appears that only after International IDEA spearheads the consultation phase on the Political Process to adopt together with relevant stakeholders, will a Draft Constitution be tabled in Parliament.