Gambia Bar Association President Salieu Taal said on Saturday if the draft constitution is adopted by Gambians, it will set the tone that will bring about system change in the country.
Taal said: “I think any party, any individual, any group that has the interest of the country at heart should not hesitate to throw their weight and support this constitution. This constitution will bring us the Gambia we want and the Gambia we deserve.”
He added: “I think it serves the interest of the Gambia now and in the future. We have to look at this (draft) constitution from the lens of patriotism not partisan. It is about the Gambia.”
According to him, this draft constitution like any other constitution is not perfect, adding ‘there are critics, rightly or wrongly, we have many issues in the draft, they don’t like’, noting that even though he personally does not like every aspect of the draft constitution, ultimately it is the greater good that matters and that is about consensus building.
On Political Actors
Barrister Taal thinks political actors should come out clearly to state their positions on the draft constitution. He holds the view that since most of the politicians were at the forefront in the fight for reforms, he assumes that they will support this draft constitution because that will back the ‘Gambia we want – the Gambia we decided’.
He adds: “I trust they will strongly support this draft.”
On Civil Society
Taal notes that civil society welcomes the decision to publish the draft and also present it to parliament, adding the role of the civil society is to remain diligent and to diligently pursue the process of tabling the bill to Parliament to referendum.
He said: “I have good faith that the state law office will publish the draft. After it is gazetted, it is important for civil society to engage all stakeholders to ensure that this bill passes to parliament. It is the parliament that will vote on the bill for it to pass. The threshold is too high – its 75% which is three-quarters of the parliament have to vote in favour of this bill to be sent for referendum. I think it is important, particularly for our NAMs, to appreciate that this bill is a reflection of the broad view of Gambians.”
He indicated that Gambians were consulted within the Gambia and abroad, different stakeholders were consulted including the National Assembly, and the Executive and other bodies were consulted separately. According to him, the combination of all those views has been brought forward as a draft.
“The CRC did come up with an explanatory note explaining why they took certain views and why they don’t take the other views. It is a fair democratic process, he said.
Section on Marriage
He said the final draft constitution has clarified the provisions on the first draft constitution and the 1997 constitution talking about marriage.
He added: “The current clause states without any doubt that men and women of full age have the capacity to marry. I think that is very clear as to who has the capacity to marry (men and women. I think that is very significant.”
Confirmation of Ministerial Appointments
Barrister is of the opinion that the section on the draft constitution dealing with the confirmation of the appointment of ministers by Parliament is a significant departure from the provision of the current constitution which gives the President the absolute power to appoint ministers.
He said: “The new provision in the draft makes appointment of Ministers by the President subject to the approval of the parliament. It means that parliament can scrutinise appointment of ministers and of course in line with the qualification set by the constitution. That will ensure that the right people are appointed by the President.”
Provision on Public Interest Litigation
The Gambia Bar Association President said one of the provisions in the draft constitution extends the scope of persons who can bring actions to enforce contraventions or attempts to contravene the constitution.
He added: “I think it’s a novel provision and a good provision. I think it allows interest groups (it could be environmental groups or any person, by themselves or by representatives, or the group they belong to), to take action before the court for an action taken or an action to be taken which is in contravention of the constitution. I think it is a very good provision. It means that the constitution is as good as its enforcement. It is a life document and it is the people of the Gambia who can make it work. There are good provisions in the constitution, but in the previous regime, the people were not able to enforce their rights for different reasons.”
Photo credit: Chronicle