Lawmakers Call for ‘Reintroduction of Draft Constitution’

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By: Kebba AF Touray

The Gambian lawmakers have demanded the reintroduction of the draft constitution in the legislature. 

The lawmakers made this demand Tuesday, 12 September while debating on the bill entitled Judicial Officers Bill 2023, tabled before them by the Attorney General and Minister for Justice, DawdaJallow.

The lawmakers also stated that the bill is discriminatory, as it caters to only the officials in the judiciary while sidelining some other key actors, such as teachers and health officials.

Some of the lawmakers who intervened on the bill, include Member for Lower Saloum, Hon. SaineyJawara, who opposed the bill, stating that it has sidelined other officials in other sectors, and caters for only the judiciary officer.

He challenged that the Minister before bringing the bill, should have brought the draft constitution so that they can do the needful.

He said, “If we are serious bring the draft constitution back. If we are serious as a nation, the Minister should bring back the draft constitution which caters for all the citizens and cater for farmers and teachers”.

Member for Sami, Alfusainey Ceesay, questioned the urgency of tabling the bill, adding that there are a lot of issues in the draft constitution but the Minister handpicked the issue with the objective of making an amendment to it.

“What we need in this country is general restructuring of the salaries. Let us not rush in passing this bill because we must not set bad precedence because there are some people working whose salaries cannot afford them a bag of rice,” he said.

“So, we want the draft constitution not this piecemeal approach of making legislations. We want to address issues that are of national concern. If you look at the draft constitution there are salient things that concern citizens”, he added.

Member for FoniKansala, Hon. AlimamehGibba said “The bill is a volcano bill to the Gambian people and I believe with all honesty, looking at section 33 (1) of the 1997 constitution dictates for equality of all persons before the law”.

The bill, he added, is also discriminatory as it has it caters to superior judges leaving Court Clerks and magistrates who he said are doing donkey job of the courts, saying: “Let’s thrash this out and we bury it 40ft down. We are not in favor of the bill and it has to be withdrawn forthwith”.

The nominated member, Hon. Kebba Lang Fofanna, expressed that since the lawmakers have the powers to the requisite changes in the bill, the bill should be allowed to go through the scrutiny processes of the assembly.

He said this because that way the lawmakers will have the opportunity to make adjustments and where necessary make omissions and have a befitting bill to pass, adding that he knows of judicial officers who he deserved remuneration.

Member for Nianija, Hon. Amadou Camara, said that though the judiciary should be independent and that judges should be protected in terms of remuneration and pension, he cannot support the bill.

He said “I will not play that double standard. My position is very clear. I stood here and spoke vehemently against the draft constitution. Today I am vindicated because this is one of the things and there are other things that we will set aside until another bill comes before us”.

Member for Busumbala, Hon. Muhammed Kanteh said that it is important to enhance the salaries of the judicial officers, but underscored that it is crucial in passing to consider the economic situation of the country and whether it is viable to sustain the objectives of the bill once passed.

Member for Upper Saloum, Hon. Alhagie Mbow, said: “This was one of the clauses why I said no to draft constitution because the Minister is trying to create a retirement heaven for the judiciary in 2020”.

He said that when he opposed the draft constitution those who opposed him, were the same people telling him to throw the bill because it is not sustainable.

He said “We must not create inequity or inequality in the judiciary and at the end of the day it is going to be us who are going to be held accountable for that. We need to ensure that this is actually viable in the foreseeable future”.

Member for Jokadu, Hon. SalifJawo,  faulted the bill saying that proper homework and consultations were not made, adding that if the proper work had been done the bill wouldn’t have been tabled before the lawmakers

Earlier tabling the bill, the Attorney General and Minister for Justice, DawdaJallow, informed the assembly that the judiciary of any nation symbolizes the administration of justice under the rule of law which is a crucial factor in good governance and ultimately a sine qua non to the peace and security of any nation.

Justice Minister Jallow

The judiciary he said therefore plays a crucial role in administering justice and maintaining the rule of law, and is ultimately a critical player in the realm of democracy and constitutional development and has a key role as one of the three pillars of state component.

“So, it is in this backdrop that that necessitated the need for the bill. The bill is to make provisions for the enhancement and upgrading of the salaries, allowances, pensions, and entitlements of judicial officers. The bill makes provisions to address all issues in respect of the welfare of judicial officers”, he said.