Lawmakers Pass the Special Prosecutor’s Office Bill

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After members expressed divergent views

By Kebba AF Touray

Members of the National Assembly of The Gambian are divided on the Special Prosecutor’s Office (SOP) Bill 2024.

The Bill was introduced in the morning of Monday, 22nd April 2024 and the debate continued till the early hours of Tuesday when the Bill was passed. 

The Bill was tabled by the Minister of Justice, Dawda A. Jallow, during the first extra ordinary session of the 2024 legislative year after the Speaker had confirmation from the Assembly that they will proceed to consider the Bill. It is a requirement of parliamentary procedure that before proceeding with such emergency session a certificate of urgency must be produced and Members should accept that the Bill should be considered as a matter of urgency.

The Special Prosecutor’s Office Bill seeks to establish the office of the special prosecutor, which shall be tasked with investigating and prosecuting cases involving serious human rights violations identified in the TRRC Report from 1994 and 2017.

Member for Wuli East, Honourable Suwaibou Touray said the Bill is important because “it is seeking to address long standing human rights violations of people who actually require remedy or remedies.”

He stated that many people had their rights violated at some point, and they have no way of seeking redress. He added that this is an opportunity for those people to seek redress.

“Many of us were affected during the Second Republic, but we may not be interested in financial reward, though we may be interested in restitution or maybe we simply want satisfaction,” he said.

He said the victims do not want such violations to resurface, adding that the Bill guarantees the prevention of rights violations.

“It is apt to have this domestic law that would ensure that there is prohibition on the violations that may be perpetrated by state agents. What we also require is that the Commission should continue training the security and judicial officers, because they are key stakeholders in ensuring that these violations do not reoccur,” the veteran lawmaker said.

Member for Banjul South, Honourable Fatoumatta Njai, said: “I would like to support this Bill but not in the way it is presented to us as representatives of the people.”

She said the Constitution gives the President power to bring Bills as a matter of urgency, but argued that it should not be abused. She submitted that she does not see the reason for bringing the bill as matter of urgency. 

Touma Njai acknowledged that the Bill will be beneficial to the people, but quizzed the urgency attached on the Bill

“This (Bill) is given to us to pass…. My take is to take it through the normal process, send it to the relevant committees, so that everything will be done, and that the objects, principles and reasons of this Bill are adhered to,” she said.

She clarified that they are not against any reparations, but they want the best for the victims and that would require them to scrutinise the Bill. She added that the lawmakers won’t be held to ransom to pass a bill under a matter of urgency at the behest of the President.

Majority Leader and Member for Kantora, Hon. Billay G Tunkara said that bringing the Bill now as a matter of urgency would afford adequate time to put together adequate resources before next year’s budget and have support from partners, to make sure that the victims are given the attention they deserve.

Abdoulie Ceesay, the Member for Old Yumdum said during the 2021 presidential elections period, some people accused the Government of not prioritising the victims, but people are now questioning Government for bringing the Bill as a matter of urgency.

Ceesay said the victims are living in pain and they require the attention of the Government as well as the support of the people. 

“The Reparations Bill is to set up a commission and this commission is going to look after those who would surrender themselves as victims for compensation. That is what the bill is talking about,” Ceesay said.

Member for Nianija, Amadou Camara, said if the Assembly is really concerned with the victims, there is no better time than now to bring the bill as a matter of urgency.The bill,  he explained, is a matter of public importance. 

Member for Brikama South, Hon. Lamin J Sanneh submitted that the bill is long overdue.

“The only entity that has that legislative mandate is the National Assembly. It is very important to understand that the Bill is progressive,” he said.

Sanneh said the Bill should pass through all the normal Assembly procedures including the committees.

Member for Kiang West, Lamin Ceesay criticised his colleagues, saying when they were discussing the budget none of them had the victims in consideration.

Member for Foni Bintang Karanai, Bakary Badgie said they should be careful in identifying who is a victim, citing that the victims of 1981 coup under the First Republic were not supported by the Government and some are still suffering.

Musa Badjie, the member for Tallinding said the Bill was important but raised reservation that the Bill should pass through all stages of legislative scrutiny. He added that the Executive consulted among themselves for years before bringing the Bill, noting that the legislature should also take time to scrutinise it.

Member for Foni Kansala, Hon. Almameh Gibba, described the Bill as discriminatory and not progressive.

“My take is clear. The Bill has been sanctioned to certain period from 1997 to 2017 based on the recommendation of the TRRC. The Bill also is a witch hunt, because you cannot have a Bill where former President Jammeh is mentioned many times,” said Hon. Gibba.

He said there are perpetrators in the system still celebrated as heroes. He felt that the Bill was only targeting the former head of state, Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh.

“So, we believe if we are really serious to assist and wipe the tears of the victims, it has to be a collective work in making sure reparation is done as it ought to be,” said member for Kansala.

Despite the division in views on the SOP Bill, the assembly, after a lengthy debate and consideration of the Bill, subsequently passed Bill.