By Yankuba Jallow
Civil Society Actors have renewed their call for the President to table the final draft constitution bill before lawmakers.
John Charles Njie, the Executive Director of YMCA and the Chairman of The Association of Non-governmental Organisations, said President Adama Barrow should not waste time to present the draft constitution bill before the National Assembly.
“Yes, we are facing COVID-19 pandemic, but it is also very important now that there is seemingly some time in our hands that the draft constitution bill is passed to the National Assembly for them to deliberate on it,” Njie said.
Chairman Njie said beyond that, he is with the view that the nation needs a timetable on when this would happen.
“When will it go to the National Assembly and when are we planning to go for a referendum? It is very important that this is done as early as possible. I don’t see why there is the delay in bringing this before the National Assembly, except the National Assembly is saying they don’t have the time for it now because of COVID-19. But it is important that it gets to the National Assembly,” he said.
He said the delay will make the people to start speculating thinking the executive wants to manipulate the draft.
Marr Nyang – Founder and Executive Director of Gambia Participates said the President of the Republic should make this document accessible to the National Assembly as soon as possible because they are the lawmakers, who were democratically elected by the people to represent them.
“The National Assembly should have enough time to debate and review it,” he said.
Saikou Jammeh, the Secretary General of The Gambia Press Union said as a result of COVID-19, everyone expects certain things to be delayed.
“I think the President should no longer sit on the Constitution. As we speak, I think the President should have given the Constitution to the National Assembly long time ago,” he said.
The renowned journalist said COVID-19 shouldn’t stop the process of tabling the bill before the National Assembly because the Parliament has had some sittings during this period.
“There are certain things that should continue even as we have COVID-19. My opinion is the President should no longer sit on it for even one second,” Jammeh said.
He said the President should give the Constitution to the National Assembly who has the appropriate mandate to deliberate on it.
Mr. Njie said the introduction of two-term limit in the draft constitution is timely and this was what the people have always wanted.
“I think the importance of this provision cannot be overemphasized in the sense that we have seen what timelessness can do to us,” he said.
He said in 50 years of Gambia’s nationhood, the country had only two Presidents, adding now it has another President.
“When people stay too long in a position, a lot of things happen. Sometimes they almost feel that they are gods or demigods on people,” he said.
Njie detailed that the importance of having a term-limit in the draft constitution cannot be overemphasized.
“It is important we bring fresh ideas. When your term of ten years finishes someone comes, the person will come with fresh ideas to move the nation forward,” Njie said.
Nyang said the draft constitution is a progressive one. He said for five decades the Gambia has only three Presidents, adding this is not what obtained in civilised and democratic societies.
He opined that with the introduction of term limit, any leader who comes into office will try his or her utmost to leave a legacy because the person will know it is not possible to perpetuate him or herself in power.
“It is going to eradicate autocracy in The Gambia. The Gambians won’t see autocracy anymore,” Nyang said.
Saikou Jammeh said the provision on two-term limit in the draft constitution is something the Gambians have been yearning for a very long time.
“We do not need people who will perpetuate themselves in office. We need to have people who will come, serve and go and let others come, serve and go. So that it doesn’t become the home for one person or two persons,” Jammeh said.
Jammeh said term limit ensures efficiency.
“When you come with the knowledge that you are bound by tenure, you will do what you need to do to leave a legacy that everyone will be proud of and what people will envy you for. It ensures that there is no personalisation of power,” he said.
He opined that two-term limit in a way ensures that one party or individual does not overstay in office.
“It should be different parties, different ideologies and approaches. I believe that will bring about dynamism at the State House and it will reflect on the way they handle our affairs,” Jammeh said.
Second Round of Voting
The TANGO Chairman said second round of voting is crucial in the democratisation process of the country. Njie said this provision in the draft constitution if passed into law, will ensure that the person, who becomes President, is elected by the majority.
“It also helps to enforce the support base of the leadership. So, it is good that the second round of voting is included in the draft constitution and I hope they will leave it there and Gambians will vote on it,” Njie.
“It (second round of voting) is democratic and welcoming,” Nyang said.
He said if people vote and no person or party emerges as winner, the IEC will organise the second round of voting . He added in the second round of voting, people are going to see a coalition of different parties supporting the candidate of their choice. It is going to enhance democracy, he said.
The Secretary General of The Gambia Press Union said second round of voting is something Gambians have been yearning for because they have a lot of parties in the country.
“You need to get the support of majority of Gambians. The second round of voting will ensure we have the majority of Gambians voting for someone to actually be in power,” Jammeh said.
He added: “It will allow parties to work harder on their ideologies because they will know it is no longer business as usual. Every party has a following and they should work harder not for themselves alone but for their following.”
Freedom of Information
John Njie said he is hoping that the bill before the National Assembly on the freedom of information will be passed.
“Freedom of information helps to strengthen democracy. It helps to ensure that there is transparency and accountability at public offices,” Njie said.
He said people make the mistake that it is only for journalists, adding even students doing their research need it.
“Having it in the Constitution, I think, will strengthen our belief and our democracy. We need these laws, this system and this shift so that it can happen. So that democracy will be strengthened, if not we are going to be handed a bad deal by any government that comes into power,” Njie said.
Nyang said the law providing for freedom of information is timely, adding it is long overdue.
He detailed that if the access to information bill is enacted, it is going to empower civil society organisations that are serving as watchdogs and media houses.
“It is very important to have it in our constitution because in order for you to be able to promote transparency, there must be access to information and if people are denied access to information, they will live in blackout,” he said.
The Press Union’s SG said the provisions in the draft constitution with respect to freedom of information are good. He said this is the first time in the history of constitutional building in this country that provisions are made granting the right to access information or freedom of information. He added the 1997 Constitution does not have such protections in respect to access to information as well as the defunct 1970 Constitution.
“This is the first time that we are having a provision that guarantees the right of every person to access information that is held by public bodies,” Jammeh said.
He said access to information is not only a civic right, but as well it is an issue of socio-economic right because it promotes investment.
“The more investors know about your country – the more information is readily and easily available to them – the more likely they will come and invest in your country,” he said.
He protested against the provision that calls for the National Assembly to pass an Act or maybe to provide some exemptions to the kind of information that should be made available to the public.
“We do not think that is quite good. You cannot give the National Assembly that power, at any time, to exempt information because the National Assembly itself is a public body and a lot of the time we would request information from the National Assembly and if you give them so much power to do that, they can exempt information that has to do with National Assembly which may not be right,” he said.
Jammeh said the right to freedom of information is the most important right.
He added that looking at all the international rights instruments, one would realise that access to information is a very important human right.
“Information is power. The type of people we vote in office depends on the kind of information we have about these people. The level of our participation in our national affairs depends on the amount of information we have. It depends on how informed we are. The quality of our decision making depends on the quality of the information we have,” he said.