Thursday, January 21, 2021

The Draft Constitution, The National Assembly And The Referendum

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The 1965 and 1970 Constitutions were drafted under the direction and control of  the Colonial administration  and handed over to the Gambian leaders on a silver platter .The Gambian electorate had no input in the content.

An attempt was made to have consultation and a referendum to promulgate the 1997 Constitution. However, there were no elected representatives in Parliament to oversee the process of the promulgation. The Provisional Ruling Council exercised both executive and legislative powers.  The Constitution came into force when the President was sworn in.

The draft 2020 Constitution is a by product of an Act entitled “The Constitutional Review Commission Act , 2017 arising from a Bill scrutinised and passed by the National Assembly and assented to by the President. Hence the Act is enacted by the National Assembly and the President.

Section 6 Subsection 1 of the Act states : “ The Functions of the Commission are to draft a new Constitution and prepare a report in relation to the Constitution.”

Section 21 adds: “The Commission shall upon the completion of its work, submit a Constitution and a report thereon in originals to the President.”

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Subsection 2 adds: “The Commission shall, upon the submission of the draft Constitution and report to the President, publish the Constitution and the report”

Subsection 3 further adds: “The Constitution and the report may, in addition to being published in the Gazette, be published in such other manner as the Commission considers fit.”

How is the draft constitution to become the fundamental law of the land is the fundamental question that now confronts the Nation.

It goes without saying that the Executive has transformed the draft constitution untouched into a Bill entitled: “The Constitution of the Gambia, 2020 (Promulgation ) Bill, 2020.

Will the National Assembly try to change its content or leave it untouched for submission to a referendum? Will it try to block it through parliamentary procedures?

No one could read the mind of the National Assembly members. There was alarm when the executive received the draft and numerous speculations on the possibility of doctoring the text.  The original text as submitted by the Commission is now to be laid before the National Assembly for proper parliamentary processing.

Now it is the turn of the National Assembly members to decide whether to allow partisan considerations or national interest to guide the deliberations. Will they be able to convince each other on the basis of the profundity of their arguments or the side of the seats they occupy in Parliament? Those who seek to predict what will happen in parliament are building castles in the air. In about a fortnight the country should be able to judge the Parliamentarians by their words and deeds. History will record their views for posterity.

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