The Gambia CRC Draft Constitution No Better Than 1997 Constitution for Democracy
We fought tyranny perpetrated by Yahya AJJ Jammeh and his enablers for 22 years with our bloods, tears, sweats and fortunes. The fruit of that effort is Barrow Administration. Our primary goal was (and remained) ‘to make Gambia a functioning institutional democracy’. We promised not only do the right things but do them in the right ways. Our desires for a new constitution are to institutionalize democracy and not to implant another tyrant. The CRC-process is undemocratic (people’s consent was never sought), unconstitutional (no constitutional authority to repeal the current version) and sets up a bad precedence (future administrations will likely be tempted to write their own). This is definitely not in line with our promise to do ‘right things in the right ways’. For details/specifics reference https://1drv.ms/w/s!AnA9SAorc9ojgXxEnqtG0AKmTHuK From the process we turned our attention to the quality of CRC draft constitution. We gauged the quality by degree(s) it advanced (or not) our democracy. Before getting into the quality of the products, let’s set a common baseline.
Democracy is simply self-governing – people governing themselves. What that should mean in practice and particularly in The Gambia is to apportion governance authority among as much social-strata as practically feasible. This is important to prevent concentration of power at any one place, provides inbuilt vertical accountabilities and as well horizontal competition that fosters prosperity. Now we examine if in fact that’s what CRC draft Constitution proposed or otherwise:
Issue I: A Very Noisy Draft: A constitution of a Democratic Republic is ‘People’s Governance Contract’ that tells the representatives what they can (and/or can’t) do. Including everyday things that should be left for legislators creates situations they have to change one law in order to make another. This is why our legislative sessions are essentially constitutional amendment sessions. This has made constitutionality practically hard if not impossible. A Republican constitution defines government and broad sets of laws that sets limits of governance – Limited Government. No material of a well framed constitution should be amendable between National Assembly and President. All such laws should preferably come as Acts of National Assembly. From Chapter V – XX hardly any of those should remain in the constitution as is. Essentially all (or most) of those falls under police powers of state. The question should be how do we language them and which government should harbor each of such police powers. By that am presuming a decentralized governance. Suffice to say there are plenty of noise even within the relevant chapters I – IV. For details/specifics reference https://1drv.ms/w/s!AnA9SAorc9ojgX6OE5Lm4V6rjzxF
Issue II: No Separation of Powers: Aside dispersing governance authority among several social-strata each democratic government apportioned authority among 3 co-equal branches. These branches are The Executive (enforcements of laws as written), Legislature (lawmaking) and Judiciary (judicial review and arbitration). In The Gambia these branches exist only in name and the CRC draft ensured continuity. The Banjul imperial infrastructure left behind by colonials in Banjul is reaffirmed by CRC draft. The size, scope and roles are not checked in any manner to allow others along the various social-strata to have governance function(s). The monarchical presidency controls both the Legislature and Judiciary. The control over the judiciary is fairly easy to understand – the president has authority to hire/fire the judges. The cosmetic involvement of National Assembly in the hiring process doesn’t practically change the control dynamics. The president still determines when and for what to fire the judges. The National Assembly is controlled differently. The president (I supposed – not stated by the draft) will nominate candidate for Speaker whom our elected representatives will vote to elect. An unelected bureaucrat to head the legislative body is an affront to democracy. Constitutionally speaking National Assembly is a senior government branch below no other. Planting an executive puppet in-charge of business at the Assembly is executive control of the Assembly. The 2nd problem is the executive robbed the Assembly of her basic role of lawmaking. Instead laws will be initiated/written by the cabinet (a constitutionally insignificant body) and National Assembly will only vote yes/no. The executive is also responsible of opening/closing legislative sessions. In short without these actions of the executive – no work at the National Assembly, hence no lawmaking. For details/specific reference https://1drv.ms/w/s!AnA9SAorc9ojggBVZAbFyFY1GnxW
Issue III No Decentralization: Decentralization disperses governance authority to the peripheries. That’s the very definition of democracy – people govern-themselves. That seems to be the concerns of Chapter XI of CRC draft (details/specifics reference https://1drv.ms/w/s!AnA9SAorc9ojggKKN5B8ZAQd-kcB except it only talks about appointing and electing village heads and mayors/chairpersons/chiefs respectively. Should the CRC draft go into effect your village alkali will be appointed by Minister of Local Government. There is no mention of Regional Governors. However, these individual positions (not governments) that has no governance authority except what National Assembly might eventually give them. They’re simply political agents of Banjul.
Issue IV No Independent Judiciary: Mentioned under no separation of powers. The president will fire the judges. The president determines what offence(s)/infraction(s) deserves the boot. There can be no independence in such a system.
Issue V No Improved Election Administration: The best they could do is to add BOUNDARIES to IEC – now is BIEC (and no more IEC). By the way boundary demarcation is a legislative role and not for election administrators.
It’s very obvious the CRC draft constitution did not advance democracy in The Gambia. Some will point to ‘term limit’ provision – is good but meaningless without functioning democratic institutions. Chances are that provision will be amended by the National Assembly to afford Barrow to continue. Others are elated about improved qualification requirements – good/bad they weren’t the impediments to lack of democracy. One Mr. Salieu Taal, said to be the President of Gambia Bar Association is happy with the draft because of section on marriage. He said not supporting the CRC draft is unpatriotic – I will only say he needs serious lessons on Democracy. For details see https://1drv.ms/w/s!AnA9SAorc9ojgXocuvuFVFqW_wb3 Those are inconsequential observations. Bottomline, CRC-team has Barrow in mind and/or they are ignorant of democracy. They’ve essentially cut and paste from 1997 Constitution, change words and sentences/phrases to fit current politics and even plagiarized. Our goal of making Gambia a working democracy is once again betrayed.
Speak up! Gambia is yours as well…… They’re slowly but surely taking us a path we’ve been before. Do not be fooled. The approaches may be different but the end is the same – dictatorship, despair and abject poverty.
For The Gambia Ever True
Burama FL Jammeh