Thursday, January 26, 2017

Let us avert a constitutional crisis and not stoke one

President Adama Barrow 
Most Gambians agree on two things - 1.  that former dictator Jammeh was terrible and corrupt and 2. The 1997 Constitution is deeply flawed.

Now that the first point is history because Jammeh is no longer in power to continue to inflict harm on Gambians and the country, the second point has taken on added importance because of its urgency and the potentially harmful consequences, if left unaddressed.

Even legal experts will agree with laypersons that the flaws in the constitution are numerous enough to warrant a Constitutional Review Commission to be established to "clean it up" to make it a truly republican legal document designed to protect the rights and liberties of everyone living within territorial Gambia but also to protect the State against individuals and entities that can do it harm.

The Gambian Constitution, with all its numerous amendments, can best be described as an overly decorated Christmas tree with ornaments hanging from every conceivable branch to obscure the less than perfect shape of the tree.  Jammeh was a master at exploiting the shiny object syndrome.  And while we are on the subject, can someone tell me the utility in the Office of the Ombudsman and what it has done for you lately.  Probably, absolutely zilch.

Despite all its flaws, and with time, Jammeh made sure that the Constitution worked for him and which he exploited as one of his most potent instrument of repression and control by personally and carefully designing to punish both his actual and potential political opponents.

Which brings us to the immediate problem facing the Barrow Administration of appointing a cabinet. Following the announcement that Fatoumatta Tambajang has been selected to serve as the new administration's Vice President, one of Jammeh favorite ploys of using age to disqualify political opponents has come into sharp and urgent focus.

To focus attention on age and not on the justness of the law and whether it is morally right to deny an incoming administration - a successor to one of Africa's - if not the world's - most corrupt leaders the right to select the best and the brightest to give Barrow a fighting chance.   We all know that these laws were designed specifically to limit the number of opportunities Ousainou Darboe will have in contesting the presidency, and any other likely opponent of Jammeh, for that matter, from the other political parties.

Jammeh, of course, could not have done all these bad things without the active participation and consent of a willing National Assembly.   They must, therefore, share the blame in putting a nation already at the brink in further danger because laws that were designed purposely to limit access to political power which may be consistent with dictatorship but totally repugnant and inconsistent with the democratic principles we are demanding that the Barrow administration adopt and practice.

President Barrow must meet with the Speaker of the National Assembly and the Majority and Minority Leaders of  APRC and NRP and urge them to convene an emergency meeting of the National Assembly to address the age, residency (for voting purposes) and other obstacles that were deliberately legislated, effectively relegating Gambians over 65 years to second class citizenship.

The National Assembly members have been part of the problem.  They must be part of the solution,  They must sit continually, if necessary, to help the new administration clean up the mess.  As an emergency measure, an omnibus bill repealing all these clauses that were clearly targeted at the opposition should be able to solve the immediate problems facing the incoming administration.  A Constitutional Review Commission to address the constitution in whole will not be supplanted by these immediate remedial measures.

It is our view that this is not the constitutional crisis some would like us to believe.  It is a bad, repugnant and odious law, it needs to be gotten rid of, one way or the other.  Extraordinary situations of this nature requires extraordinary remedial action and not verbose arguments about obnoxious laws that have been inherited by the new administrations.

We appreciate the security concerns that might have contributed to Barrow's extended stay in Dakar but it is difficult to justify staying a further day in the Senegalese capital while urgent state matters keep piling up by the minute.  ECOWAS and Senegal through ECOMIC forces should be in a position to provide the new president with adequate security that will allow him to get to work immediately.  Action, and solutions to our mounting problems are what's required right now,  The matter can be resolved legally and constitutionally without it turning into a full blown constitutional crisis, as some have already characterized it.  But if we stoke it, for whatever reason, it will be one.