Democracy Watch Gambia (DWG) has expressed what it called ‘legitimate concerns’ about the respect for the rule of law and democratic virtues in the Gambia.
The newly constituted civil society organisation whose primary objectives are, among other things, to participate in the dynamic process of preserving democracy and the rule of law Banjul has called on the regime of President Adama Barrow to respect the dictates of the provisions of the Gambian constitution.
In a letter to Mr Barrow, the group said: “From what we gathered, on Monday 23rd Jan 2017 you appointed the Mrs Fatoumata Tambajang as Vice President (VP) of the Republic. Following this, questions were raised as to the Constitutionality of such an appointment. However, to date no concrete clarification has been made in respect of those concerns nor has the appointment been rescind as required.
It is however worthy of note that as per available information, Mrs Fatoumatta Tambajang was born on the 22nd October 1949 which suggests she is aged 67. Unless there is available information to rebut this, her appointment continues to be in breach of Section 70(2) of the Constitution which states:
“A person shall be qualified to be appointed as Vice-President if he or she has the qualifications required for the election of the President under section 62. Provided that the Vice-President shall not be a member of the National Assembly.”
The referenced Section 62 bears an expressed age restriction of 65years and below effectively barring all persons aged 66years and over from being appointed as VP.
It is also important to point out that on the 30th Jan 2017; Mrs Tambajang attended the 28th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Governments of the African Union on behalf of your Government despite not being sworn in as a Cabinet member which is mandatory under Section 70(7) which states:
“A person appointed as Vice-President shall, before assuming the functions of his or her office, take and subscribe to the prescribed oaths.”
Having given an undertaking to provide proof that Mrs Tambajang “is 64 years old” or words to that effect in response to a journalist during a subsequent press conference, nothing to this effect has been provided to date which is regrettable. Following your decision on the 22nd Feb 2017 to appoint the aforementioned as Minister of women’s affairs “overseeing” the office of the VP, it is now reasonable to conclude that the suspicions surrounding her VP appointment are valid in which case it is right and proper for such to be immediately rescind in the interest of the respect for the rule of law.
We would like to highlight that the discretion in respect of Cabinet appointments under Section 72(1) is in letter and spirit restricted to expertise and competence only. Such does not constitute discretion to assign person(s) to “oversee” posts which they are already Constitutionally barred from holding otherwise the same can be employed to defeat the purpose of Section 71(2) as well which bars National Assembly members and non-Gambians from serving in cabinet and non legally qualified persons from serving as Attorney General.
This being the case, such cannot be relied on to justify the decision in question nor is/are there any other Constitutional provision(s) conferring any such powers to constitutionally validate the aforementioned assignment to “oversee”. This move, if not rescind will have the effect of setting a very self-defeating precedence which will mare the legacy of your presidency and government for quite a long time. This will without any shadow of doubt not win you any favours from your current support-base and citizenry and it is indeed quite frankly very unnecessary.
In another development, it has been alleged that your government are on course to table amendments in respect of the upper age limit restrictions contained within sections 62 and 70 and the increased deposits contained within the Elections (Amendment) Act 2015. Whilst there may be legitimate reasons in favour of amendments to the latter, it is not in the public interest and it is inconsistent with democratic virtues to rush through amendments to sections 62 & 70 to purposely serve what appears to be a personal urge and interest whilst amendments to a zillion other undemocratic provisions contained within that 1997 Constitution remain pending.
This will indeed be a tall order which will not go down well with people nor encapsulate your government as a force for the envisaged change. If the above is the case at all, we hope you will in the interest of the respect for the rule of law gazette the proposed amendments in line with sections 101(3) and 226(2) of the Constitution.
May we also point out that the democratic decision by the Gambian people on the 1st Dec 2016 to replace a regime which, among other things had no regard / respect for the rule of law was effectively an equivocal instruction to you as the change candidate to give effect to democracy, the rule of law and to end the historic contempt for our Constitution. With that said it is in our view hugely important that you and your government take all necessary steps within your reach, means and capacity to fulfil, strengthen and preserve the rule of law and those democratic virtues envisaged by the citizenry whose historic and voluntary democratic exercise delivered this new Gambia. We think we can say with confidence that we can speak on behalf of a majority of the Gambian people in saying that anything short of the aforementioned will by all democratic measure be grossly unconscionable and may not be easily forgiven.
Despite the apparent chasm between what people thought was being voted for and what is currently being delivered, we are still strongly of the belief that you and your government value and respect our existing laws as enshrined in the 1997 Constitution of the Gambia and likewise the legitimate concerns of your citizens and civil society from whom your democratic mandate to govern is derived. Given this, we are confident that the subject matters of this correspondence will be sufficiently revisited and revaluated with a view to addressing them soon, rather than later.
We the undersigned would like to use this opportunity to state that in the event these matters are not addressed, we do not rule out legal action under section 5 of the Constitution in order to ensure that the dictates of our Sovereign Laws are respected, upheld and accordingly enforced.
We hope we have provided sufficient information to assist you in your evaluations with regards to the relevant matters. However, should you require further information or wish to get in touch for any reason, please do not hesitate to contact us at [email protected]”