Gambia News

The Gambian Constitution; strengthening the institutions of democracy

By Mathew K Jallow
The Gambia, by choice, has a Republican Constitution. This defines the type of government Gambia has chosen. A Republican Constitution, by definition, entrusts citizens with power; not the government. This is the theory behind a Republican state; but in practice, government has consistently usurped people’s power to expand its overreach, and the people have continued to cede their power to government. This is a direct abrogation of the purpose and meaning of a Republican Constitution, whose primary objective is to install the people as the ultimate authority of government. Thus; in crafting a new Constitution, safeguards need to be put in place to return power to the people and explicitly constrain government from exercising unrestrained authority. This goes to the following areas of citizen concern;1. Institutional independence and explicit and implicit prohibition of political influence and interference. The institutions of government are blind to which political party is in power; they serve all Gambians without regard to political affiliation. Thus; the hiring of staff in all government institutions must be based on citizenship; not tribe or political party affiliation, as is the case right now. If the current trend continues, the Constitution must consider rebalancing this insidious trend by introducing tribal quotas in each public institution. This is resorting to the extreme; but it’s the only way to bring balance in the distribution of opportunities to all citizens, without regard to tribe or political party.
2. One of the ways to inhibit expansion and encroachment by government into the authority of citizens is through elections. Consequently, if government intends to retain that antediluvian Chieftaincy institution, the Chieftaincy institution must be elective. The purpose is for the people to determine who their leaders are, as the Constitution explicitly intends. Appointments and dismissals of chiefs by agents of the government, which in the past, have been politically motivated, need to end. This will foster the will of the majority, a fundamental tenet of democracy as enshrined in our Constitution. But, it also prohibits the politicization of the Chieftaincy institution by parties in power.
3. The Constitutional Review Commission should consider a fundamental element of our Republican Constitution; the 3 co-equal branches of government. Since political independence, the authorities of both the Judiciary and the National Assembly have been usurped to serve as arms of government. This has had a deleterious effect, which became clearer, under the last regime. A Constitutional Clause that fiercely protects the independence of the Judiciary and National Assembly, and prohibits interference through buying favors in both institutions, will be the biggest boost in the institutionalization of democracy to a level that makes it an integral part of everyday life in Gambia.
It is worth reminding Gambians that one of the major impediments in the democratization process is the blurring of the lines of authority, and government’s consistent and obsessive push to control all the levers of power, in its insatiable lust for power. Over the millennia, the world has transitioned from unorganized chaos, to bands of family units, small units of authority, empires, and kingdoms and to modernity. This is the ear of collective peoples’ governance and Gambia is required by time and paradigm shift in social and political organization, to make the transition to modernity by following a Republican Constitution that renders power and authority to the people, where they ultimately belong.
Finally, democracy is not bought and sold, as a result, the Constitutional requirement to pay an obscene amount of money in order to contest in presidential elections should be abolished. In order to limit or rather, bring standard in the process of electing a president, consideration should be made in the area requiring minimum standard of education for all presidential aspirants. Political parties should register as legal entities, but the idea of exhorting huge amounts of money for this purpose participating in the democratic process is equal to taxation of political activity, which should be unConstitutional. Political participation should absolutely NEVER be taxed. It makes a mockery of the very idea of democracy; in the context of civil rights

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