By Yankuba Jallow
In several meetings held by Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) in North Bank Region (NBR), people reiterate that the Attorney General, should not be a politician.
“The Attorney General should not be the Minister of Justice. The Minister of Justice is a political position,” the people told the CRC in the North Bank.
The people in unanimity, told the Commissioners of the CRC that the president of the republic should not declare election days for the country. The CRC which is tasked to draft a new Constitution for the Gambia and prepare a report therein, is headed by Justice Cherno Sulayman Jallow, a Judge at the Supreme Court of the Gambia.
The CRC delegation held meetings in Fass Njaga Choi, Essau, Jurunku, Medina Sering Mass, Kerewan, Farafenni, Kinteh Kunda, Salikenni and other places in the North Bank region, to seek the opinions of the people on what the new Constitution should entail.
Contributors agreed that the proposed new Constitution should make provision for the Chairperson and members of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), not to be appointed by the president.
“The president should not declare the date for elections in the country. He should not appoint or dismiss the Chairperson of IEC for us. There should be an independent body established, to appoint the Chairperson and members of IEC,” they told members of the CRC.
On the death penalty, the majority of the people said the new Constitution should make provision for this.
“Death penalty to murderers is a means of reducing the frequency of murder in the country. It is an established principle in the Sharia (Islamic Jurisprudence),” said Mbaye Awa Kah, Imam of Medina Sering Mass.
“Death penalty should be revoked in The Gambia. I am of the opinion that we should have life imprisonment instead of death penalty,” said Modou Bintou Dibba of Salikenni.
The people have called on the CRC to entrench the fundamental human rights of the people particularly the right to association and freedom of expression.
“The fundamental human rights in the 1997 Constitution should remain entrenched in the new Constitution. There should be mechanisms put in place by this new constitution to monitor the implementation and observance of this right by the State,” said Imam Mufti.
Contributors to the CRC told the delegation that, the president should be responsible for the appointment of the Chief Justice, Auditor General and Governor of the Central Bank; that the new Constitution should make provision for the office of the Director of Public Prosecution to be an independent office from the Ministry of Justice.
“The appointment of the Chief Justice should be by the Judicial Service Commission, and not by the president,” said Modou Kabi Sarr, a student.
Contributors also told the CRC delegation that the new Constitution should make provision for free and quality education in the Gambia from grade one, to university.
“There should be free education in The Gambia. There are many students with good grades but cannot continue their education because of financial constraints. The new Constitution should address the issue of education,” said Jarra Leigh, another student.
Many people opined that the new Constitution should make provision for the representation of disable persons at the National Assembly and Cabinet.
“Disable people are part of us. They have to be represented. They should have representatives at Cabinet and National Assembly levels,” said Lamin Drammeh.
People in the North Bank contributed that should the office of the president become vacant and there is no vice president, the Speaker of the National Assembly should lead the nation for 3 months only and then organise elections.
The overwhelming majority of the people contributed that the marble system of voting in the country, should be maintained because of its uniqueness to the Gambia; that the new constitution should make provision for the establishment of a Teaching and Health Services Commissions.
“We have many Schools in the country but they are all dull. We have many structures we call hospitals but we have no medicines available,” Lamin Jawara of Kerewan said.
They insisted on the two-term limit for the presidency and that before one becomes president, he/she must have over 50% of the total votes cast in an election.
Many contributors to the CRC delegation said the new Constitution should make provision for an established body that will look into the plight of farmers in the country.
Divergent opinion was also made on the position of Chiefs in the country, as some agree that it should be an elective position whilst others agree to maintain the status quo. An overwhelming majority said the office of Governors should be based on election, whilst maintaining that Alkalos (village heads), appointed in the traditional manner.
Some contributed that the new Constitution should make provision for the President, Chairpersons and members of the IEC, Ministers and the Vice President, to declare their assets before and after assuming office. Divergent views were made on the holding of election of president and national assembly members on the same day. “The election of the president and the national assembly members should be done on the same day,” said Sulayman Sanyang of Salikenni Village.
On citizenship by birth, the overwhelming majority of people in the region said any persons born in the Gambia irrespective of the status of their parents, should be Gambians. However on citizenship by marriage and or naturalization, the people gave different opinions. “Citizenship by marriage should be increased to 10 years,” said Almami Marong of Badibou Mandory. “Citizenship by marriage should be automatic or at least a year,” said Chakunding Samateh of Badibou Salikenni.
“Any person who stays in the country for long should be entitled to citizenship of the Gambia. Any person who is born in the Gambia should be a Gambian,” said Mustapha Drammeh of Salikenni.
In their opinions, many suggested that citizenship by marriage should be reduced to 5 years and citizenship by naturalization be maintained at 15 years.
Lamin Colley of Salikenni said there should be no provisions for citizenship by marriage and or by naturalization.
“There should be no citizenships by marriage and or by naturalization. Any person who is not a Gambian should never be a Gambian. Once a visitor should remain a visitor,” he said.
Marie Jobe, the Chairwoman of the Njawara village development committee opined that citizenship by marriage, should be 5 years and citizenship by naturalization should be 10 years.
Mustapha Jawara of Kerewan opined that citizenship by marriage should be maintained at 7 years and citizenship by naturalization reduced to 10 years.
The people of the North Bank unanimously contributed that the new Constitution should make provision for Gambians in Diaspora to be eligible to vote. The majority indicated that for those in Diaspora to be eligible contest, they should stay in the Gambia for certain years preceding the year of elections.
Njembou Jammeh, a native of Kerewan said the new Constitution should empower women. She suggested that the new Constitution criminalize the use of plastic bags and for FGM to be legalized.
Yahya Fofana, an indigene of Suwareh Kunda said the appointment of Ministers should be approved by the National Assembly with thorough scrutiny; that the election of lady Councillors should be re-visited by the new Constitution; that the new Constitution should be written in local languages.
The people were left undecided on whether to re-introduce deputy minister position or not.
Some Alkalos contributed that the new Constitution should make provision for their salaries.
“We face series of challenges during our work. We are in dire need of help. We too want to be provided with salary or allowance,” Alpha Sulay Ann, the Alkalo of Tallen in Jokadou, made his contributed on behalf of his fellows. Momodou Gassama, the Alkalo of Kerr Omar Saine said they should be provided with mobility to ease their work. Oumie Bah, a native of Kerr Ardo said the new Constitution should make provision for the government to buy the products of farmers from them.