By Kebba Jeffang
The National Assembly members on Tuesday, 29th December, 2015 passed bill that seeks to increase the number of National Assembly members from 48 to at least 53.
The Bill seeks to amend the 1997 Constitution of the Republic of the Gambia.
Introducing the bill before the deputies, Mama Fatima Singhateh, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice highlighting the objective and reasons of the bill said, section 50 (3) of the Constitution empowers the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) to demarcate constituencies in the absence of a Constituency Boundaries Commission. Accordingly she said the IEC has decided to increase the number of elected members of the National Assembly members from 48 to 53.
“Given that the Constitution provides for 48 members, this bill seeks to amend the 1997 constitution of the Gambia to provide for an increase in the number of members of the National Assembly who are elected from constituencies, from 48 to at least 53 to cater for any future increment without the need for another Constitutional amendment,” said Minister Singhateh.
Meanwhile, section 88 (1) of the constitution is amended in paragraph (a) by substituting for the words ‘forty-eight members,’ the words ‘at least fifty-three members.’
In seconding the motion, Hon. Ousman Njie, MP for Sami constituency said the bill is important because the demarcation forms a major component of election to ensure the people are fairly represented in the National Assembly. He added that the constituencies demarcated are densely populated.
However, Hon. Samba Jallow, the deputy for Niamina Dankunku who doubles as the minority leader said IEC has already done the demarcation of the constituencies without the amendment of the Constitution contrary to the language of the minister who said “IEC proposed.”
He said he doesn’t know what is to be done first either amendment of the constitution or demarcation.
Meanwhile, Hon. Fabakary Tombong Jatta, member for Serekunda East who is also the Majority leader said the bill is not controversial because putting the cart before the horse or otherwise are all applicable in this case. He said if you are proposing something there is no need to wait for the law so that when the law is enacted one continues. He said the demarcation affected Serekunda and Tallinding constituencies. He added that there is a provision of the constitution that states in the absence of the Boundary Commission, IEC can create constituencies.
However, the Justice Minister when responding to the concern raised by the minority leader said amendment is just a proposal and the demarcation has not yet been acted upon. She said unless the law is passed, IEC cannot act on demarcation.
The bill was subsequently passed by the unanimous vote of the members, once again giving the nation’s election body the power to demarcate the constituencies and increment of the members of the parliament from 48 to 53.