By Amie Sanneh
The United States Ambassador to The Gambia C. Patricia Alsup, told National Assembly Members (NAMs) that Gambian citizens will not tolerate another rubber stamp legislature.
She said citizens want a strong and effective legislature that is responsive to their will and consistently act in their best interest.
Ambassador Alsup was speaking to Parliamentarians on Monday 30th October 2017, at the opening of a three -day forum organized by the West African Network for Peace Building (WANEP) and the forum was held at a local hotel in Senegambia. The forum is supported by the U.S. Embassy Banjul office and the U.S. State Department’s Africa Regional Services Office in Paris, France. The theme of the forum is: “The Role of Legislators in Promoting Transparency, Accountability, Good governance and Human Rights.”
Ambassador Alsup said citizens will be watching closely to see what kind of laws and motions are presented, debated and approved on their behalf; that citizens will not also tolerate any hint that vestiges of the former regime remain.
Ambassador Alsup expressed confidence that Law makers will work tirelessly to fully restore the integrity of this critical arm of Government. She stated that their diverse political representation at the Assembly is one of its most notable strengths. “Now it is up to you to carry out your responsibility to the Gambian people as a co-equal branch of Government,” she said. She stressed that their responsibilities are as important and demanding as the responsibilities of the executive and judicial branches of Government; that as elected leaders, their responsibilities to their constituents are to provide strong oversight of the executive branch, ensure that Government is transparent and accountable to the people, establish a budget that reflects the needs of the people, repeal unjust laws and pass laws that protect basic human rights and ensure that no one is left behind. She told NAMs that if they work together in the interest of the Gambian people, they have a chance to redraw the National Assembly’s image and change its story.
As democratically elected representatives, she said NAMs have a crucial role to play in transforming the nation. She expressed hope that they will fully and actively engage in the creation, debate and approval of laws, policies and best practices, that uphold democracy and good governance, while promoting the human rights of all Gambians. She urged NAMs to put aside their political and individual differences and collaborate with one another to make new Laws, change or repeal oppressive and obsolete Laws and approve grants and budgets that will improve the quality of life and socio-economic status of Gambian citizens, for generations to come.
Madam Alsup said during the course of the three days, they will be discussing about the challenges confronting the National Assembly Members as they work to promote transparency, good governance and human rights in the “New Gambia”. She noted that her Government recognizes the challenges the country faces in her transition from authoritarianism to democracy.
The Speaker of the National Assembly, Mariama Jack Denton, said The Gambia has performed badly in the area of civil liberties and the rule of Law over the past 22 years. “Many people lost their lives at the hands of an autocratic regime that systematically dis-empowered the national assembly and journalists and political opponents were forced to flee. Citizens were sent to jail without due process and civil society was rendered weak due to repressive Laws,” she said. This, she continues, is what happens when there is an autocratic executive that disempowered the legislative arm of government, reduces it in many instances to a rubber stamp and an instrument of the executive. “With the determination, diversity of this legislature, there is a window of opportunity to strengthen structures, systems and processes to build a better Gambia for posterity,” she assured. She also promised that they as the legislative arm of government, will priorities their three core functions of legislation, representation and oversight. She assured that they will create the enabling environment for an open government and an open society, enact good Laws to have the appropriate framework and will generate the conditions for sustainable democracy and good governance to flourish.
She said the forum seeks to expose members to the core values of democracy and good governance as they prepare for their oversight functions. The speaker described the theme as timely and critical for the effective performance of representatives in the New Gambia. She stressed the need for the establishment of good laws that will protect human rights including the rights of minorities, eliminate corruption in public finance management and create space for non- State Actors to participate constructively in the political and social economic transformation of the country.