By Awa B. Bah
Halifa Sallah, the member for Serrekunda Constituency, on Thursday 15th March 2018, deliberated on the Visa Free agreement between the two Governments of the Gambia and Russia, for Holders of diplomatic and service passports.
The agreement which was tabled by the Minister for Foreign Affairs Ousainou Darboe, was laid before deputies for consideration during the fifth sitting of the first ordinary session of the 2018 Legislative year, at the National Assembly (NA) complex in Banjul.
According to Halifa, the motion before them was signed in Banjul on May 4th 2017, by a representative of the country and that of the Government of Russia; that under Section 79 of the Constitution, the agreement has been entered into by the government of the Gambia and it was now the duty of deputies to either ratify the bill and bring it into force or reject it; that the bill in technical terms, was validly brought before deputies. Halifa said by looking at the document, it calls for ninety days which shows that it is in line with bills that have been ratified; that a passport holder of either country can actually stay for ninety days under Article One of the bill; that they are duty bound not to pass any agreement that would result in the loss of the sovereignty of the country; that by looking at Article Six, any party can suspend the agreement by virtue of National Security, Public Health or any other; that under Article Six of the agreement, either country can suspend the agreement and that Article Ten notes that they should be able to amend whilst Article Eleven indicates that they should be able to revoke the agreement.
According to Halifa, their hands are not tied in terms of the Articles of Agreement of the Bill but differs on the logic that the Government should not enter into such an agreement on the basis of being the junior partner. Halifa said the institutions they are establishing in the country are institutions that should earn the respect of any country in the world; that International relation should be based on equality of member states, irrespective of size; that the Gambia should not enter into any relation believing that ‘we’ are the junior partner; that they are anticipating that the new dispensation opens up to the world, by establishing relations with any country that wishes to establish relationship with the Gambia; but also being mindful of not ultimately diverted from our objectives of relating to all nations on the basis of being dragged into any sector, that would undermined Gambia’s relation with other countries.
Prior to Halifa’s deliberations, the Minister for Foreign Affairs Ousainou Darboe in tabling the motion to be considered and adopted by the deputies said, within the promotion of friendly relations and the enhancement of diplomatic ties and reciprocity, the two governments agreed on granting visa free travel for holders of diplomatic and service passports; that holders of diplomatic and service passports of one state, shall have the right to enter, exit or transit freely within the other state without visa, for a period of ninety days, from date of entry; that the unique benefits obtained from the agreement is the easing of pressures on the consular and immigration services of both states; that with this agreement, diplomatic and service passport holders on a mission from either state, will not devote time to get visas for their assignments; that all individuals with diplomatic or service Passports from one state visiting or residing in the other state, must abide by the legislation of that state.
Darboe said it must be noted that his Ministry has only recently opened an embassy in Russia and that this visa exemption will therefore be an impetus for his Ministry and that of their counterpart in Russia and by extension, the various ministries in Government and their Russian counterparts, create and develop bilateral treaties to further strengthen relationships of the two nations.
Reacting to the motion, deputies welcomed and commended the Government for the initiative as it will facilitate the free movement of both officials; that this agreement is a move in the right direction as it will create international recognition; that Gambia was lucky to be recognized by one of the five permanent members of the United Nations as the new government is trying to regain the country’s stand in the international communities. These according to deputies, were some of the campaign promises made to Gambians.
Ousman Sillah, the member for Banjul North dilated on the issue of validity as to what was signed in the agreement and its legal implications, because it was signed in the name of the ‘Islamic’ Republic of the Gambia; that Russia should adjust to the fact that the ‘Islamic’ Republic of the Gambia is no more and demanded for answers when the holder of such a passport is no longer in possession of one.
The minister in response to the concerns raised by deputies on the visa free agreement, assured that the two governments will act on equal basis; that this they will do, to maintain that the Gambia is an established nation and that the country’s sovereignty will not be compromised; that this agreement, replaces the first one that was mistakenly brought before the assembly by the former regime in 2014 and signed.
The Bill was unanimously ratified.