By Awa B. Bah
A heated exchange between Halifa Sallah, Member for Serrekunda Constituency and Speaker Mariam Jack Denton unfolded at the National Assembly (NA) yesterday in the middle of a sitting.
This came about as a result of the intervention of the Speaker while Mr Sallah had an argument with the Minister of Finance Amadou Sanneh who moved a motion, on behalf of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, on a loan agreement between The Gambia and China.
The argument ensued at a time when majority of the deputies rejected the motion tabled by the Minister.
Halifa Sallah said the sum of the money in the Framework agreement should be put in dalasi or dollars because many people cannot conceptualize or know the sum involved. He demanded for the minister to update them on the amount. He said the essence was that The Gambia was simply given a framework to adopt which, according to him, indicates time frame of seven years and the payment within a period of twenty years at two percent interest. The loan on the real agreement, he said, is the problem because Article 5 is saying that China and The Gambia review the utilization of loan at any time on any issue which may arise in the cause of implementation. This, according to Halifa, is referring to a loan when they have not looked at the loan and are still questioning if this could proceed. He said it is like The Gambia is agreeing to something that Gambians do not know. This, he said, is putting the cart before the horse and called for consideration rather than looking for a framework agreement.
The minister took the podium to respond to the points raised by Halifa. Halifa soon rose to make a point of order that the minister’s response was not in line with the issues he raised, but the Speaker intervened saying that the minister should be allowed to land no matter what he is saying. The speaker said that if the answer is not satisfactory he can come back.
Reacting to the rejection of the motion by deputies, the minister said the national assembly is not aware of the consequences of rejecting the Framework agreement between The Gambia and China on the provision of concessional loan by China to The Gambia and what it implies for The Gambia. According to the minister, The Gambia entered into this agreement with China so as to uplift the ITC sector round the whole country to bring the speeds of networks. This, he said, is what all developing countries are doing. According to the minister, the national assembly members who rejected the move do not to see the Gambia’s telecommunication developing and they will answer to their own consequences.
This was the time when Halifa rose and indicated that there should be decorum in any parliament, but that the minister was trying to convince and threaten members for rejecting the loan. At this juncture, the speaker butted in while Halifa was speaking, saying that there was nothing like that mentioned by the minister.
Halifa asked the minister to behave but the minister reverted back to Halifa saying that Halifa should behave well. This was the time the Speaker ordered the sergeant-in-arms to escort Halifa out of the chamber, if not the sitting will not continue. Halifa put it to the speaker that she did not have that power and called for a point of order. Halifa could be heard telling the speaker “You better behave we are respecting you in anything and that you should respect yourself.”
Other members could be heard telling the security not to touch Halifa, if not the national assembly will be disorganised and that will be a big shame on the security and that Halifa is not moving an inch. Members demanded from the Speaker to tell them the reason why Halifa should leave the chamber, but the speaker turned deaf ears.
Halifa told her that he has given her tremendous respect as a woman and that she should bear that in mind. He said that it is not in his character to demean anybody, especially a woman, and that he wished to give her the respect that is due to her. He said that he spoke about decorum and that he has finally withdrawn it. The sitting then continued.
The sitting was suspended for an hour as most of them could be seen following Halifa while others went downstairs for dialogue and finally a motion was moved for the sitting to be suspended for the house to be regularized.