By Nelson Manneh
Hon. Ousman Sillah, the National Assembly Member (NAM) for Banjul North, on Friday, 4thJuly, 2017 met with the electorate, particularly of his constituency. He told the gathering that the purpose is to report to them what has been happening since his election into office in keeping with a promise he made during the election campaign.
According to speakers and the others who attended the meeting, this is the first time in the history of The Gambia when a political representative organised a meeting to particularly give a report or render account to the electorate not only on what has been happening but also what he was saying and doing on their behalf as well as to hear their concerns from them.
This ‘account rendering’ meeting was held at the junction of Mosque Road and Lancaster Street in the Box Bar Ward of Banjul North and will be repeated in the other two wards of Campama (Tobacco Road) and Crab Island, respectively, in the next successive Fridays, according to Hon. Sillah.
The law maker, in his introduction, said in a bid to ensure a democratic, transparent and accountable representation, he had promised the electorate of Banjul North during the national assembly elections campaign that if he is elected into office, he would be consulting with them on a regular basis in order to take note of their concerns and to report what is being said and done on their behalf at the law making oversight institution. “This means that I should be interacting with the people at the constituency level to discuss matters affecting their lives and livelihoods that may require my attention and intervention as their representative,” he added.
Hon. Sillah told the very attentive and enthusiastic crowd that since his election as a National Assembly Member on 6th April 2017 to date, he has been striving hard to the best of his ability to live up to expectation by honouring his promise to be a true servant of the people of The Gambia in promoting their welfare and defending their interest.
“I have been guided all throughout in my engagements and pronouncements by the dictates of conscience and national interest,” he said.
“It is the people who should have convened such a meeting and called me to explain to them what I have been doing as their representative in promoting and addressing their concerns and to also tell me what I should do for them,” said the Banjul North NAM.
He said a new Gambia is only possible if the people are concerned about how the country is managed by political representatives and involve in the governance process.
“You are the bosses, if you can permit me to use that term which is not part of my vocabulary, and as such you should take charge and direct your political representatives,” he added.
The Banjul North NAM explained in detail what had transpired in and out of the National Assembly during the past four months following their election in terms of the laws that were passed, the debates, oversight engagements, which he attended both in and out of the country.
“The National Assembly passed the Amendment of Appropriation Act No. 1 of 2017 which is a revision of part of the budget approved in December 2016 by the former National Assembly in the previous APRC dispensation. The revised approved budget for the 2017 financial year presented by the Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs amounted to D12, 100,592,030 (Twelve Billion, One hundred million, Five hundred and ninety two thousand, and Thirty Dalasi). This represents a reduction of D435 million” said the Banjul North NAM.
He said five new loans and three grant agreements were brought by the executive and approved by the legislature.
He reported that the executive also brought before them some constitutional amendments which were enacted such as the removal of the upper age limit for the presidency, the increase of the age for Supreme Court judges from 65 years to 75 years and the Tertiary and Higher Education Act.
“The National Assembly also approved the remuneration of D300, 000 for each of the three commissioners of the Commission of Inquiry looking into the financial dealings of former President Yahya Jammeh with the public enterprises for three months,” said the Banjul North NAM.
The Banjul North NAM dilated on his contributions to the debates on the bills, motions, President’s Address and adjournment debate and the parliamentary questions he asked and responded to by cabinet ministers.
Hon; Sillah dwelled on his oversight functions in which he informed the gathering that he was selected as the Chairperson of the National Assembly Select Committee on Health, Women (Gender), Children, Disaster, Humanitarian Relief and Refugees. “I am also a member of the Foreign Affairs Standing Committee and the Select Committee on Trade, NEPAD, etc., as well as the Parliamentary Union of the Organization of Islamic Conference,” he added.
Hon. Sillah also reported about the international meetings he attended in Mali and Burkina Faso and of which he was elected in the former to serve, as the only male and English speaking member, as the Treasurer in the five- member executive of the International Committee of Parliamentarians for the Abandonment of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) for three years.
Hon. Sillah told the gathering that apart from his statutory functions in terms of legislation, oversight and representation, he has also unveiled some independent initiatives to serve not only the people of his constituency and Banjul, in particular, but the country as a whole. He cited the initiative to establish a technical and vocational education and training centre (TVET) to be situated at the premises of the former Crab Island School with the full support of the ministry of basic and secondary education and other relevant stakeholders or partners. “This initiative is meant to address the problem of the existing skills gap, unemployment and poverty. It is meant to support young people acquire the relevant skills and knowledge to become productive and responsible members of society and to also boost economic productivity and demands of the labour market and enterprise,” he added.
The Banjul North NAM said he has opened an office in the constituency where the electorate and others needing his service can meet with him to discuss issues needing his attention and or action. He added “I want people to have access to me whenever they want to.”
He revealed that he has initiated a programme with the senior secondary schools in Banjul to support students with remedial classes in the core subjects of English, Mathematics and the Sciences which some of them have shown weaknesses. “I have approached the principals of all the senior secondary schools and proposed to them these remedial summer classes of which I will be going round to solicit support from former students and good Samaritans. I will be going round literally with that in hand to raise funds that will be sent to special bank accounts managed by the school administrations for the purpose,” said the Banjul North NAM.
“There are issues that are not my responsibility but because of the fact that they are really of concern to the people and are not being addressed by the duty bearers, I have to step in,” he said.
He cited the environmental cleansing exercises called ‘Set Setal’ (cleaning of city gutters, drains and streets) which, he said, is the duty of the Council which is collecting tax from the people for the purpose.
Speaking earlier, Mr. Abdou Coker, in his introduction, said this event demonstrates “a real democracy at work.” He reiterated that this is also history in the making as this is the first time, as far as his memory serves him, that a parliamentarian in The Gambia is coming back to the electorate to say to them “tell me your problems and if I can get a solution I am ready to solve it.”
Mr. Coker said the Banjul North NAM is always coming up with surprises in the form of initiatives meant to serve the people, adding “He is really exemplary.”
Following the presentation of his report, many people made their contributions in the form of questions and comments. They all hailed the initiative and expressed their wish that it is emulated by others. They raised issues on the urgent need to address the appalling conditions of the infrastructure and poor sanitary situation in Banjul and the urgent need to address the problems of youth unemployment, poverty, health and the economy. They also enquired about what is holding the constitutional reforms that were promised such as the term limit, second round of voting, appointment of a vice president, from taking place.
Mrs. Ya Fatou Mbye Samba, Pa Sheikh Jagne, Habib Nyang, Kabir Mbye, Pap Ceesay, Aziz Dabakh Gaye, Eliman Jallow, Modou Jobe, were among those who raised questions and got responses from the Banjul North NAM.
The event was moderated by Dr. Pa Modou Njie, who saluted the NAM for the initiative and urged the electorate to take their representatives to task in serving them effectively.
“This is what the new Gambia needs and that is to have citizens who are proactive in challenging and monitoring their representatives in the discharge of their duties and responsibilities and by attending meetings of this nature and also National Assembly sittings,” he exhorted.