By Nelson Manneh
The Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) on Monday December 16th 2019 concluded public consultations on the new draft Constitution. The Commission is tasked to review the current 1997 Constitution, and came up with a new draft Constitution to meet the test of time.
The 1997 Constitution has suffered several amendments and therefore an Act of the National Assembly was passed to empower the CRC to come up with a new draft. The new draft Constitution has 20 Chapters, 3 Chapters less than the 1997 Constitution. It has 315 Clauses and a revised Preamble that embodies all the elements considered fundamental including emphasis on respect for the rule of law and fundamental rights and freedoms.
The new draft Constitution also puts emphasis on good governance, separation of powers, sustainable environment and the equitable distribution and use of resources and equality before the Law.
During the second phase of their consultations with Gambians, Commissioners of the CRC faced challenges regarding some Sections and Clauses in the new draft Constitution that some citizens deem necessary to be part of the Constitution.
The Gambia Christian Council (GCC) deems it necessary for the new constitution to bear the word ‘Secular’ in its preamble, to secure all faiths. Pastors and other Christian leaders follow the CRC from one meeting ground to another, for the CRC to include the ‘Secular’ word in the new Constitution; that this is the only way all the faiths can be secured in the country.
“We were threatened by our former leader that the Gambia is an Islamic State. We do not want that to re-occur in this country again,” Pastor Silvester told this reporter.
In Kwinela village in the Lower River Region (LRR), members from the Gambia Supreme Islamic Council (SIC) made their contribution by advocating that the CRC should not include the word ‘Secular’ in the new Constitution.
“The word secular has never existed in our Constitution. So why should it be captured in this new Constitution. This country is dominated by Muslims and they need to be catered for,” Ebrima Hassan Cham, a member of the SIC said.
The CRC was challenged on other Sections in the new draft Constitution such as Section 52 on the Right to Marry. The relevant portion of the Section reads: “Marriage shall be based on the free and full consent of the intended parties”.
Many people interpret this clause that CRC is trying to promote gay marriage in the country.
“This is just a draft and it should not separate us. This is because we have been living in this country as brothers and sister for many years,” Justice Cherno Sulayman Jallow, the Chairperson of the CRC told reporters recently. Justice Jallowsaid the CRC has considered the various cultures and traditions of the country and they cannot in any way promote gay marriage rights.
“We have heard all your opinions and the CRC will consider all of them. We may not be able to capture all of them but we also have a report to write where will indicate the reasons why those that are not captured, are explained,” he said.
Among all the CRC’s public consultations, the one held in KM was the most tensed of all. This meeting saw Muslims and Christians could advocate vigorously for the exclusion or inclusion of the word ‘Secular’ in the new Constitution.