By Momodou Jarju
The Gambia National Assembly on Friday rejected the appointment of Mr. Baboucarr A. Suwareh as Ombudsman.
The decision was made during the first extra-ordinary sitting of the National Assembly in the 2019 legislative year, barely three days after Parliament declared its sitting sine-dine (meaning till further notice).
The Vice President, Dr. Isatou Touray, on 18 December, 2019 tabled a motion for the confirmation of the appointment of Suwareh before the NA on behalf of President Barrow. The NA later scrutinized the proposed appointment of Suwareh in order to approve or disapprove the appointment as required by law after seven days of presentation.
Samba Jallow, a member of the committee who moved the motion at the assembly, said their decision was guided by relevant provisions of the Constitution, including thorough review of Mr. Suwareh’s CV and other provisions. Jallow presented five resolutions as advice to the plenary for consideration.
The five included: “That the Assembly should not confirm the appointment of Mr. Baboucarr A. Suwareh as Ombudsman; that the appointment of Mr. Baboucarr A. Suwareh as Ombudsman be reconsidered by the President for another person of substantial administrative experience; that the other person to be nominated by the President for appointment as Ombudsman should be well verse in public administration and should have investigative skills; that the President in considering another person for appointment as Ombudsman should have regard for a person of high morals and proven integrity who have so distinguished him or herself in public administration; and the person to be appointed Ombudsman should be well versed, and of proven record in public administration with no political affiliation.”
Parliamentarians took turns to raise concerns on the appointment of Suwareh while applauding the Public Appointment Standing Committee of the National Assembly for scrutinizing and advising them as per Standing Order 114.
Vice President Touray told the NAMs barely a week ago that the appointment of Mr. Suwareh which took effect from the 1st of November 2019 is provided for under section 164 (1) of the 1997 Constitution, and section 2 (3) of the Ombudsman Act 1997.
She said the appointment which was made by President Barrow was conveyed in a letter dated 31st October 2019, and was copied to the National Assembly.
Ousman Sillah, the Banjul North deputy, said the office of Ombudsman is critical, adding the office of Ombudsman is a place where aggrieved persons resort to with the hope of getting redress and justice. He said the office should be manned by a person who is up to the task. Sillah said his first concern is that the provision of the constitution is such that the president should consult the public appointment commission, but this appointment was in the contrary.
He expressed his worry on the provision of the law that states that after the NA rejects the appointment of a person the second person the president appoints automatically occupies the position.
“I think we need to revisit that and make amendment to the law,” he said.
Latrikunda Sabijie deputy, Saikou Marong supported the report and said they should not appoint somebody in public office to serve the interest of one person.
Suwaibou Touray Wuli East deputy, said the person needed for the position should be a trained judge. He added that the person should be independent and impartial. He said the person should be a legal person who would resist criticism.
Jarra East deputy Sainey Touray, said Mr. Suwareh is a seasoned educationist and a patriotic Gambian who served his country faithfully. However, he said Suwareh does not have the requisite skills to man the office of Ombudsman.
He said the office calls for someone who is hundred per cent (100%) apolitical, while adding that the president brought the cart before the horse in appointing Mr. Suwareh.
Alfusainey Ceesay the deputy for Sami said the position needs a person who has legal background.
Some deputies argued that the person for the job should have a legal background to be able to administer the work well. But Sedia Jatta the Wuli West Parliamentarian said otherwise, quoting the constitutional provision to that effect.
He said the president has not put the cart before the horse.
Quoting the constitution, Hon. Jatta said it is said “the person (ombudsman) shall have substantial administrative and professional experience.” He hasten to add that offices are created for them to perform and not otherwise. He said the Ombudsman has not been performing, saying “the ombudsman must be empowered otherwise it would be useless.”
Halifa Sallah the Parliamentarian for Serrekunda shared the same view. He said the debate lies on the requirement of the constitution that the person must have “substantial administrative and professional experience.”
Sallah added that the executive is given the power to appoint and the legislature is given the power to scrutinize.
Sallah said the Ombudsman is an institution established to safeguard all the values of all and sundry in the country, adding that looking at the terrain the office of the Ombudsman has to survey, and so the president is not the best candidate to appoint the Ombudsman.
He said the office of the Ombudsman is the institution where all public officials would declare their assets, and so it is not an ordinary office.
He however suggested that the NA appointment committee could have met with the public appointment commission, the appointee, ex-appointees, etc. to chart a way forward.
Brikama South deputy, Lamin J. Sanneh, recommended that they should look for a person within the institution who may be eligible to man the position.
In his response to the concerns raised by deputies, minority leader Hon. Jallow encouraged the consideration of the report when it gets back to President Barrow.
Jallow also said the President did not put the cart before the horse, but instead complied with the Constitution.
He further said the entire job of the Ombudsman deals with legal issues.
“The committee look at it, what is important is that every member who spoke here has spoken about the inability of that office functioning which is very important to the citizens, because they receive the entire complaints of every individual in this country,” he said.
Vice President Touray in responding to the concerns raised by the Parliamentarians said the appointment was done in consultation with the Public Service Commission which is subjected to NA’s scrutiny, which is contrary to what some of the NAMs said.
She said Mr. Suwareh is qualified for the position and has 33 years of administrative responsibility in the ministry of education which was with success.
She said the Ombudsman does not require a lawyer, but needs somebody who has the experience in moving things.
Speaking further she said: “When it comes to credibility, is a moral issue, ethics… let us ask ourselves who is more astute, who is more upright than him. Who can say that I am better than Baboucarr Suwareh?”
At this juncture, a point of order was raised by dozens of the National Assembly Members, who were hitting their tables unhappy with the vice president’s statement.
The speaker of the national assembly, Mariam Jack Denton, gave the floor to the Upper Saloum NAM, Alagie Mbow.
Quoting the standing orders of the NA clause 37, Mbow said: “Any act or omission which obstructs or impedes the National Assembly in the performance of its functions or which obstructs or impedes any member or official of the assembly, the discharge of his or her duties or affront the dignity of the National Assembly shall be a Contempt of the National Assembly and in addition to any liability in respect therefore under the criminal law.”
Dozen parliamentarians knock on their tables as a way of demonstrating that they are in agreement with Mbow.
Mbow said the members have not voted yet on the report of the appointment committee, thus, for the vice president to impute that they are saying no and asking who is a better person than Mr. Suwareh is out of order.
After the response of the vice president, 99 percent of the members present voted against the appointment of Mr. Suwareh as ombudsman. Only one person voted in support of the appointment.