This paper is about a chronicle of the known Constitutions ever to operate in the Gambia and the harm they have done to the country. Writing Constitutions is no stranger to this country. Justice Cherno Sulayman Jallow’s Constitution is the third as far as we know, to have been written here.
Before this written Constitutions, there was one presented to the Gambia in 1965, by the Duke of Kent who represented Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth (Second) of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. This was the Independence Constitution. This Constitution was replaced by the 1970 Constitution.
For a period of 49 years, this country had cause to write three Constitutions at the average of every thirteen years. The rate at which Constitutions are produced in this country is very high. Some neighbours still retain their Independence Constitution. Whatever is one’s impression about our attitude, our record does not support self. Rather it indicates disrespect for our Constitution and country and disregard for the gentle people of this land we all call the smiling coast.
The rights of the people of this land had been hijacked at will by thugs who had thought they could legitimize their abhorrent act by writing a new Constitution. The Jallow Commission does not answer this description.
Astonishingly, the people of this country are made to pay a very high price for the self-serving act of only a few odd people in Uniform calling themselves a military junta. These have deterred the progress of this country. They have made us to look like helpless weaklings in the eyes of the people of the world. It has weakened the fabric of our society.
Under the reign of Sir Dawda Jawara, the level of attainment in the observance of the principles of democracy was very high, to the point that the UN and Commonwealth of Nations, often sent high level Government officers to study our mode of democracy at work. We have lost that entire image through the wreckless act of a few power-hungry individuals. That is not all what we have lost. It has retarded the advancement of the country towards ethnic harmonization. The Mandinkas and the Jolas of West Coast had had excellent relationship. But this was dashed by political adventurers coupled with the interference with our economic growth and stability, leaving this country wobbling and psychologically affected. Let us appraise the ways and manners past Constitutions came into being.
In 1970, a Constitution was authored by Government officers, principally, personnel of the Attorney General’s office. The writers of that Constitution assigned wide powers to their office and created the office of the Ministry of Justice to benefit themselves.
In 1994 the junta that forced itself into power and trampled on the Constitution by setting up a body that would write a new Constitution to suit them. They chose someone who wanted the best for the Gambia, one who would not sell-out. He was the late Dr. Lenrie
Peters. He ignored the detractors who attempted to derail the work of the Commission and maintained the worldwide conventional standard of a two five year term. This clause was rooted out of the Constitution by the members of the junta.
I wish members of the Constitutional Review Commission to consider the following:
(1) This country is ruled by institutions authorized by the Constitution and act of parliament. Some are vested with too much power such as the office of the Secretary General at the office of the president. This should be review. That office was created by an expatriate who combined the office of secretary General, head of civil service and Permanent Secretary Ministry of External Affairs. All these offices were held by one man. That of the Ministry of External Affairs was later surrendered to Gambians. He continued to retain the other two and handed them to his successors. This is like the powers of heavens and earth, vested in one individual. The office should split into:
(a) Secretary General to the office of the president
(b) Head of the civil service
(2) The office of the Ministry of Justice and that of the Attorney General’s office too, should be split
(3) It is proposed that the new Constitution should have custodianship vested in the Gambia Bar
Association and foreigners registered with Bar Association should withdraw their membership to make the Bar 100% Gambian affair.
(4) The Christians Council of should consist of Roman Catholics, Anglicans and the
Methodists. These are the Churches in our country and they are the Churches we are familiar with. All other Churches must register.
(5) The one round vote system should never be discontinued. The other systems advocated are all recipes for trouble.
(6) The Marble as a token for voting be maintained.
(7) The age for the presidency should be no less than 40
(8) Citizenship should be maintained as it is in the 1997 Constitution. This is a small country and we have a population of about 60% youth. So we do not need new comers to fill our land and create problems for future generations.
Paper presented to TRRC and the University of the Gambia
BY ALHAGIE BA MUSA TRAWALLY of Literacy House, Latrikunda German