LAW MAKERS BROKE THE LAW IN GAMBIA
Whiles the Gambia continues to grapple with the aftermath of the havoc of the Covid 19 pandemic on its shrinking economy which suffered a huge loss of estimated revenue of about 2billion dalasi coupled with a summary termination of jobs, laying off of staff in most sectors, shutting down businesses, the indiscriminate escalation of the price of essential commodities and the declaration of a State of Public Emergencies putting all gainful activities to an abrupt halt has seriously hampered the income of the estimated revenue by the Gambia Revenue Authority.
On November 26th2020 after the tabling of the Executive Budget Proposal by the Minister of Finance before the National Assembly in line with section (152) of the Constitution of the Gambia for the National Assembly to consider the estimates, the nominated member of Parliament Hon. Ya Kumba moved a motion in parliament to vote for the inclusion of D54.4m Loan Scheme for members and staff of the legislature to build their personal houses in the 2021 Budget. A slime majority of 17:16 parliamentarians voted for the Minister of Finance to go take the draft budget back to his office and include the loan scheme. This move by parliamentarians shocked the nation as Gambians expressed their disappointment on their elected officials whose primary mandate is to serve the best interest of its people and not self. Even though the Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs warned against such acts as it has legal ramifications and economy status of the country, the 17 members of parliament however defended their interest and demanded it to be included in the budget.
This act was a gross violation of the 1997 Constitution, the Public Finance Act 2014 and the Standing Orders which guides the procedures and behavior of parliamentarians. It is in this background that Gambia Participates, a civil society known for anti-corruption and fiscal transparency advocacy mounted a legal action against the action of the National Assembly at the Supreme Court in partnership with Center for Research and Policy Development. The two civil society called for the Supreme Court to declare the action of the National Assembly unconstitutional and violation of section 152 and 155 of the 1997 Constitution and Section 47 of the Public Finance Act and as well removed the amount of D54.4m from the budget of the National Assembly.
Activista The Gambia and Transparency International Secretariat (TIS) filed an amicus brief in the said case presenting international best practices on budget drafting, oversight and the limitations on the powers of the legislature.
Supreme Court Judgement
The Supreme Court after a marathon sitting finally delivered a sound verdict on May 4th 2020. The Court in its ruling declared one of the followings;
- That the inclusion of a sum of 54.4 million by the National Assembly in the estimates of the Revenue and Expenditure for 2021 contravened the provisions of Sections 152 and 155 of Constitution and violated Section 47 of the Public Finance Act 2014.
- The court also ordered the removal of the sum of D54.4million in the 2021 Appropriation Act, the D54.4m sums up D246,406, 737 allocated to the National Assembly and removal of it will leave a balance of D192,406,737 ; The Supreme Court in its ruling also stated that “in the event that the disbursement has already been done any and all the sums so disbursed should be recovered and /or retrieved forthwith.”
History making judgement
This legal suit has marked a turning point on the integrity of civil society organizations who are mostly regarded as toothless bulldogs. This is the first time in the history of civil society in The Gambia that a legal action is mounted against the National Assembly and get the ruling in the favor of the society. The land mark judgement has equally rejuvenated the trust of the citizenry in the Judiciary to have decided a case of such gravity against the National Assembly Members and staff of the National Assembly.
The judgment of the Supreme Court declaring the action of the national assembly and ruling in our favor as civil society is a hope for the future of our democracy and separation of powers. It is a disgrace that our “lawmakers” violated the laws of the country for their financial interest. Morally, Gambians in this difficult moment of Covid-19 pandemic expect their law makers to legislate budget that will help the country to recover from economy crisis.
Marr Nyang, the Executive Director of Gambia Participates
Conflict of Interests
The current parliamentarians were voted into office in 2017, few months after the end of the 22years kleptocratic regime of Yaya Jammeh. There were high hopes from Gambians that this Parliament will help the country through its transitional justice process and legislate reforms that will strengthen both the parliament and other democratic institutions. In fact, constitutional reform is central in their mandate as many of them campaigned. However, the same parliament rejected a citizen centric and progressive constitution in its entirety on party lines and individual interest thus blocking the opportunity for the citizens to decide for themselves through referendum. Some of the Parliamentarians complained that the draft constitution will cut their remaining four months’ salary if voted into referendum while other MPs complained that the draft constitution overpowered the legislature.
In the face of these economic uncertainties, doubts exist in the minds of the citizenry as to their faith in next year and the mode of repayment of this loan should they finally leave office, parliamentarians concord to vote for a loan of 54.4million with a majority decision of 17/16 and a significant number of other parliamentarians remain indifferent and retained their votes on the motion.
Consequently, this came as a disappointment to the entire Gambian citizenry as they frown at such act considering the current financial challenges the country battles with and the fact that many budget requests were denied by parliaments during budget sessions only to appropriate themselves millions of dalasi flouting their principles and ethics as key decision makers. Gambia Participates and Centre for Research and Policy Development stood up to challenge this act before the Supreme Court of the Gambia invoking its original jurisdiction to interpret the relevant provisions of the Constitution relied upon and eventually declared the loan scheme unconstitutional and therefore a nullity. The Supreme Court stroke out the sum of 54.4 million from the entire sum of funds allocated to the National Assembly declaring it Unconstitutional for default of following the laid down due process.