A lot has been said about the need for a new constitution in The Gambia , a “people-driven” constitution thanks to a small but very noisy group, the debate on the need for a new constitution for our country was sparked immediately after the 2016 presidential election by some” civic organisations” and so-called human rights groups.There is however, a dearth of actual reasons as to why the 1997 Constitution cannot be amended rather than scrapped.After all, it is still our supreme law.
Most new governments, seeking the democratic credentials that are often a condition for recognition by other nations and by international political, financial aid and trade organisations would prioritise the writing of a (new) constitution if they did not already have one.
The question is: why has The Gambia , a country that already has established its identity in almost all organisations that really matter in today’s world, a country that already has a constitution born out of a revolution; preoccupy herself with the cumbersome, costly and time consuming exercise of writing a new constitution?
Does The Gambia, really need a new constitution or is this a costly and pointless exercise by those who want change for the sake of change?Some will argue that there is a need to create a new Gambia underpinned by the values of democracy, rule of law, hard work and the supremacy of God.But is this a justification why we should scrap the 1997 Constitution? How sure are we that a new constitution will renew The Gambia? It is fallacious for one to think that a new constitution will fix all these problems that bedevil our dear country. I have always and will still argue that constitutions are by no means perfect documents.
If one has broken windows on his house, surely it would be foolish to demolish the entire building. The simple but wise thing to do would be to replace the broken windows without bringing the whole house down.
Constitutions are not perfect documents, they are after all written by men and not by God. Thus, Hon.Halifa Sallah and other constitutionalists will be best employed flagging up areas that need to be improved in our constitutional documents that already exist, rather than cry for a new constitution every time we spot a fault.
Even the crafters of the much acclaimed American Constitution at that time knew that what they had put together was not perfect, and they had the vision to allow for improvements.
The problem we have in The Gambia is not the constitution we operate, but the character of those who operate it. Even if you bring a constitution from the moon, as long as you have operators who continue to subvert it, the clamour for a new constitution will continue.
After the military interregnum, in 1994,the Junta suspended the 1970 constitution. But what happened? We continued to witness an avalanche of constitutional breaches by politicians especially after all what transpired within the past 23 years upto date when the nation witnessed another round of subversions and outright rape of the constitution by the politicians especially our so-called lawmakers.
Today, all institutions of governance are afflicted by the virus of a failed system and the clamour has again resumed with some calling for the enactment of a new constitution.
To me, all these agitations mean nothing if at the end of the day you have square pegs in round holes. A hood, as the saying goes, does not make the monk. As long as you have a leadership at all levels of governance that is incompetent, tribalistic and sectional, or led by religious bigots, we shall end up in square one.
So, , rather than embark on another endless agitation for change of constitution, we should fight corruption to a standstill. That is the starting point. From there, we will conduct free and fair elections in which votes will actually count, where the loser will embrace the winner and vice versa, and where at the end of the election, there will be no need to set up election tribunals. The party primaries of political parties will not only be free and fair, but transparent. From there we get rid of corrupt elements within our judiciary so that dispensation of justice will be handled by people with character, competence and the fear of God.
The institutions must be strengthened.Last year the Pakistani Supreme Court removed the prime minister from office on grounds of corruption. It did not require a new constitution in Pakistan for that feat to be achieved; it only happened because the institution is strong and working. Can this happen in Gambia today? I doubt it very much.Until all I have mentioned are done in The Gambia , we are heading to nowhere.
I don’t think we need a new constitution for The Gambia. The 1997 Constitution that we are operating, to me, is enough. If we resolve to do a new constitution, it would not work until and unless we change our attitude. No matter how well-written a law is, it is written for people and if the people do not change their attitude, the constitution will only be a beautiful piece of legislation.
Unfortunately, in recent times, we have elected members of the states and National Assembly who are more self-centred. If you sit down to look at the amendments done in the last few years, you will notice that it is the projection of the lawmakers than the electorate. Law-making is for the future and not for today.I believe this National Assembly is the worst in the history of the country. Look at the amendment age-limit ; it is meant to serve an individual.
If we are to write another constitution under the supervision of the present members of the National Assembly, it would mean wastage of resources. How can you amend the constitution just for the sake of one individual. It is the height of unguarded legislative rascality.
Finally, it would be fair to say most Gambians in general thought and may still be right to think that we already have a constitution and wonder why we are tying ourselves in knots by trying to create an artificial Constitutional crisis.
Long Live The Republic of the Gambia.