I am pleased, once again on behalf of the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC), to welcome and engage with you, our media partners in the constitutional review process, to yet another dialogue where I update you – and through you the general Gambian populace – on the activities the CRC has been embarked upon since the last time we got together in a similar setting.
Since the inception of our work at the CRC, press conferences have become a regular engagement where we interface with you directly. This has been possible largely on the basis of the partnership and cordial relationship the CRC has been able to forge with individual journalists and media houses covering the constitutional review process. We, at the CRC, certainly recognize that we have a shared journey not only with the Gambian people and other stakeholders, but also specifically with members of the media whose continued support continues to be an invaluable source of strength for us.
A lot has been going on in the Commission and work continues to be both exciting and challenging. We have, through our consultative process, received and learned a lot from our citizens and other stakeholders who accepted our invitation from early on to engage with the CRC to collectively help in developing a new Constitution for The Gambia.
This engagement has taken the form of direct face-to-face public consultations with Gambians at home and abroad, dialogue with political parties and key central and local Government institutions, dialogue with civil society, written contributions in response to the CRC Issues Document, conduct of household surveys where a total of nine thousand two hundred and sixty three (9263) eligible respondents from the age of 18 years upwards were sampled in different enumeration areas throughout the country, conduct of online surveys through questionnaires on key constitutional reform issues, one-on-one dialogue with our traditional Chiefs to learn more about the historical perspective of chieftaincy in The Gambia and other bilateral discussions with development partners.
We have received wonderful proposals that are guiding us in our effort to design and build a new Constitution for The Gambia. We have also received opinions that express frustrations and a desire to make things better for our country. Some of the views and opinions we have received will not necessarily find their way into the new draft Constitution, but will certainly assist in shaping the new draft Constitution and the report that we have a mandate to prepare.
On the other hand, we recognize and appreciate that building a Constitution can be a really daunting task and the one we are embarked upon is not an exception. We have the important challenge of piecing together the opinions we have received over the last 8 months-plus, analyse them and determine which ones represent the aspirations of the Gambian people and thus can be properly built into the new draft Constitution. Within this scope also is the need to work on and establish what constitutional issues represent international best practice.
In addition, we have the responsibility of determining our country’s international obligations in relation to treaties The Gambia is a party to and how these relate to or affect the constitution-building process. Not the least irrelevant is the importance of giving weight to the norms and values of our people and society. I’m sure you all recognize the challenges we are faced with, but we continue to be determined to carry on with our assignment to a successful conclusion.
Overall, from our assessment of the opinions and aspirations expressed by Gambians and other stakeholders during the constitutional review process, the following key issues stand out:
The democratic governance of The Gambia must be given priority – the need to respect the rule of law and fundamental rights and freedoms;
Governance institutions must be strengthened to uphold the values and the letter and spirit of the Constitution – the need to guard against abuse, and the arrogation of unchecked exercise, of power;
Proper management of public finances and ensuring effective accountability in government – tackling corrupt behaviour and restoring public confidence in government as an institution;
A development process whereby local government serves as a meaningful engine for national development – the need to empower local government authorities to ensure development from bottom-up;
The importance of ensuring adequate checks and balances between the key Government institutions of the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary with each being independent but providing a supportive role to each other as a mechanism for enhancing the democratic governance of The Gambia; and
The need to adequately protect our natural environment – i.e. fisheries resources, forest (at least what is left of it), etc. – as well as our water and other natural resources (including the equitable sharing of those resources), and the equitable use and distribution of land in such responsible manner that the future generations of Gambians can equally benefit from.
I now address some specific matters relating to the CRC’s work since we last met and as we continue to carry out our assignment of reviewing the current Constitution and commence the drafting process to develop a new Constitution for The Gambia and the accompanying report.
The Commission has concluded its external public consultations with Gambians in the diaspora. This has brought us essentially to the end of the CRC’s process of canvassing and receiving opinions from the public with regard to constitutional reforms.
In Africa: the CRC meetings were held in Senegal (Dakar) and Mauritania (Nouakchott). In the Middle East, the meeting was held in Saudi Arabia (Jeddah). These meetings were undertaken in late April and early May 2019.
In Europe: the CRC engaged Gambians in the United Kingdom (London), Germany (Berlin), Sweden (Stockholm), France (Paris) and Spain (Girona). These consultations were held during the course of the month of June 2019.
In the United States: the major cities in which the CRC held public consultations were New York City, Washington DC, Atlanta, Seattle, Minneapolis and Raleigh. These consultations were held in late June and early July.
The consultative process sought to learn of and receive the views and aspirations of Gambians living in the diaspora on the drafting of the new Gambian Constitution.
The turnout and contributions during the public consultations were quite impressive and the external exercise went far enough in enabling Gambians abroad to have a strong sense of belonging in the constitutional review process. Diaspora Gambians who not only attended and participated in the consultation process, but also took their own initiative through social media and other platforms to encourage Gambians in the diaspora to attend and contribute their quota to the review of the current Constitution, had expressed delight at being afforded the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be a part of developing the Constitution of their own country.
While we were not able to visit other key jurisdictions, we had witnessed where Gambians had travelled across states in the United States to attend the public consultations nearest to them. Although we could not visit Canada (which has a large Gambian community), our compatriots in that country dispatched a representative in the name of Bintou Barrow (Gambia’s Consul General designate in Toronto) to attend the public consultations in New York on their behalf. All-in-all, we have been satisfied with the level of reception and participation of diaspora Gambians in all the regions we were able to visit.
I should add that the success of the CRC’s external consultations has largely been due to the commitment and leadership of the various Gambian associations in the countries we visited. They went beyond the norm to ensure that Gambians in their jurisdictions were properly notified and made sterling arrangements, working with the CRC’s team of logisticians, for comfortable venues for the public consultations.
In all these endeavours, our Ambassadors, High Commissioners, Charge des Affairs and Consul Generals through the leadership of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, effectively led the arrangements for the public consultations in their various jurisdictions. They attended and stayed with us throughout our consultations and indeed our Ambassador in the United States was able to attend every meeting we’ve had in the 6 states we visited. Our Ambassador at the United Nations also equally participated in the consultations held in New York City.
We thank all of them, including the individuals who took it upon themselves to ensure our comfort during our engagement with the Gambian diaspora.
Submission Deadline Extension
As part of efforts to seek the opinions of all Gambians both at home and abroad on the drafting of the new Constitution, the CRC considered it necessary to extend the deadline for the submission of position papers to the 15th of July, 2019. The decision was borne out of the need to give ample time to the public and stakeholders to contribute to the constitutional review process. That deadline, of course, has now expired. We have to terminate the consultation phase in order to proceed to the next phase of piecing together the opinions we’ve received, analyse and take decisions with respect to those opinions and prepare drafting instructions for the actual drafting of the new Constitution. We are very much mindful that our mandate constrains us to an 18 month period which expires towards the end of this year.
The mandate of the CRC requires it to consult with Gambians and other stakeholders to seek their opinions on what they aspire to see included in the new Constitution for The Gambia. It is precisely for this reason that we gave enough time for the public to be part of the process. We are confident that we have used every meaningful method possible to reach out to and afford Gambians the opportunity to participate in and share their views on the shaping of the next Constitution. Many have seized the opportunity and, to them, I say on behalf of my fellow Commissioners and the entire CRC staff, THANK YOU, YOU HAVE DONE WELL FOR YOUR COUNTRY.
On Monday 22nd July 2019, an in-house capacity building exercise was conducted for all CRC staff by the CRC Statistics Unit on how to generate various types of graphs and charts using the Microsoft Excel application. Most CRC staff are involved in some form of report writing, and there are sections of some of the reports which would require quantitative and qualitative analyses. Since its inception, the CRC has encouraged the culture of knowledge transfer through such internal capacity building trainings.
Data entry for the CRC Household Survey is ongoing and is expected to be completed shortly. CRC statisticians are pursuing a rigorous data verification process through the use of double data entry system so as to ensure clean and accurate data sets. The results will be fed into the CRC’s decision-making process.
The CRC engaged the National Records Service (NRS) for assistance in the development of a standard Records Management System. The NRS completed their work timely and were able to train identified CRC staff on how to manage the newly created CRC Records Management Unit (RMU). The CRC is also in the process of implementing all other recommendations of the NRS to ensure an efficient and effective records management system.
The constitutional review process is a historic exercise. Thus, there is a sacrosanct need to ensure that the records are effectively kept and maintained for future reference, in addition to the use they are being put to during the course of our assignment in drafting a new Constitution and preparing an accompanying report.
The CRC Act empowers it under section 11 to establish technical committees, with each technical committee being chaired by a Commissioner, to facilitate and assist with the work of the CRC. In line with that provision, five (5) technical Committees have been established, three (3) of which were inaugurated earlier in April and May of this year.
The established technical committees that started work about three months ago and are winding up are Public Finance Management, chaired by Commissioner Fatoumata Jallow and assisted by Commissioner Salimatta Touray; Land, Environment and Natural Resources, chaired by Commissioner Lamin Camara and assisted by Commissioner Dr. Melville George; Media, Public Education and Communication, chaired by Commissioner Amie Joof-Cole and assisted by Commissioner Yankuba Dibba.
On Monday, 5th August, 2019, the remaining two technical committees, namely: Technical Committee of Experts on Constitutional Law, chaired by Hawa Kuru Sisay-Sabally (Vice-Chairperson of the CRC) and the Technical Committee on Constitution Drafting and Report Writing, chaired by Commissioner Janet Ramatoulie Sallah-Njie, were launched and members took their oath of office for work to commence in earnest.
The role of the technical committees is to assist the Commission to identify constitutional related issues from an experts’ perspective and to make recommendations on what specific matters (referred to them) to capture in the new Constitution and how key oversight institutions can be strengthened to promote good governance in The Gambia. In that context, the CRC will refer specific matters to the technical committees to review, research and provide recommendations on. This process, in addition to the public consultations (oral and written), is designed to ensure that the CRC has the benefit of the full range of opinions and expertise in making objective assessments on matters that should be incorporated into the new Constitution. The CRC will ultimately determine the drafting instructions to be relied upon by the Technical Committee on Constitution Drafting and Report Writing in drafting the new Constitution and the accompanying report for the consideration of the full Commission.
It should be noted that once the draft new Constitution is ready, it will be made available to the public for comment. The process of soliciting comments and feedback on the draft new Constitution from the public will also entail local public consultations. This will be followed by the finalization of the draft Constitution and a report which will include the processes adopted by the Commission in developing the new Constitution and the rationale for the provisions enshrined in the Constitution.
In conclusion, let me reiterate once again, that all opinions and other representations that the Commission received are considered in accordance with the guiding principles enshrined in the CRC Act 2017. The constitutional review process continues to be guided by the principles of Participation, Inclusiveness, Transparency and National Ownership, the end product of which will be a sound Constitution which reflects the collective values, beliefs and aspirations of Gambians.
On behalf of my fellow Commissioners and on my own behalf, I take the opportunity, once again, to thank Gambians and all other stakeholders who saw value in engaging and indeed did engage with the CRC on the development of a new Constitution for The Gambia, for their participation and active engagement. It is fair to state that had we embarked on drafting a new Constitution for The Gambia without the input of Gambians and other stakeholders, we most certainly would not have benefitted from the range of excellent opinions and guidance we have been able to receive.
We are reinforced in our belief that there is always value in consulting. Our public consultations process has seen a diversity of opinion, but more gratifying is the respect everyone has accorded to each other’s opinion even where they disagreed. This is phenomenal, and we at the CRC are convinced that together as a people and as a country, recognising that the writing of a Constitution is not only about the present but also about the future generations of Gambians, not about me but about us collectively and not about personal interest but about the interest of all Gambians and our country, we can develop a new Constitution that we can legitimately take ownership of.