Posted - 06 Feb 2023 : 12:08:08
A NATIONAL SECURITY CONCERN
By Sulayman Ben Suwareh
The office of the vice president of the Gambia has been vacant for over two weeks. Since the sudden death of former vice president Alieu Badara Joof - from an unspecified illness whilst undergoing treatment in India - the position of the vice president is still unfilled!
The role of a vice president in The Gambia’s political set-up is more than merely acting as the successor to the president in case of the presidency becomes vacant, or the president cannot lead the country. The occupant of the office of vice president plays a vital role in the administrative functions of The Gambia as the principal executive assistant to the presidency. They also serve other essential tasks as stipulated in the constitution and if/when asked to do so by the presidency.
With the significance of the role, one wonders why the presidency is yet to appoint a successor in line with the constitution. The president should not only follow the constitution to the letter but should apply the spirit of the supreme law in appointing a successor. This is not just so that he follows the provision of Section 66/68 of the constitution on the vacancy of the office of the VP that the president SHALL appoint instead of the strong word SHOULD.
The president should factor in the loss of productivity the absence of a vice president has on the executive set-up. The importance of fulfilling administrative functions of the vice presidency is essential at the best of times. But this is, even more, the case considering the country's acute socioeconomic challenges.
EXPOSING THE STATE TO A NATIONAL SECURITY THREAT
As things stand now, in the unlikely event the president is unable to fulfil roles for any number of reasons, the speaker of the National Assembly automatically assumes the role of the president.
Owing to the controversy that followed the appointment of Mr Fabakary Tombong Jatta to the role of the speaker, one can imagine the constitutional crisis that would follow in such a scenario. Many Gambians, both at home and abroad, have a very dim view of the current speaker due to his position and role in the previous regime and his unpopular views during the country’s transition from a dictatorship to a “democracy.” So, the urgency to appoint a vice president should be seen in this light.
This oversight sets a dangerous precedent and adds to the all-pervading sense of predicament and insecurity in the Barrow leadership. We see this in his reluctance to entrust his security and the security of his family to the Gambian security services - and instead, putting his faith in the hands of foreign forces. One can deduce that he entrusts the very security and stability of his government to these forces from the regional states who make up the ECOMIG contingent.
Though on the surface, this setup might look favourable to Barrow, it does not come without its own set of risks. The president publicly showing distrust in his national defence and security services is fraught with danger. This is because, without meaning to, the president is exposing his presidency and safety to great harm. The lack of trust [and respect] can degenerate into a mutual disregard between him and the security services. In such a situation, the effectiveness of foreign security services diminishes significantly - and exposes the country to destabilisation.
THREAT OF THE ABUSE OF EXECUTIVE POWER
As things stand: with the office of the vice presidency vacant, Gambians should not discount the prospect of Fabakary Tombong Jatta becoming the president - out of hand. Should such an eventuality happen, we can rest assured that Jatta would waste no time creating an executive corps from a pool of Gambians who share his political outlook. This would give him overall control of all state institutions.
The speaker assumed the presidency would be the second coming of the APRC government with its attendant implications - the first of which would be the return of Yahya Jammeh. The consequences of such a situation would cause considerable risk to state cohesion and security and a reversal of the country’s fledgling democracy.
With our recent history, Gambians should not become complacent in presuming such a scenario is farfetched. After all, Gambians and non-Gambians alike have seen the extraordinary transformation of president Barrow from one with great promise to usher in transformational changes to one who openly disregarded the much-touted transitional program, used the power of incumbency and executive overreach to put the state on a problematic course. He has effectively made the National Assembly and other oversight institutions impotent.
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Article contributed by SULAYMAN BEN SUWAREH @06/02/2023!
A clear conscience fears no accusation - proverb from Sierra Leone