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Parliament Again Fails To Vote On Constitution Amendment Bill

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Mariam Jack-Denton
Speaker of the National Assembly

By Landing Ceesay

The National Assembly of the Gambia (Parliament) for a second time failed to vote on the Constitution Amendment Bill 2021 because it did not meet the required threshold.

The Bill that seeks to spare 16 seats for women in parliament without contesting in election, was tabled at the National Assembly by Hon. Touma Njai, Member for Banjul South.

On Thursday 10th February, 2022 the First Reading of the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2021 was done in accordance with Standing Order 65. Accordingly, and as per Standing Order 67(1), on Thursday 17th February, 2022, the person-in-charge of the Bill, the Hon. Members for Banjul South moved a motion for the Second Reading of the Bill.

The motion was seconded on the same day and the debate ensued on the merits and principles of the Bill. Upon the completion of the debate, a vote was to be taken as required by Standing Order 67(2) before the Clerk could read the short title of the Bill signifying the Second Reading.

Section 226 2(b) of the 1997 Constitution, mandatorily requires that a Bill for an Act of the National Assembly amending or altering the Constitution shall not be passed by the National Assembly or presented to the President for assent, unless it is supported on the SECOND and THIRD readings by the votes of not less than three-quarters of all the members of the National Assembly.

“Hon. Members, three-quarters of all the Members of the National Assembly, are forty-two (42) NAMs. In addition, Standing Order 16(15) also requires that: In any instance where the Constitution requires a fixed majority to decide on a question, the Assembly shall not proceed to a vote on that question unless and until a number of members equivalent to such fixed majority is present at the time for voting.

 “Hon. members, as the above provisions are significant and fundamental procedural requirements of both the Constitution and the Standing Orders of the National Assembly, I directed that the division bell be rung for four minutes for members to take their seats and further requested the Table Office to confirm the number of members present at the time – i.e. on Thursday 17th February, 2022. However, there were thirty-five (35) Hon. members present, falling short of the required threshold of forty-two (42) for voting to proceed. As a result, I exercised my discretion as presiding officer, given the importance of the proposed Constitutional amendment, to suspend the voting until Monday 21st February, 2022 to sustain the process,” Speaker of the National Assembly Mariam Jack-Denton told the parliamentarians.

The speaker further stated that the number present and confirmed by the Table Office was less than the requirement for voting to proceed on the Second Reading of the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2021.

The Speaker said it could be observed that the situation the Assembly is witnessing over the weeks is unusual in their procedures and proceedings. She added that the National Assembly has never encountered a situation where voting on a Second Reading of a Bill was hampered because of the absence of the required threshold.

“Cognisant of section 226 of the Constitution of the Republic of The Gambia and Standing Order 16 (15) of the Standing Orders of the National Assembly; recognising that an Ordinary Session of the Assembly must end sine-die at some point and that the current session (First Ordinary Session 2022) ends on the 28th February, 2022.

“Whereas, there is no express provision in the Standing Orders regarding the matter at hand and in accordance with Standing Order 8, I hereby rule that the Second Reading on the Constitution (amendment) Bill, 2021 is negative for want of the required threshold to carry the motion for Second Reading of the Bill,” Speaker Jack-Denton ruled on the Bill.

 The Speaker of the National Assembly made the decision earlier today (21st February 2022).

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