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The need for serious reforms in The National Assembly

Saja B.Mboge MSW, LSSW.

It is high time for the National Assembly (“NA”) to establish an in-house office to help train our lawmakers in drafting bills. Sadly, since our independence in 1965, our national assembly has relied heavily on the executive branch. Far too long, our voters are taken for granted. To be an influential national assembly member (“NAM”), a NAM must represent their constituent to the core. But how can you effectively represent the interest and aspirations of the voters when you submit to another co-equal branch to do your primary job function for you—drafting legislations. In a nutshell, one of the roles of the executive branch is to execute laws enacted by the legislature.

In the 21st century, the need for training our lawmakers in drafting their own bills cannot be overemphasized. It should be an essential requirement for our NAM to run for office in The Gambia. The reason the executive branch has controlled the narratives since independence is because the NA is devoid of competent legislators. The Gambia has become accustomed to this practice to a point it is has become a de facto norm and reality. It is time for the NA to take charge of its core constitutional mandate.

The question one should ask is how we get to this conundrum and what the solutions are. The solution must be a collective endeavor for both the central government and the national assembly. Significantly, our political parties should play an integral role in this reform as well. This needed reform has to begin with nominating competent, skilled, and educated people for national assembly seats. It is high time for all the political parties in the Gambia to select and nominate NAMs based on competency, integrity, and love for the country. It is incumbent upon our political parties to move away from selecting people based on whom you know or what can she/he do for me. In choosing the eventual nominee, the electorates must have a say that represents them through primaries where potential candidates present their vision, policy, and voters decide. Every eventual nominee in each political party should be competent and have a strong work ethic. In the end, whoever won the election will be someone who has been vetted. It is inexcusable that our national assembly depended on the executive branch. No law-making bodies should rely entirely on the executive branch. If we want to move forward as a progressive nation, we should start taking accountability and holding our elected officials accountable. The national assembly must deviate away from such practices. We do not have to look too far to see how some of the commonwealth countries in West Africa have moved forward. For example, in Nigeria, most of the bills originate from either house than the executive. In 2018, Ghana began setting up a legal department to assist in the drafting of the bills for their lawmakers. Yet, in the Gambia, we sit and wait for the executive to draft bills for the NA.

In modern democracies, the executive has always played a role in drafting policies that, in turn, become laws, but we cannot depend on them entirely. It is high time a legal office is established responsible for training our lawmakers in writing bills. Such office should comprise of technocrats in marked fields to help train lawmakers in drafting bills. If we want to move forward, our NAMs must be competent, have the skillset, and the willingness to engage in research on sound policies. There will be no meaningful representation if they continue to depend on the executive branch. We should encourage our NAMs to engage in research. We must maintain the separation of power and its independence. How can the legislature depend on the executive when, in theory, they should be holding the executive branch to the task? The constitution could not have overemphasized the principle of separation of powers. From the looks of it, the central government has a role to make sure our NAMs stay independent of the two other branches of government through capacity building to ensure checks and balance. Governments come and go, yet our institutions remain. We should build a vital institution, so no matter who is there today, the institution will function.

To summarize, I urge the national assembly to establish an office where they will hire experts. No wonder it is not a surprise in western democracies, particularly the United States of America, where the majority of the lawmakers are lawyers by training. Also, each lawmaker has a congressional office staffed with policy junkies to help them further. I understand that the government cannot afford an office for each NAM. However, as a nation, we should move away from relying on the executive branch to write bills. I am not against the executive branch drafting bills that support their policies, but our NAMs must do their job for which they are elected. After all, they all represent their constituencies, and their lawmakers must advocate those wishes and aspirations.

Saja B. Mboge Memphis Tenneessee

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