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Parliament Debates 90 Days of Public Emergency, Calls for Disclosure of COVID-19 Donated Funds

The national assembly of The Gambia is currently debating the executive’s motion of the proposed extension of the state of public emergency to a 90 days period across the country. But so far, this has not been agreed by the majority of the parliamentarians who took to the floor to raise concerns about possible implications.

The standing committee on human rights and constitutional matters has this morning recommended for the reduction of the period to 45 days, which seems to attract more support. The committee has also stamped its powers to recommend for the disclosure of funds that have been received for the fight against coronavirus.

Background:

The Friday sitting was necessitated by the heated-debate that ensued on Thursday in which the member of Serekunda, Halifa Sallah insisted that the motion tabled by the attorney general and minister of justice, Aboubacarr Tambadou should be discussed by the standing committee on human rights and constitutional matters first before consideration.

Hon. Halifa Sallah

Sallah said adjournment of debate to Friday would allow the committee to determine whether certain restrictions outlined in the regulations are justifiable in a reasonable democratic society.

His adjournment motion went ahead to attract the majority views of his fellow deputies and the sitting was adjourned with the condition that the committee must meet immediately and report the following day. Hence the deadline for the presidential proclamation ends today.

The committee’s deputy Chairperson, Suwaibou Touray, member of Wuli West briefed the assembly stating that amongst others that they agreed to reduce the 90 days to 45 days.

“There have been divergent opinions on this among the members of the committee for an extension to the 90 days period. The committee finally agreed to recommend for 45 days,” he disclosed to his colleagues which would later prompt an open debate in the house.

However, he considers that it’s equally advised to take note of the seriousness of the pandemic.

Touray said the Justice Minister argument is based on the fact that the 90 days period will avoid regrouping and will enable the government to prepare for a long-term plan.

Hon. Suwaibou Touray

“The committee recommends that the assembly approve the motion for the extension of the period of the state of public emergency tabled by the Hon. Attorney general, that the period for extension be reduced from 90 days to 45 days,” he sought approval for members.

Relief Package for the Poor 

He recommended that the Ministry of Finance and Economics Affairs and the relevant line ministries – Health, Trade Tourism, Transport and the Interior to work with the Attorney General and Minister for Justice to come with a compensatory mechanism to provide some relief package to the most vulnerable people during the times of restriction.

Touray said the committee agrees that there must be a financial compensatory mechanism in place in order to reduce the hardships imposed by the above regulations.

“The Minister of Finance and Economics Affairs confirmed that as for now, there’s no compensatory mechanism but assured the committee that the government is looking into the situation for the possibility of providing such a relief package for the most vulnerable sectors of the society.”

“The committee advised that the government be more flexible in the collection of rates, taxes and revenues from the people taking into consideration the state of public emergency and the restrictions imposed by the subsidiary legislations.

“The committee recommends for the minister of finance and economics affairs to state and disclose all funds that were given by donors before the parliament and such grants are subjected to parliamentary approval,” he added.

The committee also argued that the commercial businesses should not be completely banned, rather restrictions should be placed on their opening and closing times.

“…the committee advised the Minister of Justice to clarify to the assembly the reasons that led to the declaration of the second proclamation and the non-applicability of the 21 days duration of the first proclamation as the national assembly was in session.”

Members’ Reactions

The member for Basse, Muhammed Magassy is satisfied with the 45 days extension if there is a state of public emergency. He is concerned with the extent of losses already made in the current situation and urged the government to make an assessment on that first.

“By now I thought all the ministers should be ready and give us an assessment that when the president made the declaration from the day one up to the seventh day looking holistically at the situation of the country and tell us this is what we observed.

“That will help us whether to further continue or not to continue. As at now we don’t have the information,” he said.

Magassy is also concerned about the living conditions of people as businesses are restricted by the president’s proclamation in the name of non-essential commodity sellers.

“To me every commodity is essential. It may not be essential to you but it’s essential to the person doing it because that is what that person earns his living from.”

Minority leader of the house Samba Jallow said they are in a situation in which they do not want electorates to be sick and also to get hungry.

“Making this decision is very difficult. It’s really difficult. The 90 days for me is not the problem. What the problem for me is the regulations that will be put in place for the state to govern the country within the period of 90 days – how this regulation is going to affect the people we represent.”

Samba Jallow

“We’re dealing with an emergency situation – nobody knows what’s coming. In case the 45 days collapse I know still now we can reconvene but we understand the country now is in a very critical situation because calling for another extraordinary session always comes with financial implications which this assembly must calculate.

“Within 45 days may God forbid, I pray that before 45 days we just hear coronavirus is gone but if that is not the case, what would be the position of the assembly to call back another extra-ordinary session to approve another 45 days. That will definitely be called for other financial implications with the situation that we are in, he stated.

However, Jallow, who is the MP for Niamina Dankunku said the regulations must be carefully stipulated

“If you close the non-essential commodity you are again depriving the person who is selling essential commodities because there will be no business.”

The national assembly member for Old Yundum, Abdoulie Ceesay challenged the government to consider the issue of providing food package to citizens:

“This is critical and if really the government has no plan to subsidise food packages for citizens, I think we further need to look into the state of emergency because it’s a fear.”

Regarding transportation, he opined that the government should consider the plight of drivers and subsidizes fuel to commensurate with their condition.

Saikouba Jarju for Busumbala has reinforced the committee’s recommendation in respect to funding for COVID-19 financial aids. He suggested the creation of a special committee that will mobilize the and coordinate all donated funds meant to fight the virus. He believes this will minimize any potential corruption or misappropriation of funds.

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