Monday, December 4

An open letter urging President Barrow to veto the Former President’s Bill

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I write to you as a concerned Gambian to urge you to veto the Former President’s Bill which unfairly prejudices taxpayers and poses a significant threat to the goals of the transitional justice agenda. To wit, the TRRC’s specific recommendation of prosecuting former President Jammeh. In the alternate, I humbly ask that you return the bill to the National Assembly with recommendation before your assent. This is the moral thing to do for all Gambians.

In 2020, I vehemently opposed the CRC recommendation that the two-term limit must be retroactive. I argued that the proposal is not only unlawful under the current Constitution but an affront to fundamental fairness and due process. I wish I could say the same for this bill. But I cannot because I do not have a legal leg to stand on with this request. Instead, I am appealing to your moral conscience to consider the plight of the average citizen.

Indeed, the Gambia needs a former president Act that would regulate the affairs of former officeholders. Not only is that in the interest of national security, but such a law is necessary to guard against corruption post-presidency. As it stands, the National Assembly passed such an Act in 2006. Under the current law, former officeholders receive a sizeable salary,security detail, and reasonable accommodation. If anything, what the Gambia needs is for the Assembly to revisit the allowances of your office. For example, except for state functions, a president should foot the bill for his food and clothes. Also, health insurance should be limited to treatments at state hospitals (to ensure proper management). Absent these measures, we should debate if the officeholder’s salary should be substantially reduced to meet the economic realities of the country. It is for all the reasons I asked you to veto this bill.

First, under the bill, former president Jammeh is entitled to the benefits enumerated there. Specifically, the bill defines a former president as “a person who has held the office of the president under the Constitution.” And it further defines that the Constitution means “the Constitution of the Republic of the Gambia.” Thus, the only qualification is the former holder must assume office when the Gambia became a republic—April 24, 1970. With that expansive definition, both President Jammeh and late President Jawara’s spouse are entitled to the benefit.

Second, without getting into the legalities of whether we can even prosecute former president Jammeh under the current 1997 Constitution without a two-thirds vote from the legislators, not even a criminal conviction would bar President Jammeh from this rushed bill that failed to adequately investigate such an issue. Because the bill is not narrowly circumscribed, and no constitutional exclusion for convicted felons to forfeit pensions or allowances, assenting to this bill would be an affront to the TRRC and the recently passed Victim Bill. See Article 68 of the 1997 Constitution.

Third, neither the bill nor the National Assembly advises the citizens about the cost of this bill on taxpayers in the future. Although the parliament shirks its responsibility under Art. 111(4) of the Constitution, the recent National Service Assembly should appraise the members on the cost of the bill on taxpayersor if such a bill would undermine the efforts of the TRRC’s recommendation.

Moreover, asking the taxpayers to continue to frontload the lifestyle of former officeholders including overseas treatment is nothing short of being facetious to the citizens. Simply put, a former president has no legal disability to continue employment or other profitable ventures while significantly overburdening the taxpayers under this current bill.

Therefore, I deeply implore you to move forward with making the right decision—veto the bill.

Yours in legal,

Sarjo Barrow, a lawyer.