Halake’s London Letter: Response to “Gambian Insider” re: Age Amendment Debate.
Clearly my clients, Baa Tambedou and Mai Fatty, have thrown in the towel on this matter. But I suspect that they did so, not because they thought their interpretation of the law is wrong, but because people are so quick (like Gambian Insider!) to accuse them of disregarding the law. They surrendered for political reasons, not for legal reasons. In Gambian Insider’s own words: “How can we have rule of law in The Gambia when the law is not respected? One cannot claim rule of law but does not follow the directives of the law”.
It is for fear of such baseless claims that, I think, the honourable gentlemen backed down. And I suppose because the Ghost of the Lawless Dictator Yahya Jammeh still traumatises the people of The Gambia.
Law is a matter of interpretation. This particularly badly drafted piece of legislation shows all the difficulties involved in legal interpretation. Gambia Insider cannot, on the basis of his own interpretation, accuse others of “not following directives of the law”. It does not matter if he is the doyen of the Gambian legal fraternity. His “interpretation” is as good as that of the newly qualified lawyer – until a judge rules and says his interpretation is the correct one. That ruling of the judge is what is meant by “the rule of law” – not any Tom, Dick and Harry’s “interpretation” of the Constitution. Ours are opinions – to a judge belongs the “interpretation”.
“Gambia Insider’s” Interpretation
Gambian Insider says: “Now to subsection 226(4); This subsection states that: A Bill for an Act of the National Assembly altering any of the provisions referred to in subsection 226(7) shall not be passed by the National Assembly or presented to the President for assent unless:”
Halake says: Forget the “unless”. The fact is that “Age” is not one of the protected entrenched “provisions in 226(7)”. So referendum has nothing to do with “age amendment” – nor does 3-months gazetting.
Gambia Insider says: “Of particular concern lately has been the age limit for the office of the president and vice president respectively … The age limit is repugnant to democratic principles”.
Halake says: I agree 100%.
Gambia Insider says: “The question is how do you change it? The present administration wants to ignore all the requirements of section 226. If this is allowed to happen, then which provision in the constitution is safe?
Halake says: Section 226 was ignored because it does not cover “age amendment”. Simple. Don’t let Jammeh’s White Ghost traumatise you into thinking all Gambians in authority want to subvert the Constitution. The Chief Guardian of the Constitution in The Gambia today is the Lord Chief Justice Hassan Babucarr Jallow and, if this fact does not make you sleep easy then nothing will.
Gambia Insider says: (now stretching his “interpretation” beyond the realms of us ordinary mortals who understand “age” to mean 65 and “term of office” to mean the 5-years a President stays in office between elections!)
“There are those who have made the argument that the age limit provision is not included under section 226(7) and hence the requirements of 226(4) are not required. That, in my view is a wrong interpretation of the provision. Under subsection 226(7)(g) we read: “section 63(1) and the first sentence of section 71(2)(which [respectively] relate to the term of office of the President and the qualifications of Secretaries of State)”. Now section 63(1) refers to the term of office of the president, but before one even begin considering the term of office of the president should we not see if the president and the vice president for that matter are qualified to the respective offices? And what is one of the disqualifications to those offices if not the repugnant age limit”!!!.
Halake says: Editor, Gambia Insider has lost me here! I am not going to debate whether or not “age limit” is not the same as “term of office”. I am out of here, but respect to Gambia Insider: at least he has tried to explain the glaring fact that 226 does not cover “age amendment” … even if the best he can do is to claim that “age” should be subsumed into “term of office”!!
I wish others had tried as hard as Gambia Insider – but it no longer matters: my clients have surrendered for fear of being compared to Jammeh!