The Broken Gavel – Halifa Sallah v Madam Denton (A Rejoinder)

By Musa Camara

Final part

The speaker runs that legislative body in the most lackadaisical way I have ever witnessed in our history. She comes to the work every day unprepared without any mastery of the Standing Orders or basic understanding of the business or documents before the assembly for consideration. She forgets that she is a facilitator but acts as the boss lady or tyrant over elected legislators. Her crime, however, is total and complete incompetence; and deserving punishment is wallowing in its deep latrine. If she has had mastery of the Standing Orders, she would not have allowed Mr. Sanneh to relitigate a motion that was debated, put to a vote and defeated by members of the National Assembly as stipulated in Section 36 (3) which states:
It shall be out of order to attempt to reconsider any specific question upon which the assembly has already taken a decision during the current session except upon motion to rescind that decision made with the permission of the Speaker and of which notice shall not be required.
After the motion on the framework agreement was defeated which the speaker forced to a vote, even though according to reports she insisted on beating a dead horse, she should not have permitted Mr. Sanneh to speak on it except where a motion to rescind the decision was made in the National Assembly. Mr. Sallah demanding enforcement of the Standing Orders of the National Assembly is a pesky and cumbersome “rigidity in following the proper procedures and rules of the House” that Mr. Kora believes inconvenienced his favored politicians. People who are serious about democracy and constitutional order would agree with me that the disregards the Speaker and the Minister of Finance showed for the laws governing their conducts in the National Assembly is what a “tea party” would look like in the Banana Republic the Bansang elites and their surrogates planned to impose on Gambians.
Let’s assume that Mr. Sallah had violated every rule of the National Assembly, and had “created a heated banter to the point of Sallah should have been escorted out of that August Assembly.” The speaker who displayed no objectivity in presiding over the proceedings, either had no mastery of the Standing Orders or willfully disregard following the rigid “proper procedures and rules of the House.” Whichever one applies, incompetence or disregard for constitutional order, they are both crimes. I reproduce the Rules of Order that the speaker should have followed to “kick out” Mr. Sallah from the National Assembly for the readers to judge if she truly understand her job description, responsibilities and limited powers:
Rules of Order
Point of order
42. Any Member deviating from these Standing Orders may be immediately called to order by the Speaker or by any other Member rising to a point of order. A member rising to a point of order shall simply direct attention to the point he or she desires to bring to notice and submit the same to the Speaker for decision.
Decision of speaker
43. When the question of order has been stated, the Member who raises it shall resume his or her seat and no other Member except by leave of the Speaker shall rise till the Speaker has decided the question, after which the Member who was addressing the Assembly at the time the question was raised shall be entitled to proceed with his or her speech, giving effect to the ruling of the speaker.
Responsibility of Speaker for order
44. The Speaker in the Assembly and the Chairperson in any Committee shall be responsible for the observance of the rules of order in the Assembly and Committee respectively, and his or her decision upon any point of order shall not be open to appeal and shall not be reviewed by the Assembly except on a substantive motion made after notice.
Discipline and suspension of Members
45. (1) The Speaker or Chairperson, after having called the attention of the Assembly or Committee to the conduct of a Member who persists in irrelevance or tedious repetition either of his or her arguments or of the arguments used by other members in debate, may direct the Member to discontinue his or her speech.
(2) The Speaker or chairperson shall order any Member whose conduct is grossly disorderly to withdrawn immediately from the Chamber during the remainder of the day’s sitting.
(3) If the direction to withdrawn under paragraph (2) of this Standing Order be not complied with at once or if on any occasion the Speaker or Chairperson deems that his or her power under that paragraph are inadequate, he or she may name such Member or Members in pursuance of paragraph (4) of this Standing Order.
(4) If a Member shows disregard for the authority of the Chair, or abuses the rules of the assembly by persistently and willfully obstructing the business of the Assembly, or otherwise, the Speaker shall direct the attention of the Assembly to the incident, mentioning by name the Member concerned. A motion may then be moved upon which the Speaker shall forthwith put the question, no amendment, adjournment or debate being allowed, “That such Member be suspended from the service of the Assembly.” If such an offense shall have been committed in a Committee of the whole assembly, the Chairperson shall forthwith suspend the proceedings of the Committee and report the circumstances to the Assembly: and the Speaker shall, on a motion being moved, thereupon put the same question, without amendment, adjournment or debate, as if the offense had been committed in the Assembly itself.
As the readers can see, Mr. Sallah under the authority of Section 42 of the Standing Order raised a point of order that both Subsections (3) and (4) were being violated by the Speaker and the Minister of Finance. She should have addressed Mr. Sallah’s concerns under her power in Section (44) but denied the gross violations. If Mr. Sallah had “persisted in irrelevance or tedious repetition” in violation of Section 45 (1) and she had directed him “to discontinue his … speech,” then the Speaker would have determined under Section 45 (2) that his conducts were “grossly disorderly to withdrawn immediately from the Chamber”. If the Speaker had followed these steps and Mr. Sallah did “not complied with at once,” then she should have determined under Section 45 (3) that “her power under that paragraph are inadequate” to address the problem, and then resorts by necessity to resolve the matter by invoking the power of the National Assembly for a motion under Section 45 (4) to suspend Mr. Sallah for abusing the “rules of the assembly by persistently and willfully obstructing the business of the Assembly” after persisting “in irrelevance or tedious repetition” and had refused “to discontinue his … speech.” Mr. Sallah did not commit any of these infractions for the speaker to have exercised the tedious “rigidity in following the proper procedures and rules of the House.” She needed not to have followed the ‘rigid’ ‘proper procedures’ Mr. Kora has argued, but do as any dictator would, to conveniently improvised her own edicts on the run.
Mr. Kora defended the Speaker’s unconstitutional conducts as thus:
The speaker throwing an MP out is nothing new or exclusive to [Gambia]. It happens in many parliaments around the world. Madam Denton has powers conferred on her to suspend or kick out any MP who disrupts a session or shows unruly behavior in parliament. For a sitting Gambian MP to flout the orders of the Speaker of the House in addition disrespects the orders of the Sergeant at Arms is not only a personal problem but should be seen as a national disgrace that deserves the attention and sober reflection of all genuine Gambians. This is not politics, it is about what example we set for our children. This is about what expectations our leaders set for themselves to be measured against.
First, the speaker does not have any “powers conferred on her to suspend” any member of the National Assembly. The National Assembly, as a body, suspends members through a motion on the floor voted for by the majority of members. Second, Mr. Sallah had not showed any “unruly behavior in parliament”— whatever an ‘unruly behavior’ may mean to Mr. Kora. Mr. Sallah was heard in the audio saying to Mr. Sanneh and the Speaker to behave themselves in accordance with the rules a decorum in Section 36 (4) of the Standing Orders. By adopting the standards espoused by Mr. Kora to never follow with “rigidity…. the proper procedures and rules of the House” why should Mr. Sallah not be at all liberty to disregard any or all the Standing Orders as he pleases just as the Speaker and Mr. Sanneh had arrogated to themselves? Who compartmentalizes the portions from which Mr. Sallah should choose to disregard, our inestimable Doctor Kora? Moreover, the Sergeant at Arms knew someone did not understand the Standing Orders of the National Assembly and that person couldn’t possibly have been Mr. Sallah. The Gambia and the National Assembly would do better with the Sergeant at Arms as the speaker than Ms. Denton-Jack because he’s a better listener, astute observer and knows the fine line between lawful and unlawful commands.
As readers could see for themselves, Mr. Kora’s conclusion that the Speaker has “power to suspend” legislators is not “exclusively unique to The Gambia” is deeply rooted in the ignorance that he has never read a word of the Standing Orders. It put a lie to his claim that he “refrained from drawing daggers in a battle of which he knows very little.” I know Mr. Kora for the intellectual laziness he’s exhibited in his article. All he should have done was to read the Standing Orders as it would not make any logical sense in any democracy for a speaker to single handedly have the “power to suspend” members from the legislative body. One could put out claim and shield it with all the caveats one wants, but if the readers know that there exist counter facts that one should have known and consulted as a primary source of information but never bothered to, then the readers are within their rights to indict that writer for intellectual laziness. Intellectual laziness tantamounts to intellectual dishonesty, and the readers are at liberty to decide if Mr. Kora is guilty as charged.
In responding the critics who condemned the unelected Speaker, Mr. Kora argued that “she is a nominated member through a constitutional process approved by the same voters who elected the sitting MP’s in the House.” It’s disappointing that Mr. Kora who considers himself an enlightened democrat would justified practice where the head of the executive selects and appoints the heads of the two other co-equal branches of government—most especially the legislature. Could we really say that in such a society there exist the separation of powers? The president nominating members into the legislature was a colonial practice supposedly to give voice to Africans in the legislative assemblies where they had no representations. Now, it has turned out to be the vehicle for nepotism, patronage and dispensing rewards and personal favors among the plutocrats in our country. Even though nominating members to our National Assembly is provided for in our constitution, a self-aware speaker would have known that she is in that seat by a historic mistake and being in that position of a speaker ridicules our democracy. Therefore, she should not see herself as the master but rather a facilitator for the legislators to do their work. She should be the last person to pick up a fight with any elected member of the National Assembly.
Mr. Kora argued that Mr. Sallah as an “astute political leader” did not composed himself “when faced with the most difficult and challenging situation” and therefore failed the test of emotional intelligence as a leader. He added that Mr. Sallah “allowing” his “emotions to betray” his “conscience is a sign of poor emotional leadership.” First, I do not know what is in Mr. Sallah’s conscience and state of mind then, and whether he has allowed his emotions to betray them. Second, I would not believe if Mr. Kora claims he knows. And finally, only Mr. Sallah could say that and since he has not publicly stated that, I would like to know how Mr. Kora knew Mr. Sallah betrayed his own conscience?
Let’s examine emotional intelligence in relation to the “fracas” that occurred in the National Assembly. Coleman defines emotional intelligence as “understanding one’s own feelings, empathy for the feelings of others and the regulation of emotion in a way that enhances living.” To be an emotional intelligent person as theorized by Coleman, one has to have Personal Competence: Self Awareness and Self Management; and Social Competence: Social Awareness and Relationship Management. I would not distract the readers by delving into technicality on the subject. However, I would want our learned Mr. Kora to tell us the feeling of the Minister of Finance when his proposal was voted down and whether he managed his emotions when he told the assembly that they will answer to their constituents for throwing away a deal with China; or whether he was managing artfully the relationship with members of the National Assembly when he accused them that they do not want development for The Gambian people? I would also want Mr. Kora to tell us whether the Minister of Finance self-regulated himself when he accused the members for rejecting a bill they did not take a vote on; or whether the speaker self-regulated herself when in a sarcastic tone ridiculed Mr. Sallah ‘you talking about decorum?’ or ‘can you get him out!’ or Sergeant at Arm can you please get the member for Sere Kunda out for the third time!’ I would like Mr. Kora to tell us whether he has any empathy for the feelings of Mr. Sallah who had to put up every day with an incompetent speaker and mediocre cabinet members?
Mr. Sallah displayed both humanity and leadership in his encounter at the National Assembly. He showed that he is human with feelings who would not rely only on rational arguments, but also use emotions to restrain corrupt and incompetent politicians when they hoodwinked and ride on the back of the people. When Gambians see that he’s not a robot but human who is vulnerable to overreaching and excesses of this radical executive arm of government, then they would entrust him with the presidency to fight for them tooth and nail to undertake the system change we need in our country. Nothing sums up our problems since the founding of our country in so simple words as was that frenetic inquiry at the National Assembly: “can you do that”? It was beautiful—the expression of love for humanity. Our struggle from colonialism, to the first republic and to the second republic has always been about limiting the powers of our rulers over us. Can they, as the speaker attempted and Mr. Kora unethically attempted to justify, do whatever they want?
I have proved with empirical evidence that Mr. Kora concocted his account of the event on that historic day in 1997 at the National Assembly with reckless disregard for the truth; and that he was never a supporter of Mr. Sallah who was never kicked out of the National Assembly in 1997. He is a fanatic supporter of the UDP but dubiously projected himself as a supporter of Mr. Sallah whom he now pretended to have fallen out with as his hero because of his lack of leadership. Mr. Kora played diabolical “politics,” set the worst imaginable “example…for our children” and failed in the “expectations” all decent human beings, citizens and parents would “set for themselves to be measured against.” He lied to them as he professes that he doesn’t practice—a quintessential attribute of a classical hypocrite. I challenge Mr. Kora to provide evidence that he’s ever spent a good five minutes one-on-one meeting with Mr. Sallah, or even produce a photo he’s taken with his acclaimed “hero” who is the most accessible of the public figures in The Gambia.
When displaying leadership was consequential to have prevented a civil war in our country, during the political impasse in December 2016, Mr. Sallah paid his dues beyond the call of duty. I will ask Mr. Kora to tell us the whereabouts of his heroes from the Bansang elites and the UDP during that crisis; and whereabouts of his president-elect whom, more than any other human being on earth, had the legitimate claim to the presidency? I would also ask Mr. Kora, when in his lifetime, has he provided emotionally-intelligent leadership in political or public affairs of our country? He showed ingratitude and disrespect to Mr. Sallah, fabricated malicious politically motivated stories to advance an agenda to benefit his patrons, and he did not “refrain from drawing daggers in a battle” he knew nothing about” to malign the good name and impugned on the unimpeachable character of one of the noblest sons of The Gambia. For these transgressions and fabrications, Mr. Sheriff Kora should apologize to the nation, the readers he deceived with his sinful big and patently offensive lies; but most especially, sincerely, to Mr Halifa Sallah.


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