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Hon Speaker Jatta: “You Want to Observe the Speaker?”

Yusef Taylor

Yusef Taylor, commonly known as Flex Dan is an editor and practising journalist based in the Gambia with a keen interest in human rights, the economy and good governance among many others. He continues to break news on the economy, human rights violations and is highly engaged in security sector reforms, constitutional reform and the transition of the Gambia from dictatorship to a democracy, the NewGambia. Yusef has been working with Gainako as a media practitioner from 2015 to date. He has a degree in Civil Engineering with 5 years of Design Consultancy experience.

By Yusef Taylor, @FlexDan_YT

Yesterday, 12th September 2022 was the opening sitting of the Third Session of the Legislative year 2022 for the Sixth Legislature. During the sitting, some heated exchanges took place between the Speaker of the House Hon Fabakary Tombong Jatta and two United Democratic Party Parliamentarians, Hon Yahya Menteng Sanyang and Hon Sulayman Saho, after the latter rose to challenge the Speaker’s ruling to allow all unfinished Bills to be reinstated by all persons in charge. This resulted in two terse exchanges between the Speaker of the Sixth Legislature and the members.

It all started when Hon Sulayman Saho of Central Badibu rose to address the Speaker on his previous ruling. Hon Saho argued that “Hon Speaker with your permission. The ruling that you made on the motion read by Old Yundum”. At which point he was being interrupted. “Wait, Point of Order 52 Notice of Motion. We are not clear. Can you allow me to land please?” he insisted.

Hon Saho proceeded to lay out his argument explaining that “though you did a ruling on the motion moved by the Hon member for Old Yundum. We want to ask [for] you the notice of motion and the motion was not seconded and you made a ruling on it. The one that he read. He said it’s a motion. No, what was it then? But Point of Order”.

According to the speech read by the Chairperson of the Standing Orders Committee of the National Assembly Hon Abdoulie Ceesay of Old Yundum (NPP) he rose “on a point of order under Standing Order 18 and 32”. Points of Order are not the same as Motions which require a seconder and a vote in favour to pass. In this particular instance, the Speaker made a ruling on a Point of Order raised that the Standing Orders and the Constitution do not give procedural direction on what happens to unfinished Bills of a previous parliament.

Hon Saho continued to argue that “we don’t have any procedural issue now and there is no bill that was submitted to this Parliament in the Fifth Legislature that is before us TODAY that will warrant him to come up with that motion or that recommendation that you ruled on”.

In his view even though the “standing order clearly mentions it with a procedural issue” however he questioned “but do we have any Bill before us that warrants us with that proceeding? Today do we have any Bill here? No no!” he exclaimed.

Minority Leader: Should Unfinished Reports of the Fifth Legislature Be Reinstated?

At this stage the Speaker took control of the proceedings urging the Hon member for Central Badibu “you can now take your seat. You’ve made your point”. Speaker Jatta proceeded to give the Minority Leader the floor.

Minority Leader Hon Alhagie S Darboe took the floor to remind his UDP counterpart in Hon Saho that “actually it is in the agenda as well as in the Order Paper that we have this Consolidated Report of the FPAC. That will be incomplete business of the fifth legislature”.

Going by the Speaker’s ruling that all unfinished Bills should be reinstated and continue at the stage which they were previously Hon Darboe argued that “before that [Report of the FPAC on the 2019 Audit Report] should be laid if it is in the Order Paper it is important for the Speaker to make a ruling on that. Yes, there is no Bill but there is a report of the incomplete business”.

At this stage, Speaker Jatta proceeded to caution the Hon member for Central Badibu “you were talking and you were let to talk please. Let him please”.

Speaker Jatta proceeded to elaborate on the reasons for the motion from Hon Ceesay which he described as being proactive. In his view “I want to congratulate the Chairman of the Standing Committee for being very proactive. Responsible for our Standing Orders. That’s the rules that govern us here”.

“Now there is a loophole both in the Constitution and the Standing Orders. Now they have observed it. And that there will definitely be leftovers from one parliament to the other. We don’t need to wait until we have the situation and then we make a ruling,” reasoned Speaker Jatta.

[It can be recalled that the first edition of the Gambia Parliamentary Newsletter revealed that there at least 11 unfinished Bills from the Fifth Legislature which include the Anti-Corruption Bill 2019, International Crimes Bill 2020 and the Prevention and Prohibition of Torture Bill 2020 to name a few.]

However, in the heat of the moment, as Hon Saho attempted to get the Speaker’s attention to address the Chair, the Hon Speaker responded to question him “when the Speaker speaks, you want to observe the Speaker?”

After some brief silence, Speaker Jatta continued to try and reason with the Plenary on the merits of the ruling. In his view “these are gaps that I believe that they [Standing Orders Committee] have identified. And they want us to close our ranks before the situation even arises. Even if there are non-there could be one at the end of our legislature. But there could have been guiding the next parliament as to what to do next. That’s what I think I believe what the chairman did. Yes, Hon member for Central Badibu”.

Hon Saho took the floor and started by thanking the Speaker for his explanation. However, he argued that “Hon Speaker but we have the Standing Order Committee and I believe if we have a lacuna in our operations then we can refer it to the Standing Orders Committee to work on it to amend it. There is a need for them to amend some of the provisions. But we cannot just come now when the issue is not before us. Now he read it and you just made a ruling on it”.

As the deliberations got more agitated Speaker Jatta tried to take control of the proceedings again. He reiterated that “any Hon member has the right to put a point of order. Without making reference to any of you. And it’s the Speaker’s responsibility to make a decision on that Point of Order. Which decision cannot be challenged. So, hon members, I think we can proceed. Yes please”.

Hon Speaker Jatta Questions Hon Sanyang “you are the New Minority Leader?”

At this point the Hon member for Latrikunda Sabiji, Hon Yahya Menteng Sanyang rose to address the chair, calling the attention of the Speaker. Speaker Jatta called the Hon Minority Speaker to take the floor. However, Hon Sanyang seized the floor saying: “Hon Speaker thank you very much for giving me the floor”.

However, Speaker Jatta quickly asked him “Hon member you are the new Minority Leader?”. The question drew laughter from Hon members momentarily. This was followed by a spell of brief silence which brought some calm to the Plenary. At the same time the Hon Minority Leader also a UDP member was trying to reclaim the floor to address the Chair. However, in response, Speaker Jatta told him “you were seated” and allowed the Hon member for Latrikunda Sabiji to address the Chair.

Hon Yahya Menteng Sanyang started his address by questioning “I just want to be very clear when Hon Saho made an observation on what you have said. You said nobody can make an observation when the Speaker speaks, nobody should rise on point of order or observation is that the case?

Speaker Jatta: You were not listening.

Hon Sanyang: What? Of course, I was listening.

Speaker Jatta: No, you were not in the hall.

Hon Sanyang: I heard you clearly say that when the Speaker speaks nobody makes observation. Literally, that’s what you have said. Even though that was not your exact wording but exactly that’s what you have said. When the Hon member made observation, you said are you going to make observation against the Speaker. I want to be very clear. I have to be clear before I take my seat.”

Speaker Jatta: Hon member take your seat. (Clerk could be seen calming the Speaker). Speaker Jatta proceeded to give the Hon member for Sami the floor.

The Hon Member for Sami rose to second the motion to reschedule the Report tabled because the Report shared with Parliamentarians previously is not the same Report tabled. After the Hon member for Sami moved to second the motion Parliament voted to reschedule the Report.

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