The announcement that Mrs. Fatoumatta Tambajang has been appointed as Minister of Women’s Affairs on one hand is a positive move. The fact that she has not been appointed as Vice President indicates that the Chief Servant Adama Barrow has been listening to public concerns about the constitutional requirements for that position. This is a mark of good leadership where public servants gauge public opinion as a guide in making public policy decisions. This is in the right direction.
However what is still a concern is the fact that a minister cannot oversee the post of a Vice President. This is because there is no such authority in the constitution for that function. In the Cabinet only the Vice President can oversee the position of President or any other functions as assigned to him or her by the President in Section 70 subsection 1. There is no provision for a minister to oversee the position of Vice President. Hence it is urgent that Chief Servant Barrow goes ahead to appoint a substantive Vice President to assist him.
It is important that Chief Servant Barrow realizes that the need for a Vice President is also a national security matter hence utterly urgent and necessary. This is because the Vice President is a potential President as per Section 65 subsection 2 of our constitution. That is, in the event of a vacancy in the Office of the President, it is the Vice President who takes over for the rest of the term. Where there is no Vice President, then the Speaker of the National Assembly becomes the interim president. May God forbid ever for the Gambia to install Speaker Abdoulie Bojang as President of the Republic of the Gambia even for one second!
Hence given this constitutional provision, one would expect that the first and foremost task of Pres. Barrow was to appoint a Vice President in order to prevent a national crisis in the event that the elected President is no more. A minister who oversees the Office of the Vice President cannot become a President in those circumstances because such a minister is only a minister and not a Vice President.
In fact in a truly democratic dispensation the practice of having a President or Vice President overseeing ministries should not happen because it is unprofessional and undermines the effective functioning of the Government. It is only in dictatorial regimes such as the APRC where a president is also a minister of defense, agriculture, health and so on and so forth. It speaks not only of a weak leadership but also a leadership that is corrupt and lacks trust in citizens to handle substantive positions. Thus in a normal democratic government, each Cabinet position has to have its own substantive head to do justice to their individual positions and functions. This is what we expect the New Gambia to reflect.
Secondly, since the purported appointment of Fatoumatta Tambajang as the Vice President for the past few weeks, she has been officially referred to as the Vice President. She has been officially executing the duties of the Vice President and even represented the Gambia in the recent AU Summit as such. But she has never been sworn-in as a Vice President. This is totally contrary to Article 6 of the Oaths Act, which states that a person who has not taken the prescribed oaths shall not assume the duties of that office. The Vice President has been listed as one of the office holders in the Second Schedule of the Oaths Act who are required to take three prescribed oaths under Article 3 of the Act. These are the Oath of Allegiance, the Oath for the Due Execution of Office and the Oath of Secrecy.
In light of the foregoing Mrs. Tambajang therefore should not have entered the Office of the Vice President in the first place much more to perform the duties of the Vice President because she was not sworn-in as such. Now that she is the Minister of Women Affairs, she must first be sworn-in as per the Oaths Act in order to perform her duties. But as a minister, she cannot oversee the Office of the Vice President because there is no basis for that in our Constitution.
I would therefore urge Pres. Barrow to appoint for us a Vice President sooner than later.
God Bless the Gambia.
By Madi Jobarteh