Africa-Press – Gambia. The leader of the Gambia Moral Congress has spoken in favour of the controversial Judicial Officers Remuneration Bill currently before the National Assembly.

First tabled in September 2023, the controversial bill is seeking to make provisions for the enhancement of the salaries, allowances, and pension entitlements of judicial officers as well as improve the conditions of service of judges of the superior court and judicial staff.

The government said this is necessary to make the jobs attractive so that Gambians would aspire to work in the judiciary to stop the current under staffing of the sector.

The bill has however attracted massive criticism from civil society and politicians who said the benefits envisaged in it are far too huge for any reasonable person to accept in a poor country like The Gambia.

Commenting on the bill in an exclusive, Mai Fatty, a lawyer himself, said the matter has been unfairly and grossly politicised out of context and there is great deal of misappreciation of the raison d’etre of the bill by most critics.

“Let me clearly state my personal position and I admit it may be against the grain. The fact that a strong segment of society may oppose a bill does not ipso facto render that bill improper, and also the fact that it may be potentially politically unwise to support a bill that may be highly resisted by the public does not ipso facto justify its opposition,” Fatty told.

He argued that he supports the passage of the bill on policy and principle and he is ready to damn the political consequences.

“What is expected of any sane person is to stand for your conviction and not pander to public sentiment out of selfish political considerations for cheap popularity. I speak based on my conviction, and I accept that it may be equally unpopular. Unfortunately, by its unique nature as an institution, the Judiciary cannot publicly advocate for itself on such matters, although I believe this one should be an exception,” he stated.

Justifying his position on the bill, Fatty argued that unlike the other two arms of government, the Judiciary is best placed as the last bastion of hope for the citizen, the ultimate frontier of offense in defense of the sovereignty of the ordinary person.

“It is the alfa and the omega in the battle for propriety for all, weak or strong, poor or rich. It can majestically strike down a law passed by parliament and subject the Executive meek on its knees,” he added.

He said the people, through the Republic, have rightfully granted such awesome powers to the Judiciary to assure the supremacy of “our sovereignty, its laws and institutions”.

“It can bring down the high and mighty and cut them to size in the exercise of powers in the extraordinary command and solemn authority of the Republic, in favour of the poor and powerless. Such an onerous responsibility demands character and fortitude. It requires freedom from need and influence or potential influence that may compromise the invocation of such enormous powers,” he noted.

He added: “This is not unique to The Gambia. Most Commonwealth countries including Ghana, Nigeria and Sierra Leone in our own region have similar salary packages and other entitlements for judges. For instance, barely two months ago, the Nigerian government increased the salaries and benefits for judges by 800%. With both the House of Reps and Senate overwhelmingly supporting the bill and passed it into law.”

In the United States, Fatty added, “under Rule of 80 which is governed by provisions of 28 U.S.C. ss371, at age 65, a judge could retire on his or her current salary, and not pay taxes for social security and medical care. Similar provision exists in many other jurisdictions around the world.”

Fatty added that in July 2023, the Ghanaian government substantially increased the salaries and benefits of the Judiciary exclusively, with strong multi-party support from their parliament.

“In Malawi, the discussion centred on increasing Judges’ salary from almost $3000 to over $15,000 per month but government temporarily settled for 22% salary hike and negotiations are still ongoing,” he added.

Lawyer Fatty further disclosed that judges must not be susceptible to corruption or improper influence, arguing that making their salaries highly attractive will promote judicial independence and facilitate robust administration of justice and the rule of law.

“In the public interest judges should not be conditioned to worry about meeting the basic necessities of their families to avert potentially placing them in compromising situations. By the very nature of their exclusively unique status, in relation to the complex and sensitive task and challenges judges confront daily, they must not be conditioned or be saddled with the potential financial burdens of post-retirement,” he stressed.

He said the implicit in the concept of judicial independence is the compelling notion of satisfactory financial remuneration and compensation for judges.

Fatty admitted that the lack of effective public sensitisation and ineffectual public engagement, including civil society participation on the rationale of the bill, from drafting to tabling has affected its popularity.

“Why did it succeed in places like Nigeria and elsewhere? Because they took the public along with them. In some of these jurisdictions, public hearings were conducted and compelling arguments were made in favour of securing judicial independence by different segments of society. The Judiciary is the artery of a democratic system and Judges are its veins. We must not politicize justice or place a premium upon it on the altar of political chicanery and populism. I urge Parliament to support the Bill. Sometimes it is necessary to save the public against itself. This is just such a historic moment,” he concluded.

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