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Banjul North MP calls for relocation of Mile 2

Jun 20, 2017, 11:03 AM | Article By: Lamin Jahateh

Ousman Sillah, National Assembly member for Banjul North, has called for the relocation of the state central prison, Mile 2, from its current location at the mouth of Banjul.

“Mile 2 prison should be transferred from its current place because that environment is not habitable, it exposes the inmates to dangers, and their health condition is being compromised,” Hon. Sillah said in an interview with The Point newspaper yesterday.

The premise of his argument was that the central prison is located less than 10 metres from the main dumpsite of Banjul and “the situation of the dumpsite makes the environment inhabitable for humans”.

“The dumpsite is less than 10 metres away from the fence of the prison, and sometimes the rubbishes there are burnt and the smoke that is emitted is toxic and inhaling that toxic smoke has negative effects on the health of the inmates who are locked at the prisons and do not have liberty to choose the air they breathe as they are in a confinement,” said Sillah, who is also the chairperson of the National Assembly select committee on health, women, children, disaster, refugees and humanitarian relief.

The National Assembly member for the People’s Democratic Organisation for Independence and Socialism (PDOIS) said the environment is not conducive for prisoners alone but also for the prison staff who works at Mile 2.

“So I feel that there is a need for this prison to be removed from there and a new prison be built; a prison that is fit for the purpose, a prison that is habitable.  It can be built anywhere but not that area in Banjul,” he said. 

“Prison is just a centre to deprive people of their liberty to move about but all their other rights are retained so they should be treated with some level of human dignity.”

Meanwhile, as the prison relocation is being worked out, Hon. Sillah said there is a need for waste management, for the waste at the main dumpsite to be removed, be transferred or be managed properly.

“There is a need for proper waste management at that dumpsite,” he affirmed.

Ongoing initiatives

Over and beyond his main parliamentary role of serving as a legislator and as an oversight to government institutions and processes, Hon. Sillah has not been relenting in serving his constituency, the people of Banjul North.

He has already initiated the process of establishing a standard vocational and skills training centre in Banjul.  Already, the Ministry of Basic Education has given him part of Crab Island School to use as the centre.

“I was able to approach the Ministry of Basic Education, and they have become partners in the initiative; they have given me part of the Crab Island School to use for the centre; they could not give me the whole school because they want to transform it to a technical high school,” the Banjul North NAM said.

Crab Island School, a once renowned junior secondary school, has been in a state of disrepair for the past five years.  Part of it would be rehabilitated and be used as the skills centre.

“The target for this skills centre is the school dropouts, those who could not go beyond grades 6 and 9 and are out in the streets unemployed.  The centre generally targets unskilled youths, most especially those that have been through the irregular migration route, the ‘back-way’, and are now back and also potential irregular migrants,” said Hon. Sillah, initiator of the centre. 

“At the centre, they would be given skills that they can use to establish small businesses and be self-employed or seek employment because the skills training would make them employable.”

Already, certain institutions that are core to such undertakings are invited and are part of the initiative from the onset.  These include the Ministry of Youth and Sports, and Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education.

The National Accreditation and Quality Assurance Authority (NAQAA) is also onboard so that they would introduce standards.  The idea is to make sure that even a tailor can have a certificate in tailoring; hairdresser would have a certificate in hairdressing so that at the end of the day, they can either use those skills to establish their own business or use their certificates to seek employment because you would be recognised as somebody who is trained.

“I am doing some of these things, and more would come, because for me, even though National Assembly members’ primary job is legislation and serving as oversight to government agencies and processes, we are at liberty to also come up with independent initiatives,” Hon. Sillah said.

“For me, I believe that as a National Assembly member, I should be helping people to identify challenges and address them; identify problems and help in solving them, so I see myself as a problem solver.” 

“I have made myself ready and I have told them [the people of Banjul North] during the campaign that I am available, I have more time, I have more energy to serve and they gave me the opportunity to serve them so I have no other cause but to serve them.”

Beyond Banjul

But beyond serving his people and his constituency, Hon. Sillah advocates, at the National Assembly, for issues and practices that would enhance the country’s fledgling democracy.

“At the National Assembly, I raise issues that concern The Gambia, as a whole, especially the issue of constitutional reforms,” he said.

One of the things that he advocates for, as far as constitutional reform is concerned, is the powers given to political party leaders to expel people from their party and by so doing the person, if he/she is a parliamentarian, automatically loses his/her seat at the National Assembly.

“This particular provision in the constitution is not fair and it was one of the reasons the former dispensation was able to have total control over the ruling party National Assembly members and they were in the majority then,” Sillah said, adding that since the new dispensation is tilted towards democracy, this provision should be revisited.

Hon. Sillah also advocates for the electorates to have the constitutional right to recall their National Assembly members when they feel the member is not serving their interest.

“The electorates should be given the right to recall their National Assembly members even before their mandate expires,” he affirmed. 

According to the Gambian constitution, the National Assembly members can remove a sitting head of state by impeaching him/her, and they can also remove ministers by a vote of censure.

But a provision that give electorates an oversight right over National Assembly members, particularly, the power to be able to recall them is either not in existence or obscure.

Outside Gambia

In less than five months of serving as a National Assembly members, Hon. Sillah is already gaining recognition beyond confines of the Gambian parliament.

At the second meeting of the Inter Parliamentary Committee on FGM/C which comprise eight countries plus the European Union Parliament, recently held in Mali, he was elected in the executive committee of the IPC.

He is the only male and the Anglophone country representative in the executive committee.

As part of his task at that level, he would be working on setting up a committee of likeminded people interested in the eradication of female genital mutilation not by enforcing the current punitive law in the country but by sensitising even the perpetrators so they would see the need to voluntarily drop the knife.