By Kebba Jeffang
Mr. Lamin Waa Juwara, the former Minister for Local Government and Regional Administration has been acquitted and discharged by the lower court in Brikama of a single count of ‘Abuse of Office’ on the ground that he has all the mandate to appoint and dismiss any Alkalo (village head) for wrongful conduct.
The trial Magistrate ruling on ‘No Case to Answer’ said the accused person is empowered by the Constitution of the Republic of the Gambia and that prosecution has failed to establish a prima facie case against him.
When the case was called on Monday, 11th May, 2015 at Brikama Magistrates’ Court, the state was represented by Sub- Insp. E. Sarr whilst the accused person was represented by Lawyer Lamin K. Mboge.
In his ruling, Magistrate Ebrima Jaiteh recalled that the accused person has been charged with ‘Abuse of Office’ contrary to section 90 (1) of the Criminal Code which he denied.
He said the charge sheet states that Lamin Waa Juwara, sometime in the year 2012, at Sinchu Gidom, Kombo South, West Coast Region in the Republic of the Gambia, being an employee of the Gambia government as the minister of Local Government and Regional Administration, has abused the authority of his office in a manner that is prejudicial to the “Alkalo” and the elders of Jamburr village, by creating Sinchu Gidom as a village and appointing one Abubacarr Sillah as the “Alkalo” of the said village, knowing that Sinchu Gidom is a kabilo within Jamburr village and thereby committed an offence.
Magistrate Jaiteh said in efforts to prove their case, the prosecution called 7 witnesses and tendered several exhibits including recommendation for appointment of an Alkalo, appointment of Alkalo, letter of mercy, dismissal letter, tax collection book, etc.
He said PW1 Haruna Bojang testified that he was not aware of the division of the village (Jamburr) but stated that he was told that such step was taken by the Governor of West Coast Region.
The trial magistrate said the other witnesses included Ansumana Bojang, Omar Bojang, Momodou Bojang, Mustapha Touray, Lamin Sanneh (former Governor) and Mamadou Jallow. He said after the testimonies from these people the prosecution closed their case.
“The accused person (Juwara) at this point filed a ‘no case’ submission stating that he was the Minister and therefore was mandated by the 1997 Constitution to appoint Alkalos (villages heads). He also queried that the evidence and the charge against him are not corroborated particularly the testimony of the Governor. He therefore urged for his acquittal and discharge,” said the Magistrate.
Sub-Inspector E. Sarr said “he is relying on all the exhibits and the evidence before the court. He on the other hand urged the court to disregard the submission,” the Magistrate pointed out.
The trial magistrate further stated that defence counsel Mboge said it is mandatory for the Minister to appoint and dismiss the Alkalo. He added that the defence lawyer argued that there is no iota of evidence that the accused has done anything wrong in Sinchu Gidom. He too urged for the acquittal and discharge of his client.
The trial magistrate pointed out that he will limit his comment to law in connection to the ‘no case’ submission in the Gambia. He said if at the close of the prosecution’s case there is no sufficient evidence made against the accused, the accused should be acquitted and discharged.
“The prosecution has not provided sufficient evidence that will allow his conviction. For the prosecution to succeed, they must prove whether he abused the office. And in this, it isn’t a dispute that the accused has been mandated by the Constitution (Section 59). This has empowered the minister to appoint the Alkalo. This is what he did. Secondly, the Local Government Act also empowered the minister to remove any Alkalo by nature of his or her conduct (Section 143 of the Local Government Act). There is no element of abuse and I am satisfied and thus hold that there is no evidence,” said the trial magistrate.
The lower court magistrate also said for the prosecution to again prove its case, they must show that the village (Sinchu Gidom) has been created by the accused person.
However, he said the prosecution has failed in establishing this fact for the fact that PW7 has told the court that the village was created by his father Gidom Jallow.
“Hence there is no prima facie case established against the accused, I therefore acquit and discharge him accordingly,” ruled magistrate Jainteh.
Meanwhile, the former Local Government minister was seen embracing his friends and loved ones after the verdict was delivered by the court.
However, another matter involving Mr. Juwara is still ongoing at Banjul Magistrates’ Court.