THE SENATE OF GABON
I - COMPOSITION 1(*)
- 91 senators represent the local authorities.
II - ELECTORAL SYSTEM
Election by universal indirect suffrage by members of the municipal councils and regional assemblies.
Term of office: 6 years.
First election: 26 January and 9 February 1997.
Last renewal : 9 Fébruary 2003
Criteria for eligibility: age 40, Gabon citizenship.
Ineligible: certain senior civil servants of the government, members of the armed forces.
Incompatibility: members of the government, the Constitutional Court, the National Communication Council, magistrates, certain senior civil servants, paymaster general and other treasury officials, employees on the board of directors of a public or parapublic enterprise, those in the employment of a foreign State or an international organisation, officers and non-commissioned officers of the security and defence forces.
Criteria for presentation: presentation by parties, coalitions of parties or by private individuals.
III - ORGANISATION OF SESSIONS
A - SESSION BY RIGHT
The first working day a fortnight after its election. The agenda then covers exclusively the election of its president and its committee.
During the period of martial law.
B - ORDINARY SESSIONS
Two ordinary sessions per year :
- the first one commences on the first working day of March and ends on the last working day of June at the latest,
- the second session commences on the first working day of September and ends on the last working day of December at the latest.
C - EXTRAORDINARY SESSIONS
- at the request of the President of the Republic, proposed by the Prime Minister,
- or of the absolute majority of the members of parliament,
- on a specific agenda.
They are opened and closed by decree of the President of the Republic.
They may not exceed a period of a fortnight.
IV - RELATIONS WITH THE OTHER CHAMBER AND THE EXECUTIVE
A - LEGISLATIVE POWERS
1) Right to propose legislation
This rests with the Government and Parliament conjointly.
2) Right of amendment
Bills and amendments of parliamentary origin are inadmissible when passing them would lead either to a reduction in public revenue, or to the creation of or increase in public taxation without release of the corresponding revenue.
Amendments must not be devoid of any link with the text to which they relate.
3) Legislative procedure
a) Introduction of laws
Bills tabled before the committee of one of the two chambers of Parliament. Organic law bills are submitted to parliamentary debate and voting only after a period of a fortnight has passed since they were tabled.
Finance act bills and bills to revise the Constitution are initially introduced to the National Assembly. Bills relating to local authorities are initially presented to the Senate.
Any private bill passed on to the Government by Parliament and which has not been subject to examination within sixty days is automatically put into debate in Parliament.
b) Examination procedure
Any Government or private bills are examined successively in both chambers with a view to passing an identical text.
An urgent vote on a law may be requested, either by the Government or by an absolute majority of members of Parliament.
Government and private bills are sent to the relevant committees of each chamber for examination before debate in a plenary session.
If the Government so requests, the chamber to which it is submitted reaches a decision by a single vote on all or part of the text under discussion, accepting only the amendments proposed or accepted by the Government.
The inadmissibility of amendments can be raised by the Prime Minister or the President of the Chamber, at the request of one fifth of its members. In the event of disagreement, it is submitted to the Constitutional Court which must give a ruling within a week.
After the opening of public proceedings, no amendment may be examined unless it has first been submitted to the relevant committee.
The Prime Minister has the power to instigate the meeting of a joint committee from both chambers, with the task of proposing a text on the provisions still under discussion.
If the joint committee does not succeed in passing a common text, the Government submits it to the National Assembly which gives a final ruling.
If the joint committee passes a common text, this only becomes that of the Parliament if it is passed separately by each of the chambers.
c) Measures relating to organic laws
Organic laws are debated and voted on according to the normal legislative procedure.
They are referred to the Constitutional Court by the Prime Minister, before being promulgated.
When it is a matter of urgency, the fortnight period is reduced to a week.
d) Budgetary procedure
The procedure relating to the budget is identical to that for ordinary law. However, if at the close of the budgetary session, parliament breaks up without having voted on the balanced budget, the government is authorised to renew the previous budget by ordinance.
4) Statutory authorisation
The Government may, in an emergency, for the fulfilment of its programme, ask Parliament to authorise measures that are normally within the domain of law to be taken by ordinance during the parliamentary recess.
Ordinances must be ratified by Parliament during the following session. It has the right to alter them by means of an amendment.
B - SUPERVISORY POWERS
1) The supervisory powers are the following:
- parliamentary questions,
- written and oral questions: one sitting per week is reserved for questions. Topical questions may be the subject of parliamentary questions to the government, even during extraordinary sessions,
- commissions of enquiry and supervision.
2) The Executive must furnish Parliament with all the information requested of it regarding its management and activities.
3) In international affairs
International treaties and accords are ratified after the passing of an Act of Authorisation by Parliament. No amendment is admissible.
The President of the Republic and the Presidents of the parliamentary chambers are informed of any negotiation aimed at concluding an international agreement not submitted for ratification.
C - RELATIONS WITH THE PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC
The President of the Republic communicates with each chamber of Parliament by messages which are to be read by the President of each chamber. At his request, he may be heard by either of the chambers. These communications do not give rise to any debate.
V - SPECIAL MEASURES
A - REVISION OF THE CONSTITUTION
This may be made conjointly by the President of the Republic, the competent Council of Ministers, and members of Parliament.
Any draft revision must be put before the Office of the National Assembly by at least one third of the deputies or to the Office of the Senate by at least one third of the senators.
A revision is accepted by means of a referendum or through parliamentary channels. When parliamentary channels are decided on, the revision bill must be voted on respectively by the National Assembly and by the Senate in identical terms.
For it to be passed at least two thirds of the members of Parliament must be in attendance in congress.
A qualified majority of two thirds of votes cast is required for the passing of a draft bill for revision of the Constitution.
B - WHEN THE OFFICE OF PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC IS VACANT
In the event of the office being vacant or of his not being able to attend, the President of the Senate, or failing that the Vice-president of the Senate, deputises for the President of the Republic in his absence. This absence must be referred to the Constitutional Court by the government and it must give a ruling by an absolute majority of its members, or failing that, by the Offices of both chambers of parliament ruling together by a majority of their members.
The acting President may not refer a matter to the people by means of a referendum nor dissolve the National Assembly.
During the interim period, no change may be made to the Constitution.
The acting president may not stand as a candidate for presidential election.
C - THE VICE-PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC
The Vice-president of the Republic is appointed by the President of the Republic who terminates his duties, after consulting the Presidents of both chambers of Parliament.
D - EXTRAORDINARY POWERS
1) State of emergency or martial law
The President of the Republic may, when circumstances so demand after debate of the Council of Ministers and after consulting the Offices of the National Assembly and the Senate, proclaim by decree a state of emergency or martial law, which confer upon him special powers.
2) State of warning and state of alert
a) The Prime Minister may, when circumstances so demand, after debate of the Council of Ministers and after consulting the Presidents of the chambers of Parliament, proclaim a state of warning by decree, under the conditions determined by law.
b) The proclamation of a state of alert is made after debate of the Council of Ministers and consultation with the Offices of both chambers.
c) Extension of a state of warning or state of alert beyond twenty one days must be authorised by Parliament.
E -HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE
1) This is composed of thirteen members, six of whom are elected by Parliament from its own members, prorata of the size of the parliamentary groups.
2) The President of the Republic is liable to prosecution by the High Court of Justice in the case of violation of his oath or of high treason. He is impeached by Parliament ruling by a majority of two thirds of its members, with public voting.
3) The Vice-president of the Republic, the Presidents and Vice-presidents of the Constituent Bodies, members of the Government and members of the Constitutional Court are liable in criminal law to prosecution by the High Court of Justice for acts committed in the exercise of their offices and termed as crimes or misdemeanours at the time they are committed, along with their accomplices and partners in crime in the case of betrayal of national security. In this case the President of the Senate may refer the matter to the High Court of Justice.
F - HOLDING OF SITTINGS
The Senate may sit in camera at the request of the President of the Republic, the Prime Minister or one fifth of its members.
G - DISSOLUTION OF THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY
The National Assembly may be dissolved by the President of the Republic, after consultation with the Prime Minister and the Presidents of the assemblies.
H - CONSTITUTIONAL COURT
This consists of nine members three of whom are designated by the President of the Senate, for a term of office of seven years, renewable once.
Its members take the oath before the President of the Republic, parliament and the three courts of the judiciary, administration and Audit Office combined.
The Court rules on the procedure of the Senate and its conformity with the Constitution.
The President of the Senate or one tenth of the members of the Senate may refer laws to it.
In the event of a decision of non-conformity with the Constitution made by the Court, the consequences that ensue from this decision are examined by parliament in the course of next session.
The President of the Senate or one tenth of the senators may ask it to interpret the Constitution and other laws that have constitutional status.
Each year the Constitutional Court submits an activity report to the President of the Republic and to the Presidents of the chambers of parliament.
I - ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COUNCIL
This collects and draws up an annual list of expectations, with the participation of the various entities of which it is composed, for the attention of the President of the Republic, the Government and Parliament.
The Government and Parliament are obliged, when it is referred to them, to follow up the advice and reports formulated by the Economic and Social Council within a period of three months in the case of the government and before the end of the current session in the case of parliament.
J - AUDIT OFFICE
This monitors the enforcement of finance legislation and informs Parliament on this.
K - THE SUPERIOR COUNCIL OF THE MAGISTRATURE
The Senate is represented in this by two senators chosen by the President of the Senate. They have a consultative role.
L - NATIONAL COMMUNICATIONS COUNCIL
This consists of nine members, three of whom are designated by the President of the Senate.
1 Constitution of 26 March 1991, revised by Laws 01/94 of 18 March 1994,
18/95 of 29 September 1995 and 01/97 of 22 April 1997.