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Senegal - Government

The current constitution was adopted in January 2001 by the referendum, after many changes. Senegal is a secular republic with a strong presidency, bicameral legislature, reasonably independent judiciary, and multiple political parties. Senegal is one of the few African states that has never experienced a coup d’etat. As noted above, power was transferred peacefully, if not altogether democratically, from Senghor to Diouf in 1981, and once again, this time in fully democratic elections, from Diouf to Wade in March 2000.

Government effectiveness in Senegal is adversely affected by the concentration of power in the executive branch, a cause and effect of the weakness of the National Assembly and the lack of judicial autonomy; limited capacity of civil society organizations (CSOs) and the media to demand social accountability; and political corruption, elite immunity, and politicized prosecution. In addition, efforts at decentralization that could improve government effectiveness in terms of public service delivery as well as consensus, rule of law, political accountability, and inclusion, are incomplete. Senegal has gone through two waves of decentralization, but enabling regulations diluted original intent and fiscal decentralization was never attempted. Thus, competencies have been devolved without corresponding resources.

The concentration of power and resources in Senegal weakens consensus on the political system, undermines rule of law, reduces competition, thwarts political accountability, constrains inclusion, and reduces government effectiveness, leading to an array of problems including pervasive corruption, poor service delivery, sporadic civil disturbances, and the lack of resolution of the conflict in Casamance.

The president is elected by universal adult suffrage to a 5-year term. Under the terms of the 2001 constitution, presidents are limited to two terms. The president heads the executive branch and appoints a prime minister as the head of government. Members of the Council of Ministers, or cabinet, are appointed by the prime minister in consultation with the president. The most recent government reorganization occurred in November 2006.

The power of the presidency in Senegal is far superior to the institutional checks and balances placed on it in the Constitution. During the 1990s, acceptance of this situation waned, and people voted out President Diouf in 2000. After initial high public approval, trust in President Wade fell precipitously from 2005 to 2008 according to the Afrobarometer. The Senegalese people’s satisfaction with their democracy also severely eroded during this time. However, even in 2008, when 71 percent disapproved of Wade and 64 percent were unhappy with their democracy, 88 percent of Senegalese still felt democracy was the most preferable form of government. There is strong consensus on the need to institute constitutional checks and balances on presidential power. The legislative branch consists of a 150-seat unicameral National Assembly (Assemblée Nationale) whose members are elected by direct popular vote for five-year terms separately from the president. The lack of checks and balances diminishes executive branch accountability. The National Assembly has historically been little more than a “chamber of applause”. The Senate has been created and then abolished repeatedly. In January 2007, a Senate also was introduced. The Senate with 100 members of which 35 are elected and 65 are chosen by the president. Deputies earn US$2,500 per year, and most do not have any other income. The Parity Act catapulted Senegal to the level of the Nordic nations in terms of women in Parliament, but since many of the women deputies were not functionally literate, it had the unintended consequence of contributing to the inability of the legislative branch to hold the executive accountable.

Parliament’s inadequate checks on presidential authority, low quality of debates, and the hasty adoption of bills contribute to the low opinion of National Assembly elected officials seen in the Afrobarometer survey results. Low public opinion of deputies is compounded by the fact that Members of Parliament (MPs) tend to be suspicious and mistrust each other as well. In Senegal, policies are written, implemented, and evaluated exclusively by the executive. Parliament is not meaningfully involved in making laws or policy decisions. Deputies seldom consult citizens or civil society organizations regarding policy issues. Generally speaking, prime minister questioning is done by ministers; Parliament exerts little control over the prime minister, or other ministers. Reports by audit institutions are transmitted to the President of the Republic and not to the National Assembly. There is a serious problem of transparency in the financial management of the Assembly, and international partners understandably restrict their assistance to the legislature accordingly.

The legal system is based on French civil law. Following a 1992 reform, the judicial branch is composed of a Constitutional Court, Council of State, Financial Review Court (Cour des Comptes), Court of Final Appeals (Cour de Cassation), and Court of Appeals. The Cour de Cassation (Highest Appeals Court, equivalent to the U.S. Supreme Court) and the Constitutional Council, the justices of which are named by the president, are the nation's highest tribunals. The Constitutional Court reviews legislative acts, and the Council of State audits the government’s accounting office.

The process by which members of the judiciary are appointed, promoted, and transferred compromises their autonomy. In the absence of a constitutional provision for legislative confirmation, the president names judges to positions based solely on advice from the Conseil Supérieur des Magistrats (CSM), which the president chairs. The executive has used this power to promote like-minded individuals to senior positions and to post troublesome judges to remote jurisdictions, resulting in judicial self-censorship. This makes the judiciary an inadequate counterbalance to the power of the executive branch and contributes to the concentration of power in the presidency.

The judiciary has never had sufficient independence to function as a check on executive power. The judiciary remains structurally and functionally dependent on the executive, and is thus ill-equipped to counterbalance executive power, or protect individual rights. The majority of the population, especially those living in rural areas, relies on customary justice mechanisms. Legal aid is dwarfed by the scale of the need, but despite this, trust in the courts is high.

While Senegal has well-developed commercial and investment laws and a legal framework for resolving business disputes and enforcing property rights, settlement of disputes within the existing framework is cumbersome and slow. Senegal’s civil legal system, based on a French model, is one of the most functional systems in francophone Africa, but it still provides a challenging environment for resolution of commercial disputes. Court cases tend to proceed slowly with ample opportunity for the parties involved to prolong the proceedings. Even when courts issue judgments, companies may encounter challenges in implementing court decisions and enforcing their contractual rights.

Senegal is divided into 14 administrative regions, each headed by a governor appointed by and responsible to the president. The law on decentralization, which came into effect in January 1997, distributed significant central government authority to regional assemblies. The country is divided into 14 administrative regions: Dakar (the capital), Diourbel, Fatick, Kaffrine, Kaolack, Kedougou, Kolda, Louga, Matam, Saint-Louis, Sediou,Tambacounda, Thiès, and Ziguinchor. These regions are further divided into departments, administrative districts (arrondissements), and rural communities.

The state has decentralized administrative powers, but without the financial resources to tackle problems. The limitation on the transfer of financial resources to local authorities is due to longstanding concerns about collectivities’ ability to manage funds. The distrust of local councils is shared by the public: in 2008, 55 percent of Senegalese trusted their local council only a little or not at all, according to the Afrobarometer. The government envisions what is called Act III of decentralization. If the political will exists to complete the process, it will require strengthening financial planning and management skills in the collectivities, and more resources for public service delivery and local economic development.

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