Mr. President, it is factual and unassailable that no democracy can flourish in this day and age without an effective electoral commission that will ensure free, fair and transparent elections. For this reason, the creation of an electoral commission is catered for in our constitution in accordance with section 42(1) which states that “there shall be an Independent Electoral Commission which shall be part of the public service”. Section 43(1) goes on to state the functions of the commission as: (a) the conduct and supervision of the registration of voters for all public elections and the conduct and supervision of all public elections and referenda; (b) the conduct of the election of a speaker and a Deputy Speaker, (c) the registration of political parties; (d) ensuring that the dates, times and places of public elections and referenda are determined in accordance with law and that they are publicised and elections held accordingly; (e) ensuring that candidate in elections make a full declaration of their assets at the time of nomination.
Further to that, section 43(2) states that “the Commission shall announce the results of all elections and referenda for which it is responsible. (3) In the exercise of its functions under this Constitution or any other law, the Commission shall not be subject to the direction or control of any other person or authority”. Therefore, this piece is not in any way intended to ask you to interfere in what the IEC does as par the provisions of this constitution, but to bring to your notice or remind you (as you may in fact know it by now), regarding the nomination of candidates by the commission. Despite that, all citizens have the right to challenge any authority in defense of the constitution as provided for by section 6(2).
Mr. President, our constitution was violated when you first appointed Mrs Fatoumatta Jallow Tambajang as Vice President, an appointment you later withheld. Again, our constitution was violated when the Minister of the Interior tabled a bill in parliament to increase the age caveat from 65 years for both the President and Vice President positions. Gambians raised concerns and your government was able to listen to those concerns. I will not applaud you and your government, for that is what we expect of any representative, responsible and responsive government. The era of praise singing a government for doing its job is hypocritical and should be history. Gambians voted for change and nothing else; a change that will restore their dignity as a people.
Regarding the nomination of candidates for the forthcoming National Assembly elections is indeed worrying. Section 89(1) paragraph C states, that for one to be qualified to be a member of the National Assembly, he/she ought to be ordinarily resident in the constituency concern for at least one year prior to nomination day. The constitution further states under section 90(1) paragraph J, that a person shall be disqualified for the position of National Assembly if he/she is an elected member of a local government authority. Those who wish to contest for the position of National Assembly shall resign from their elected local government positions.
Mr. President, concerns have been raised that the IEC has nominated people that have not been ordinarily resident in the concern constituencies for at least one year prior to the nomination day. In fact, one of the candidates is said to have lodged a complaint/petition concerning his opponent’s residency requirement. Equally, the IEC is said to have nominated councilors who have not resign from their local government positions for the required period prior to nomination day. Additionally, concerns have equally been raised regarding the nomination fees. A bill was tabled in parliament concomitantly with the age caveat bill and a constitutional error was discovered which led to a public apology by the Attorney General and Minister of Justice and you were advised not to assent to it(I do not know which of the bills exactly). However, I assume it is the age caveat bill. Some argued that the fees of D50,000 should be maintained because you are yet to assent to the D5000 change made in the elections amendment bill presented the same day. But others have argued that the amendment of D50,000 to D5000 is only an amendment of a particular law and not a provision in the constitution as oppose to the age caveat bill. Well, that is a legal debate and I spare that for the legal luminaries.
However, Mr. President, it is important, that the IEC properly scrutinize aspirant candidates before approving their nominations. I can fully hark back to the 2006 presidential election nomination day, when Hendry Gomez was disqualified by the IEC for failure to meet the residency requirement of 5 years immediately preceding the previous election as par section 62(1) paragraph C. Even though citizens have the right to challenge a constitutional violation in court, it is equally important for every citizen or authority to uphold the constitution and avoid fellow citizens resorting to court to challenge simple legal matters.
Mr. President, the “New Gambia” deserves better. I personally consider the National Assembly to be the most important organ of government and therefore equally deserves better. This is the body that serves as the deliberative organ of government where issues of concern to the nation are discussed and scrutinized as Andrew Heywood taught us. It is the house where our laws are made before implementation and interpretation by the executive and judiciary organs respectively. It is the body that decides the fate of the polity as far as law is concern. Furthermore, it is the body that supposes to scrutinize our budget for the respective sectors of development. It is the parliament that decides on the signing of agreements between the Gambia and other countries as well as international agencies. It is the parliament that decides on the Gambia joining and withdrawing from any international organization, all of which have impacts on the lives Gambian citizens. Therefore, I consider the parliament to be the most important organ. Why then should we joke with that house? If the “New Gambia” is anything to go by, then we must equally adjust on the academic qualification for one to be a parliamentarian, couple with experience to be able to effectively debate, scrutinize and adopt policies and laws that will serve the betterment of Gambia and Gambians. Parliament cannot serve as a job-seeking place for people. It cannot also serve as an experience-seeking ground for people. We should not under any circumstance, allow another rubber-stamped parliament to exist. For 22 years, our parliament has been rubber-stamped by the then incumbent, establishing and entrenching dictatorship for over two decades. In addition Mr. President, our parliament cannot accommodate every Tom, Dick and Harry Otherwise we are doomed to fail. Gambia must move together with the world in the 21st century.
Yours in the service of the nation
A sovereign and a concern Gambian citizen