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Saturday, October 16, 2021

CSO launches project to improve transparency

Press release

The presidential election in 2016 and subsequent legislative and local government elections marked a significant shift in the politics and governance processes in The Gambia. It ushered in the end of 22 years of dictatorship and the emergence of a new democratic dispensation. The current dispensation initiated a series of commendable reform process such as the setting up of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRRC), the Constitutional Reform Commission (CRC), the Janneh Commission to investigate into the assets of the former president and his associates; the setting up of the National Human Rights Commission, as well as the security sector reform processes. No doubt, these reform processes have heightened citizen’s expectations from the government. The economic mismanagement and massive corruption by former President Jammeh and his associates remain serious challenges for President Barrow’s Government. This is evident by the International Budget Survey (IBS) conducted in 2019 aimed to assess open governance in countries around the world. The assessment covered four main pillars and this includes but is not limited to: Fiscal Transparency, Anti-Corruption mechanisms, access to information, timely publication of Audit Reports, public Official Disclosure of Assets and create enabling environment for CSOs. It is worth noting that international organizations like the Open Government Partnership (OGP) initiative with membership of over 78 countries are leading international efforts in promoting open governance.  The OGP is established to promote accountability and transparency. The country assessment results were used by OGP to assess eligibility for membership to join global open governance initiative as well as supporting critical reforms on accountability and transparency.  From the 2019 country assessment, the Gambia scored 33% below the 75% threshold to be qualified to join the OGP initiative. And in 2020 Gambia gained only 2 additional percentage points.  This demonstrated the slow pace of transparency and accountability reforms after the change in government in December 2016.

Introduction

The Open Society Platform The Gambia (OSPG) is a national network of 5 Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), individuals and grass-root social movements. It is a membership based non-profit organization with representation in all the seven regions in The Gambia. OSPG is a founding member of Anti-Corruption Coalition (ACCG), a Civil Society Organization (CSO) in The Gambia that comprises like-minded CSOs working in the transparency and accountability space to support the local community, particularly disadvantaged communities in the Gambia to hold public officials to account. Since its inception, OSPG and its partner institutions have been working to promote the principles of open governance and combating corruption through a citizen-centered approach.

In partnership with the National Democratic Institute, the Open Society Platform -The Gambia is implementing a project titled “OGP Accelerator Project-Promoting Accountability and transparency in The Gambia”. This project aims to promote reforms to increase government openness and transparency in The Gambia, and invariably position The Gambia for eligibility into the Open Government Partnership Initiative. The project is being implemented with collaboration from the Office of the Secretary General and Head of Civil Service, 3 key ministries including: Ministry of Finance and economic Affairs, Attorney General and Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Information and Communication Infrastructure and National Assembly.  Other partners include the Office of the Ombudsman and the National Audit Office.

The project implementation approach is anchored on advocacy engagement and dialogue with relevant state institutions via face-to-face and virtual meetings as well as radio sensitizations and campaigns to reach large constituencies of the population.  However, the main target beneficiaries are the policy-makers including National Assembly Members and public servants as well as CSOs to initiate relevant policy and administrative reformers that will enhance open governance in the Gambia.

Project activities

To achieve this, OSPG and its partners have been using a combination of advocacy tools and strategies to engage both the CSOs and government partners within the three arms of the government and have, to date accomplished a number of feats, as follows: 

1. 10 advocacy engagements with relevant state institutions- To build political support and lay the foundation for the establishment of the Intra-government Coalition on OGP Initiative which will drive the necessary reforms within the government to improve, OSPG successfully organized a total of 8 advocacy engagement visits to various government ministries and departments such as Directorate of Strategic Policy and Delivery Unit at the Office of The President, Ministry of Finance & Economic Affairs, National Audit Office, Ministry of Justice, Office of the Ombudsman,  National Assembly and other relevant government stakeholders. These engagements successfully helped to build political support to drive necessary reforms on key areas such as fiscal transparency, citizen engagement, asset declaration and access to information within the government to improve The Gambia’s eligibility into the OGP initiative.

2. 9 Live Phone-in Radio Panel Discussions on CSOs Support for Transparency and Accountability Reforms in The Gambia-OSPG and its partner CSOs organised a series of radio panel discussions on the OGP initiative and benefit for the Gambia. The public are the main target beneficiaries of this activity and it aimed to raise awareness of the OGP initiative, its benefit for The Gambia and results of its eligibility.  Topics for the radio program included the Status of Freedom of Information Bill, Status of the Enactment Process of the Anti-Corruption Bill, Fiscal Transparency: Importance of publishing, Executive Budget Proposal and Audit Report, Citizen Engagement in The Gambia: Gaps and Opportunities, Importance of Public Asset Disclosures Related to Elected Public Officials, OGP eligibility criteria, Benefit for The Gambia to join the OGP Initiative, etc. Representatives from the Intra-Government Reform Coalition were invited to speak on specific reform priority areas.

3. Training of Media Practitioners and Journalists on Open Government Initiative – In December 2020, OSPG successfully hosted a training of 15 journalists on the open government initiative.

The training strengthened the capacities of the Gambian media to monitor and report ongoing reforms on open governance in the Gambia that would foster stronger government commitments to implement critical open governance reforms. Additionally, this would contribute to improve the Gambia’s eligibility criteria to be qualified for the OGP initiative.  

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