By Omar Bah
Civil society groups have galvanized to demand that political parties are compelled by law to disclose their sources of funding. The CSOs also want parties to publish their annual audited financial reports in the interest of transparency and accountability.
The civil society made these recommendations at a conference organized by the Center for Research and Policy Development (CRPD) centered on the draft Elections Bill 2020.
The Bill plans to guide the processes of elections in the Gambia and has fueled discourses between civil society, political parties, and elected representatives about its adoption.
Electoral reforms have been an issue central to the opposition and civil society over the years, particularly under Jammeh. Although the agitation was loud, limited progress was made in many areas and the unwillingness of the government at the time to reform pushed citizens to the edge.
The CSOs argued that “there remains a plethora of issues that continues to derail Gambia’s political advancement including organizing credible elections.”
“There is no law (yet) regulating political party and campaign financing, unequal constituency demarcation, while voters are aware of the voting process. Political parties and or candidates must be required to report their income and or expenditure to the IEC or other authority, or to have their accounts audited by the electoral authorities.”
The civil society queries that the growing influence of social media platforms on the broader political process is beginning to raise concerns around issues on misinformation.
The CSOs argued that while there are ongoing plans to reform The Gambia’s electoral process, the consultation around electoral reform where it exists is limited to officials of the electoral commission and members of political parties.
“We believe that for any significant electoral reform to take shape and to promote safe and orderly elections in The Gambia, the capacities of stakeholders engaged in the electoral process must be equipped and citizens and decision-makers must be provided with timely and relevant information about the electoral process,” Sait Matty Jaw, CRPD executive director said.
On political parties funding, Jaw added: “We are looking at an accountability perceptive. This is why we insist that political parties must publish their audited reports to the public. So for us, the excuse political parties are making that because they are not funded by the government they should not publish their audited reports is unjustifiable.”
“The political parties are governments in waiting who want us to entrust them with our resources. How will we trust them if they are not transparent in their dealings? So this is a way of avoiding voting elements that would influence our electoral process. We have also observed that the cost of election is also getting high. That is not what is expected in democracy,” he added.
On the issue of paper balloting, Jaw said the CSOs are not opposed to the system but they are concerned whether the changes are feasible for the 2021 election.
“We are not opposed to change but the change must be meaningful and something that the people will accept. But if the IEC feels organizing elections in the current system will create troubles for them – they should consult the right stakeholders to find a consensus on the way-forward,” he said.
The contentious issues of the paper ballot and campaign financing dominated the discussion.
But a senior political science student, who prefers to remain anonymous, told The Standard: “Reporting and public disclosure can serve many purposes ranging from assisting the election authorities to ensure that money is not accepted from illegal sources; to being an empowerment of voters in deciding which party or candidate they want to vote for.”
He said the main dividing line in reporting and disclosure regulations is whether or not the information gathered is made available to the public.