The Gambia Association of Local Government Authorities (GALGA) has written to the UN, African Union, Ecowas and the diplomatic community urging them to advise the government to reconsider its inquiry into the operations of councils until after the election.
In a statement addressed to the Ecowas Commission, United Nations Secretariat, diplomatic missions, Commonwealth Secretariat and African Union, GALGA said: “We bring this matter to the attention of all recipients and copied authorities for their urgent intervention. We urge you to prevail upon the State to respect their international obligations and withdraw this Commission in the interest of peace, stability and adherence to the principles of good governance and political freedom.
“The said actions violate ECOWAS Protocol A/SP1112101 on Democracy and Good Governance Supplementary to the Protocol relating to the Mechanism for Conflict Prevention, Management, Resolution, Peacekeeping and Security; and risk destabilizing the country as well as other international norms and obligations of the Government of The Gambia.
“The Gambia is poised to enter the local government elections calendar from March 14th to 20th May 2023. This is one of the most pivotal elections in the country’s history. During this election the incumbent party will contest in multiparty local elections for over one hundred seats. The Majority of seats are held by opposition parties which will make this process highly contentious and tense and very important for the future of democracy in this country. It is therefore incumbent upon all parties and institutions to exercise restraint and put the interest of the nation first in order to maintain stability, a level playing field and avoid any actions that would inflame people or undermine our democratic gains.
Unfortunately, the President, in purported exercise of his constitutional powers, established a Commission of Inquiry into the Conduct of All Local Government Councils and Connected Matters which will span the three-month election window.
There is no stated reason why the Commission should be established and run during the election calendar of Local Governments. There is also no reason why it was not established for the past 5 years or cannot be established after elections.
“As elected officials we welcome public scrutiny and believe transparency and accountability are necessary, not only to allow the public to participate and be aware of local government administration, but also to provide us with guidance and assistance to increase efficiency of our various councils. Local Governments are the most scrutinized public institutions in The Gambia. Currently all Councils are subject to: Annual audit by the National Audit Office, Annual report to the Finance and Public Accounts Committee, Quarterly inspection by the Ministry of Local & Regional Government and annual audit by Gambia Public Procurement Authority (GPPA), periodic visit by National Assembly Select committee on Local Government.
“In addition to the aforementioned, management essential staff of LGAs are hired directly by the Local Government Service Commission which are appointed by the Central Government. As such, the administrative nature of local councils is such that the Government has the ability at any time to scrutinise, inspect and be aware of all activities at any time.
There is no Council in The Gambia that has not been subjected to or can avoid the above scrutiny. There is therefore no logical basis or reason for the President to establish a Commission of Inquiry to look into the conduct of Councils when all the information that could be required is available and already in the hands of the Government and the Public.
“This is particularly worrisome when the Central Government is amok with corruption scandals and allegations which are clearly documented and publicized yet totally ignored.
Clearly the establishment of the Commission to run concurrent to the local government election calendar is politically motivated and intended to: Undermine the elections; Restrain the free movement of candidates during campaign; provide a propaganda platform for the State; compel candidates to attend the hearings and distract them from their rights to participate in election activities; cast doubts in the minds of the voters about the conduct of their candidates; and disrupt and interfere in the free conduct of elections.
“We are extremely concerned that the President has taken this measure in abuse of his Presidential powers in order to tilt the playing field to his advantage. The Enactment of a Commission of Inquiry immediately before an election violates the spirit of Article 2 which provides: No substantial modification shall be made to the electoral laws in the last six (6) months before the elections, except with the consent of a majority of Political actors.
“We are concerned that the President, in light of the impending elections, and in a bid to give his candidates an advantage while disrupting the legal landscape, has decided to enact a Commission to run alongside the election calendar for the full three months. Of greater concern is the fact that several of the Commissioners are known members of the ruling NPP or sympathizers. While one’s political affiliations should not debar membership of a Commission of Inquiry or answering a public duty, such affiliation will obviously lead to public perception of bias and prejudice where such an inquiry is against one’s political rivals during an election campaign. It is simply undemocratic and unsavoury.
“We are disappointed that Imam Baba Leigh, a known Human Rights Defender has failed to consider the above and decided to lend his name to such an activity. For all the reasons above, we hereby lodge this complaint to the Independent Electoral Commission Pursuant to Section 89(2) and ask that steps be taken to ensure that the Commission is postponed until the 21st of May 2023 when the local government elections are over and its mandate does not violate the rights and laws set out above,” the statement concluded.