By Omar Bah
A report on proactive disclosure of information and elections in The Gambia, commissioned by the Centre for Human Rights and funded by Article 19, has recommended for the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) to ensure the Gambian diaspora votes in 2026. In January 2021, Gambians from the diaspora took the government and the IEC to court over the continued disenfranchisement of more than 200,000 Gambians living abroad. In March the same year, the Supreme Court ruled that pursuant to section 39 of the Constitution, every Gambian, including those residing outside the jurisdiction, is entitled to be registered and to vote in an election. However, the IEC did not abide by this ruling and went ahead with a voter registration exercise at the national level in June and July 2021 citing lack of resources. About 987,484 Gambians had registered at the end of July 2021, which is low given that the number of registered voters was 886,578 in 2016. This means that only about 100,000 more people registered five years later. According to the detailed report, authored by Jeggan Grey-Johnson and covering issues of access to information and the 2021 presidential election, election management, political parties and candidates, election observers, and monitors, among others, the IEC should urgently halt the continued disenfranchisement of the diaspora and facilitate the processes to ensure that Gambians abroad are registered to vote and are afforded the opportunity to vote in all elections from their respective countries of residence. It further added that the IEC must adhere to and implement relevant court judgments. “Implement the recommendations from the various EOMs (the AU, ECOWAS, EU, EISA, and local observers), which are anchored on improving the democratic dispensation through the strengthening of election integrity, implement the recommendations of the final report of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy on the 2021 presidential elections, nurture and sustain a culture of proactive disclosure of its processes, including procurement, contracting and appointment and regularly update public interest information on its website,” it noted. The report recommended that the IEC should publish and make accessible the process for the selection and appointment of members of the IEC, and the remuneration and conditions of service of the entire body. “It should also facilitate access to information through record-keeping, proactive disclosure and establishing clear procedures, publish and make available details of all objections, complaints or petitions received, and how they were addressed and publish and make available evidence of all candidates’ qualifications, asset declarations and sworn affidavits at least three months before an election for public scrutiny within a reasonable timeframe,” it said. According to the report, the IEC should subject itself to a financial and performance audit after every election (presidential, National Assembly and local government), and publish the outcome. Page 2 of 2 “It should also promote active participation in electoral processes and exercises through systematic and sustained civic and democracy education programmes, manage all political party funding and donations in adherence to the law and provide leadership and strategic partnerships, and strengthen its convening power within the Inter-Party Committee and amongst all candidates vying for public office,” it added. The report revealed that the IEC has, over the years, been plagued by many challenges due to its own making, namely the attitude that it is above the law, with its unresponsiveness to probity and public criticism, and its unwillingness to engage stakeholders in an open and transparent manner. “It has in many instances been defensive, combative, abstruse, and aloof. It must endeavour to reverse this behaviour, which undermines its credibility and legitimacy as the election management body. The IEC is clearly suffering from a trust deficit. It must, therefore, embrace and value its mandate, which goes beyond elections management, and realise that it is a service delivery institution accountable to all stakeholders,” the report added.