By Omar Bah
The new election bill currently before the National Assembly, if passed in its current form, will annul the existing register of voters and all eligible persons shall apply to be registered in accordance with the provisions of the Act.
Moving a motion on Monday to lay the Standing Committee on Human Rights and Constitutional Matters report on the Elections Bill 2021, Suwaibou Touray, the NAM for Wuli East and member of the committee, said periodic free and fair election is one of the most important pillars and prerequisites of democracy. “It is through such elections that the will and opinions of the citizens are reflected, and the legitimacy of government is obtained. This bill is, above all, therefore crucial in The Gambia’s transition and solidification of democratic rule. It is also important because the government belongs to the people, thus, requiring the people to serve in that government,” he said.
By introducing this bill, Hon Touray added, the Executive recognises its role, and sorts to better the Electoral Decree 78.
The committee observed that there is a need for an amendment to the sum of deposit for the candidate vying for the presidency and other elective positions.
It accordingly recommended that presidential candidates, at the time of delivering their nomination papers, be required to deposit D1 million from the existing D500,000 while the deposit for National Assembly Members be amended from D5000 to D10,000.
The deposit for mayoral and chairperson candidates is pegged at D6,000 and D3,000 for councillorship candidates.
Forfeiture of deposit
According to the Committee, the percentage provided for the return of deposit for candidates for the Office of President (Clause 44(d), cannot be altered without an amendment being effected on the Constitution. It however recommended that the 20 percent provided for the offices of National Assembly-Members, Mayor/Mayoress, and Chairpersons under Clause 44(d) be maintained and that a new clause be drafted to cater for Councillors, and the percentage of votes required reduced to 20 percent.
Registration of political parties
The Committee proposes for the D1 million requirement to register a political party be increased to D2million.
It also recommended for the country to transition from ‘ballot box/drum’ to ‘ballot token/paper’.
According to the bill, the Commission shall notify the Inspector General of Police after issuing a permit to a political party to enable the police to provide adequate security for the procession or rally.
Chief Electoral Officer
The Bill recommended that the Electoral Commission shall appoint a Chief Electoral Officer who shall hold office on terms and conditions specified in his or her letter of appointment. It outlined that the Chief Electoral Officer may only be removed from office by the Commission based on –infirmity of body or mind; serious misconduct; violation of the Constitution; serious violation of any other law; or bankruptcy.
“Notwithstanding sub-section (4), the Commission shall not remove the Chief Electoral Officer from office based on infirmity of body or mind unless it receives a report submitted by a Medical Board constituted to inquire into the matter,” it added.
The provision of the bill empowered the Commission to appoint as many Election Officers and other staff as it may consider appropriate, on such terms and conditions as it may determine. For purposes of conducting elections, the bill added, the commission shall appoint Presiding Officers who shall subscribe to an oath for the due execution of office and the oath of secrecy.
According to the bill, the funds of the Electoral Commission shall consist of – monies appropriated to it by the National Assembly; fees and charges levied by the Commission; and such grants or donations as may be made to it, provided it does not compromise the impartiality or independence of the Commission.
“The Commission shall keep its funds at such a bank as it may determine; and proper records and books of accounts of its income, expenditure and transfers. The Commission shall, not later than three months before the end of each financial year, prepare and submit to the President, estimates of the income and expenditure of the Commission for the ensuing year, for onward transmission to the National Assembly without amendment,” it added.
The bill added that the Commission shall, within three months after the end of each financial year, submit its statement of accounts to the Auditor-General for audit.