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Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Parliamentary Monitoring Group: making democracy work

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I wish to hereby propose the creation of an initiative called the Parliamentary Monitoring Group (PMG) as an independent civil society mechanism to monitor, engage, support and empower the National Assembly and its Members. Let our civil society groups get together to plan how to make it a reality. This is an initiative to make democracy work effectively and efficiently in our society. When democracy works then we have good governance, which means adherence to the rule of law, protection of human rights, efficient delivery of social services and corruption reduces.

Here is the general outline.
The goal of the PMG is to promote democracy and good governance in order to achieve sustainable development in the Gambia. The aim is to promote and strengthen open, participatory and accountable governance. The foremost institution responsible for the promotion and functioning of democracy is the parliament. This initiative therefore aims to ensure that the National Assembly is proactive, open, efficient and committed to building a democratic Gambia. Therefore PMG aims to monitor members of parliament and then report on how they perform their functions in the parliament and in their constituencies. We want to know which parliamentarian is actively and efficiently representing the people or not. In this way we also generate public interest and involvement in the work of the parliament.

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The mission of PMG is to identify individual monitors who would attend parliamentary proceedings to record the participation and contribution of individual National Assembly Members. Monitors will use a checklist to record the performance of NAMs. The checklist has a set of indicators. Here are examples:

1. Attendance: NAMs who attend parliamentary sessions or not
2. Speaking: NAMs who speak or remain silent during sessions
3. Sleeping: NAMs who spend time sleeping or not during sessions
4. Distraction: NAMs who spend time texting and chatting during sessions
5. Punctuality: NAMs who come late or not to sessions
6. Issues: Which NAM speaks on what issue
7. Bills: How may bills are tabled and passed
8. Voting: Which NAM voted Yes or No for the bills
9. Select Committee: Which NAM belongs to which select committee
10. Reports: Do Select Committees produce report on time or not
11. Representation: Which NAMs raise the concerns of their constituency or not
12. Feedback: Which NAMs report back to their constituency or not
13. Communication: What channels do NAMs use to engage their constituents?

These and many indicators will be developed so that at the end of every session and every year, PMG can deliver the National Assembly Performance Report publicly to inform Gambians how the parliament as a whole as well as its individual members are performing. Therefore PMG is an accountability mechanism intended to make parliamentarians become active both inside the National Assembly as well as in their communities. In this way we will know which NAMs are truly representing the supreme interests of the Gambia and therefore worth the resources that are spent on them.

Monitors can also do Facebook live streaming or record the sessions and then share later. Monitors can also interview parliamentarians as well as request reports from the select committees to share. We can also engage the National Assembly Authority to have some PMG Monitors serve as volunteers or interns on short to medium term basis in the parliament. PMG will endeavour to have a website and social media forums to share these information so that the general public can follow the parliament. PMG Monitors can also engage the radio stations to talk about their activities. In fact interested radio and television stations could have a weekly talk show with a title like ‘Making Democracy Work’ for example to re-broadcast parliamentary sessions or invite parliamentarians and citizens to discuss.

PMG will also use the National Assembly Performance Report to promote public interest in national affairs. Electorates can use the report to decide if they should vote again for their NAM or not. The media can use it to highlight those NAMs that are active or lazy. Researchers and political science students at UTG can use it to better understand Gambian politics in terms of actors, issues, concerns, processes and institutions among others. Development workers and the Government itself can use the report to determine which NAMs to engage because they want to see things done. Above all Gambians will now know which NAMs represent the country better and those who undermine democracy.

CSOs and activists interested in PMG could come together to improve this idea, its structure, processes and indicators as well as identify monitors and raise resources. There will be need for training of monitors to understand first and foremost the role of the National Assembly within a constitutional democracy like the Gambia.

Monitors must understand that the National Assembly is a house that deserves dignity and respect hence Monitors must be men and women who are respectable in all ways. The aim is not to undermine and disrespect the parliament or NAMs, but to energize the parliament and support it to take its rightful place as the lead actor for democracy and good governance in the Gambia. The parliament is the people’s house. It is the foundation of our democracy!

PMG needs to also engage the National Assembly Authority in order to create understanding and cooperation with each other in order to ensure smooth implementation. PMG could also identify progressive NAMs to ally with for effective implementation and popularization of the initiative countrywide.

I am available to any interested CSO and individuals for further discussion on training issues, implementation and how to become an effective PMG Monitor.
Let us get to work. We have a nation to build! Let us make democracy work!

By Madi Jobarteh

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