In the decades since independence, The Gambia has experienced periods of human rights violations including, arbitrary arrest, extrajudicial executions, detention without trial, torture, electoral fraud, grand corruption, and economic crimes. Most of these are directly or indirectly attributable to a constitutional order that concentrated power in the presidency and emasculated other arms of government and civil society.
The Gambian people in general and civil society organisations need to put pressure on government to repeal and replace extant repressive, archaic statutes and institutional practices in a timely manner and bring them in line with the values and principles of the propose new constitution.
I have below a list of twelve proposed reforms and recommendations, a proposition that establishes a governance framework that can ensure the realisation of a just society, much will depend on the extent to which its rules, values, and principles are realised day to day. And to ensure the achievement of the limited and accountable government promised in the new Gambia.
Proposals and recommendation for reforms aimed:
1. An Independent Anti-Corruption Commission: should have the full autonomy to determine strategy and policy as well as recruit and discipline staff in its investigative arm, the Anti-Corruption Agency. The Anti-Corruption Commission will be headed by independently elected commissioners from civil society (e.g. professionals and former civil servants).
2. Offer public asset declarations: of all members of the executive and legislative body.
including security officials and senior public officials.
3. Expand the definition of gratification: and the power to investigate individuals living beyond their means by expanding the proposed Anti-Corruption Commission Act.
4. Amend other related legislation: namely the Official Secrets Act 1922, to
allow for the declassification of documents that reveal corruption; enhance the Whistleblower Protection Act and the Witness Protection Act; enact a Freedom of Information Act and an Asset Declaration Law; repeal and replace all colonial laws in our statute books, namely the Public Order Act, the Public Health Act, and the Telegraphic Act of 1923; and remove all draconian media-related laws that are inimical to the freedom of expression and speech.
5. Separate the offices of the Attorney General and the Director of Public Prosecutor:
and review prosecution practices to ensure that a conflict of interest between the two roles can be avoided. The conflict of interest is caused by the fusion of two roles into one office. The attorney-general provides legal advice to the government and at the same time decides whether to prosecute a case.
The conflict would occur if the person being investigated is in government. If the attorney-general is advising that person in government, many people will doubt his independence when deciding whether to prosecute that same person.
The Gambia inherited a legal system from Westminster. But Westminster itself has introduced a mechanism to avoid this conflict of interest because the attorney-general is a political appointee, usually a Member of Parliament, appointed by the Prime Minister to be part of government. He/she acts as the chief legal adviser to the government. But a separate body that is operationally independent from the attorney-general makes prosecution decisions. The attorney-general does not influence prosecution decisions other than in a very small number of offences.
Several Commonwealth countries separate the two roles. Like the United Kingdom, the Australian attorney-general is a politician whose role is to advise the government. But prosecution is decided by the director of public prosecution who operates independently from the attorney-general and the political process.
For countries that seriously want to ensure that justice is done and is seen to be done, the roles of attorney-general and public prosecutor are separated from one another. This is the direction that we should take to give credibility to prosecution decisions. If the attorney-general holds the power to decide on prosecutions, the problems faced by any attorney general today will continue to be faced by all future attorneys-general, regardless of how honest they are.
This situation is bad for both the attorney-general and the person in question. The attorney-general will face criticisms even if he is acting professionally and honestly. While the person in question will continue to be doubted even if there is truly no case against him.
6. Reform the Independent Electoral Commission: so that the regulation of political parties could be carried out in an autonomous and independent fashion. The reform of Gambia’s Independent Electoral Commission should be looked at in the broader framework of overhauling the entire electoral process. To deliver a democratic electoral system (which is an aspiration of many Gambians), other critical reforms such as: the reinstatement of presidential term limits, instituting mechanisms to guarantee a clean, accurate and credible national voters register; provisions to counter gerrymandering; managing the illicit use of money during campaigns; review of special interest representation in the National Assembly and other local government councils must be addressed. To realise the gains that may come along with the proposed modifications, electoral reforms must be undertaken within a context of a constitutional review process that facilitates a national political transition.
A constitutional review process will inadvertently allow for the reexamination and reform of other sectors such as security, and judiciary that (in the context of the Gambia) seem to have historically gratuitous influence over the conduct and verdict of elections in The Gambia. Beyond the legislative tier of reforms, The Gambia ought to inevitably invest heavily and strategically in public civic education as a support measure to sustainable good electoral practices. Civic education must integrate cognitive moral information which speaks to the prominence of valuing things like democracy, justice, peace alongside socialising values such as integrity, trust, honesty, confidence which have over the years had a far-reaching impact on the nature of elections The Gambia has had.
The reform of the IEC must, at both the legislative and constitutional level, lay strategic emphasis on the following interconnected features: The appointment process of the commissioners; composition of the commission; qualifications of commissioners; commissioners’ term of office; commissioners’ length of tenure; the electoral commission unduly nominating candidates who have presented false documentation such as academic and professional credentials; commissioners’ conditions of service; funding of the commission; the powers of the commission. The Gambia has a unique method of voting instead of voting of ballot papers, voters use marbles. The glass marbles represent ballot papers and there are no ballot boxes but ballot drums. This voting method appears antiquated. This method, however, is not a panacea for increasing citizen participation and interest in domestic political affairs. And the Gambia still does not allow citizens living abroad to vote; these votes are essential as they should be enfranchised to expand the political process of democratisation.
7. Publicly release political parties’ accounts audited by an independent party.
8. Disclose political party and candidate financing.
9. Legislate political financing and provide an asset declaration for all political leaders.
10. Legislate Media Subvention for all private media houses. Senegal, like many functioning democracies, gives an annual subvention to the private media to ensure that they get the capacity to carry out their functions of informing the public. Media aid to the private press should not only be maintained, but significantly increased. The private media performs the same function as the state media. Projecting government action, informing and educating the public, making inputs where it is necessary, calling government attention to specific issues that might have been inadvertently neglected or overlooked, amongst others. There is no one single public policy in which the private media is not involved in the process of informing, sensitisation and education.
I strongly urge whoever is concerned not only to continue to give the aid to the private press, but increase it five-fold. We must appreciate what government has done so far but at the same time ask for more. In many Francophone countries like Gabon, Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire, the state continues to support the private media. This doesn’t cancel the fact that the government should also alleviate the sufferings of the private media by removing taxes for instance for printing material. I think this is what we should do. Whether government should continue to give cash or subsidize printing material, I think the two things should go together.
11. Legislate a National Theatre and a National Troupe of all Gambian Artists. An Act to establish the National Theatre and National Troupe of The Gambia with the objective, among others, to encourage the discovery and development of talents in the performing arts.
Establishment of the National Theatre and the National Troupe of The Gambia Act. The objectives of the Act shall be to encourage the discovery and development of talent in the performing arts; achieve high artistic productions specifically designed for national and international tours; ensure that productions of the Troupe are geared towards national aspirations; encourage the development of children’s theatre; ensure the preservation of the repertoire of the Troupe; and ensure that the National Theatre is efficiently managed as a commercial concern.
12. Office of the Press Ombudsman: The Office of the Press Ombudsman will be part of a system of independent regulation for the print and digital media. The aim is to provide the public with a quick, fair and free method of resolving any complaints they may have in relation to member publications of the Gambia Press Union.
Anyone can complain about any article that personally affects you, if you think that it breaches the Code of Practice and Ethics provided that all information in relation to the complaint is submitted within a specified date of publication of the article.
You can also complain about the behaviour of a journalist if you feel that this behaviour involves a breach of the code.
The Office of the Press Ombudsman will, in the first instance, attempt to resolve the matter by making direct contact with the editor of the publication concerned. It will outline the complaint to the publication and seek to resolve the matter by a process of conciliation. If conciliation is not possible, the Press Ombudsman will examine the case and decide.
All information in relation to a complaint must remain confidential until all aspects of the complaints and appeals process are completed.
Alagi Yorro Jallow was the co-founder of the defunct The Independent newspaper. The native of Sankwia, Jarra, studied Public Policy, Management, Administration, communication and Leadership at Harvard University.