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HomeGambia NewsGAMBIA: GALGA SAYS PRESIDENT BARROW'S COMMISSION OF ENQUIRY UNDERMINES LOCAL GOVERNMENT ELECTIONS

GAMBIA: GALGA SAYS PRESIDENT BARROW’S COMMISSION OF ENQUIRY UNDERMINES LOCAL GOVERNMENT ELECTIONS

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The Gambia Association of Local Government Authorities (GALGA) in a letter addressed to the Chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission and the chairman of the National Assembly Select Committee on Local Government, Ombudsman and IEC said the Commission of Inquiry established by President Barrow to inquire into the conduct of Local Government Councils and Connected Matters “undermine the elections” the upcoming Local Government elections.

“It is with great disappointment and concern that we write to bring to your attention recent actions taken by the President of the Republic of The Gambia that violate the constitutional rights of the undersigned as well as over 100 Councilors in Local Government in The Gambia.

“The said actions also 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,” GALGA said in a letter. 

The Association said there is no stated reason the Commission should be established and run during the election calendar of Local Governments.

GALGA further stated that there is also no reason it was not established for the past 5 years or cannot be established after elections.

GALGA stated that as elected officials they 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 them with guidance and assistance to increase efficiency of their various councils.

“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,” GALGA told the IEC. 

GALGA asserted that Local Governments are the most scrutinized public institutions in The Gambia and all the Councils are currently 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; Annual audit by Gambia Public Procurement Authority (GPPA); and Periodic visit by National Assembly Select committee on Local Government. 

The Association said the aforementioned, management essential staff of LGAs are hired directly by the Local Government Service Commission, which is appointed by the Central Government.

GALGA stated in the letter that the administrative nature of local councils is such that the Government has the ability at any time to scrutinize, 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. 

“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 the 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,” GALGA stated.

GALGA said it is particularly worrisome when the Central Government is “amoc with corruptions scandals and allegations which are clearly documented and publicized yet “totally ignored.”

GALGA said they are “extremely” concerned that the President has taken this measure in “abuse” of his Presidential powers to tilt the playing field to his advantage.

GALGA stated that Under Section 26 of the Constitution: “Every citizen of The Gambia of full age and capacity shall have the right, without unreasonable restrictions: 

a) to take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives.

 b) to vote and stand for elections at genuine periodic elections for public office, which elections shall be by universal and equal suffrage and be held by secret ballot.

 c) to have access, on general terms of equality, to public service in The Gambia.” 

Section 90 and 91 of the Elections Act clearly state: Each candidate and political party involved in an election campaign shall respect the fundamental principles of the State as enshrined in the Constitution and carry out his or her campaign in keeping with ethical and moral standards and respect due to the candidates and political parties, voters and Gambian people; A candidate or political party shall not during an election campaign period abuse or engage in the improper use of property of the Government for political propaganda purposes.

The Association said in principle they have no issue with objective and impartial investigations. 

GALGA, however, believes that the timing violates Article I(i) of the ECOWAS Protocol, which guarantees the freedom of political parties to participate freely and without hindrance or discrimination in any electoral process.

“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,” GALGA said in a letter. 

GALGA further stated that their greater concern is the fact that several of the Commissioners are known members of the NPP ruling party or public sympathizers, and while they believe one’s political affiliations should not debar membership of a Commission of Inquiry or answering a public duty, the Association believes 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. 

GALGA said the formation of the Commission is simply “undemocratic and unsavory” and expressed their disappointment that Imam Baba Leigh, a well-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 Elections 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.

“We also 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 from this Commission in the interest of peace, stability, and adherence to the principles of good governance and political freedom,” GALGA wrote to the IEC. 

The Association also copied the letter to the following entities.

Mol-RG&RA, 

ECOWAS Commission, United Nations Secretariat, Ambassador, United States Embassy, The Gambia, Deputy High Commissioner, United Kingdom, The Gambia

Ambassador to EU Mission, The Gambia

Commonwealth Secretariat, United Nations Liaison Office for Peace, and Security, 

African Union, Nigerian High Commission and 

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