EWC Releases Position Paper on 2021 Election Bill

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By Sariba Manneh

Election Watch Committee (EWC), on Saturday, 6 July 2024 released a Position Paper on the 2021 Election Bill. 

According to officials from the EWC, the purpose of the Position Paper was to provide information and guidance to the National Assembly and facilitate the improvement of electoral reforms in The Gambia. In addition, the paper provides background information on why The Gambia needs electoral reform, and how it could be achieved.

Mr AnsumanaCamara, Chairperson of the EWC Steering Committee, said according to the 2018 Afrobarometer survey conducted in The Gambia, 88% of Gambians have trust in elections and believe it is the way of choosing leaders. However, the data reveals a decline in trust towards the Electoral Commission compared to 2018 (Afrobarometer, 2 and The Gambians believe in elections as a way of changing power, and to strengthen that belief, the National Assembly can play a very pivotal role which ensures reforms in our electoral laws.

“In 2016, President Barrow was elected on the back of a protest for electoral reforms from Gambia political activist Solo Sandeng. He was killed by the Jammeh government which insisted on not entertaining reform. Before the 2016 election, IEC increased the presidential deposit to a Million Dalasi from less than GMD 50, 000. (Fifty thousand Dalasi) this happened while opposition parties have persistently continued to call for reforms. 

“Although this was reduced to half by the 5th legislature, various reform requests still needed to be fulfilled. These demands included presidential term limits, diaspora voting, the introduction of the Proportional Representation system, fresh demarcation of electoral constituencies, and the inclusion of civil society groups in the selection of Commissioners,” he said.

Mr Camara added that The Gambia government signed the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Good Governance (ACDEG) in 2008, but did not ratify it until 10 years later, in 2018. The charter urges state parties to ensure universal suffrage, popular participation, and promotion of constitutional change of power among others. Since its ratification in 2018, The Gambia has yet to domesticate the Charter.

In addition, EWC stated that the African Charter on Democracy Elections, and Governance (ACDEG), and the African Commission on Humans and People’s Rights provide Guidelines on Access To Information (ATI) and Elections in Africa. These guidelines provide recommendations and guides on how to access information on elections can be facilitated, and the use of public and private media by political parties among others. 

 “We appeal to the National Assembly to give The Gambia renewed hope in the election as the best tool for changing government. Making laws that protect the integrity of our election, and its conduct can strengthen that hope! We urge the National Assembly Members to protect The Gambian interest and future, and this could be done where NAMs ensure the election bill reflect promises the Gambia government made by ratifying the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Good Governance (ACDEG) in 2018,” EWC Chair said.

He added that the EWC therefore provides its position on the Election Bill 2022 and makes recommendations on the following clauses and sections. 

The EWC Chair said EWC calls for the commission of some provisions while in others, it calls for the addition of or amendment. The recommendations are based on best practices, and in charters, Conventions, and guidelines the government through the National Assembly have signed and ratified.

EWC raise concerns on the Appointment of a Chief Electoral Officer, proposing that the commission shall appoint a chief Electoral officer who shall hold onto the terms and conditions specified in his or her letter of appointment.

The members of the Commission (IEC), they said, shall include the chairperson and four other members, and the members of the commission shall be appointed by the President, subject to confirmation by the National Assembly with votes of at least sixty percent of all members of the National Assembly.  

Members of the commission shall be appointed for a term of seven years and may be reappointed for one further term, they added.

EWC, among other things, recommended in their Position Paper that a person qualifies to be appointed as a Commissioner /Electoral officer/ IEC officer if he or she is a citizen of The Gambia, and has a minimum of a university degree or an equivalent qualification in a relevant Field, has declared his or her assets and liabilities:  has paid his or her taxes or has made arrangements satisfactory to the appropriate tax authority for the payment of the taxes; possesses considerable experience and demonstrated competence in the conduct of public affairs; and is of high moral character and proven integrity.

“A person shall not be qualified to be appointed a Commissioner/Election Officer /1CE office If he or she-  has been declared to be of unsound mind, a member of the National Assembly or any other elective office, or has at any time during the five years immediately preceding his or her appointment, been nominated as a candidate for election as a member of the National Assembly or any other political office, or has at any time during such period of five years been, the holder of any office in any organisation that sponsors or otherwise supports, or has at any time sponsored or otherwise supported, a candidate for election as a member of the National Assembly or of any Local Government Authority or he or she has actively identified himself or herself with any such organisation;  holds another office in the public service;  has, held office as a staff of the Independent Electoral Commission within period of two years immediately preceding his or her appointment; has been convicted in any country of an offense for which he or she has been sentenced to term of imprisonment of twelve months or more and has not received a pardon,” it advises.

“In addition to the qualifications set out above, the Chairperson of the Independent Electoral Commission shall be a person qualified to be appointed as a judge of the Supreme Court, a retired judge, or a person with other relevant qualifications with proven integrity, experience and demonstrated competence.”

On disqualification from registration as a voter, they proposed a person shall not be entitled to have his or her name entered or retained on a register of voters if he or she is – serving a sentence of imprisonment.  For the prisoners already serving time for their crimes, whose freedom of movement and other freedoms are already limited, the committee said it is a violation of the civic duty to deny the right to exercise suffrage and called for the exercise of prisoners’ right to vote. It tasks the IEC to facilitate their registration and access to the polling station(s).

“The right to vote is a constitutional right – such right under Constitutions the world over is Inspired by the leading text on human rights or as referred to by some, the parent document’ – the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 211 of it set out that, ‘everyone has the right to take part in the government of his (her) country, directly or through freely chosen representatives’, that, the will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will, shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures,” the EWC said.

PURA Urges Radio Stations to Regularise License Status to Continue Operations

The Gambia Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) has advised radio stations to regularize their licence status in order for them to continue operations, says a press release issued on Monday, July 8, 2024.

Below is the full statement.

“The Gambia Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) informs the public that through its periodic monitoring exercise, it has realized several radio stations have either ceased operations or are operating on expired licenses. Both conducts contravene the PURA Act and the Information and Communications (IC) Act.

During its January and February 2024 nationwide monitoring exercise, five (5) registered radio stations were found to have ceased operations without prior notification to the Authority in violation of the PURA Act and the IC Act section 235(1)(a). These radio stations are Deggo FM, Paradise FM (Basse Radio Station), Sky FM, Libidorr, and Radio 1 FM.

Prior to the monitoring exercise, PURA issued a compliance notice on 22nd December 2023. This compliance notice urged radio stations to renew their licenses but to no avail. 

Consequently, PURA issued a notice of intention to revoke the licenses of these stations, requiring them to submit written representations by 10th July 2024, explaining why their licenses should not be revoked. 

Similarly, PURA has also observed that some radio stations that have been issued broadcasting licenses to operate have never hit the airwaves. These FM Stations are – Exit One FM, Mahlegen Communication Network, Banjul FM, and Juneteenth Radio Stations. Accordingly, these broadcasting license holders have been served with a notice of intention to revoke their license and also required to explain in writing the reason(s) for their failure to start operations following the issuance of their license in violation of the PURA Act and the IC Act Section 235(1). 

Furthermore, the Authority has also identified several radio stations operating with expired licenses, a conduct that contravenes the PURA Act, the IC Act, and other regulatory instruments. Radio stations found to be operating with expired licenses are Foroyaa FM, Vibes FM, Teranga FM, Choice FM, Star FM, Kora FM, City Limits FM, West Coast Radio, Fayda One FM, Al Fallah FM, Hill Top FM, Nexus FM, Nuimi FM, Paradise FM, Taxi FM (formerly Unique FM), Capital FM, Janneh Koto, Hot FM, and Senn FM.

Under the law, a valid license is mandatory before providing services in the regulated sector. Therefore, stakeholders must comply with regulatory requirements to maintain a vibrant broadcasting sector.

Thus, PURA urges the above-mentioned stations to regularize their status by renewing their expired licenses on or before 10 July 2024 to ensure uninterrupted operations. 

PURA recognises the critical role radio broadcasting plays in the cultural, social, economic, and political lives of the people it is poised to serve. Radio broadcasting enhances information dissemination and creates employment opportunities for many people. 

PURA assures the public that it remains committed to upholding its regulatory mandate stipulated by the PURA Act and other relevant legal instruments, ensuring a fair and thriving broadcasting sector that creates a level playing field and supports democratic values.”

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