By Mustapha Jallow
Officials of the National Council for Civic Education (NCCE) and partners on Tuesday reviewed and validated the NCCE Bill (2021).
The bill seeks to transform the council into a commission if approved by parliament.
The Council is a sub-vented institution under the purview of the office of the President. But the bill seeks to change that and make the NCCE independent and financially autonomous as enshrined in section 199(3) of the constitution.
Prime objective of the upgrade was to expand NCCE’s capacity in terms of a new legal instrument and structural reforms to improve efficiency in service delivery. The bill seeks to obtain a direct and detailed mandate for the institution, clear the ambiguity of the independence of the NCCE, ensures the availability of funds with predictability and certainty and setting up regional offices across all the regions in the country to bring civic education to the doorsteps of people in rural Gambia.
Stakeholders, who took part in the reviewing of the bill were from government ministries, departments, Civic Society Organizations (CSOs), the African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies, and the Gambia Press Union (GPU). The one-day session was held at a local hotel in Senegambia and organised by NCCE.
In his welcoming remarks, Alhagie Sering Fye, the Chairman of NCCE explained the history of how an Act that created NCCE was passed in line with article 198 of the 1997 constitution of The Gambia. He said the Act described the Council as an independent state institution that is mandated to create and sustain awareness of constitutional democracy for the achievement of political, economic and social stability through civic education.
“Driven by our strong conviction that every citizen has a role to play in promoting Gambia’s democracy and development, the NCCE engages in a variety of civic education activities to inform citizens of their rights and responsibilities and empower them to have a voice in the way they are governed and demand accountability from duty bearers,’’ NCCE’s boss said.
Faye said in the post-dictatorship era, there was a general misconception across many societies about the meaning of democracy among citizens, which resulted in a lot of abuses, mistrust, intolerance, and division along political and tribal lines.
Over the years, Mr Fye said the NCCE has taken other significant steps toward promoting political tolerance and peaceful coexistence, with the aim to also promote dialogue, reconciliation and patriotic citizenship. But he added that the institution has faced massive challenges such as limited or inadequate funding, an Act of parliament that is obsolete and in dire need of reform.
“The perennial lack of funds and logistics inhibits effective and consistent civic education delivery nationwide. These among other things have contributed to our limited reach out to the citizenry at all times and places; thus, affecting the performance of their civic duties and responsibilities. In responding to these challenges, we proposed this new bill to accommodate the current realities,’’ he explained.
Mr. Fye thanked the UNDP, UNFPA, ECOWAS, UNICEF and other partners for their remarkable collaboration and support to the Council over the years to ensure the masses are informed and educated.
“I wish to assure you in my capacity as the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, I will do everything possible to speed-up the tabling of this much needed Bill to the National Assembly as the Gambia needs a sustained and robust civic education system that imparts deep knowledge about the true meaning of democracy as well as giving citizens the skills to apply that knowledge so they can become civically engaged agents of peace and development for our dear motherland,’’ Dawda Jallow, Justice Minister remarked.
“I strongly believe that the NCCE must be transformed so that it can become one of the foundational solutions to the problems that ail our new Gambia: abuse of rights and freedom in the name of democracy, rampant misinformation and hostile political divisions that pose a danger to the peace of the country.”
According to the justice minister, the bill they are to review and validate seeks to do just that. He said the bill will transform the NCCE from a council to a commission, giving it more powers and independence to be able to come up with comprehensive civic education programs and activities.
He said this will provide information as a means of enabling and enhancing citizens’ participation in matters of governance; enhance a culture of patriotism and constitutionalism that can respond to the social and governance challenges that upset our burgeoning democracy.
While declaring the one-day session open, Mustapha Yabou, Permanent Secretary (PS), who read the statement on behalf of Secretary General and Head of the Civil Service, said the coming of the bill will make NCCE to be better position to give citizens the requisite civic knowledge and skills that will help them to effectively respond and participate in all issues of national development.
“Most especially at a time when we have come to take democracy for granted and in an age when social media can instantly spread rumour and false information on a magnificent scale, the public’s need for civic education is ever more vital,” he said.
“I am confident that the deliberations you will hold and the discussion you will make will be highly instrumental in creating a Bill that can be the best guidance on the kind of NCCE that would be relevant and responsive to the needs of civic education in the Gambia. We are committed to supporting the NCCE to sustain the necessary synergy in voter education as mandate by the constitution and the enabling act.’’