By: Kebba AF Touray
The Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD), has commenced a two day capacity building training mainly journalists reporting from the National Assembly. The training seeks to introduce journalists to parliamentary language and procedures, tools and systems in general, and how to better report and analyze parliamentary issues and activities. It also intends to enhance public awareness and understanding of the role and functions of the National Assembly.
Khalipha M.M. Mbaye, the Deputy Clerk for legal and procedural matters said the National Assembly is a body of elected representatives charged with the responsibility of making decisions on behalf of the people, and holding the government accountable for their actions. He added Gambia’s House of Representatives was the legislature from 1960 to 1994, succeeding the Legislative Counci. He told journalists that parliament is needed to legitimise governance, ensure representation of the people, and to scrutinise and oversee the execution of actions on institutions under their purview.
According to Mbaye, following the 1994 Coup D’état, the House of Representative was abolished and was replaced by the National Assembly in 1997.
“Section 87 of the 1997 Constitution establishes the National Assembly. Legislative elections took place in January 1997, and out of 45 seats contested in the 1997 legislative elections, APRC won 33, UDP won 7, NRP won 2, Independents won 2 and PDOIS won 1,” he said. The mandates of the parliament are oversight representation and lawmaking with the latter being its most important function.
According to the Deputy Clerk, it is important to train journalists to enhance their knowledge on parliament ary reporting and on how parliament works through processes and procedures and the technicalities involved in such reports.
Muhammed S Bah, the President of the Gambia Press Union, said capacity building is key. He said a lot of reports coming from the National Assembly are basically sensationalised or distorted and on one hand and most are not processed to the understanding of the ordinary Gambian on the other, making it difficult for people to understand what those who represent them at the National Assembly, do. He however acknowledged that some of the journalists are doing exceptionally well in ensuring that the people are well informed about national assembly proceedings and whatever transpired there from, both at the committee, the plenary and on oversight functions of legislators.
“The Media plays a very important role in creating public awareness on proceedings and procedures of the National Assembly and the work of parliamentarians in general. This is because parliament has legislative, oversight and representative functions, all of which affect the masses directly,” GPU President said.
Madi Jobarteh, the Country Director for Westminster Foundation for Democracy, said the overall purpose of the Foundation in the Gambia is to support democracy and that would include working with the national assembly, civil society and the media.
“Our work with members of the national assembly, is intended to bring about greater transparency and accountability in that institution, and to enhance the participation of citizens in the affairs of the national assembly,” he highlighted.
In this process he said, it has become necessary to work with the media, adding that the media reports on what happens at the national assembly like other areas in society.
“But it is important that journalists understand the National Assembly, just like any other institution, because it has its own culture and language, processes and powers, and tools,” Madi said. He reiterated that the entire establishment of the National Assembly is based on law, and in order to enhance democracy and to bring parliament to the people vis-a-vis, the journalists who report from parliament.
He said the training seeks to ensure that the requisite skills and expertise is imparted on journalists, in order to ensure that they report accurately, factually and reliably, on all matters from parliament.