In a month from this very day The Gambia will commemorate its 53rd birthday as a country which has attained its right to self -determination and Independence. We are assembled here today as representatives of all the registered political parties in the Country. We are assembled for a purpose. This statement is designed to remind us of our mandate as an Inter-Party Committee functioning under the Constitution and other laws of the Country which we have bound ourselves to observe, respect and uphold. It is therefore important to remind ourselves the pertinent provisions governing our mandate.
Colleagues, we need not be reminded that
"l) The Gambia is a Sovereign Republic."
It is also expressed under the Constitution that " ( 2) The Sovereignty of The Gambia resides in the people of The Gambia from whom all organs of government derive their authority and in whose name and for whose welfare and prosperity the power of government are to be exercised in accordance with this Constitution."
The primary aim of Government is to promote the liberty, freedom, general welfare and prosperity of each sovereign Gambian. The cornerstone of the Republic is the Sovereign Gambian. This is why the Constitution guaranteed the rights of the sovereign Gambian before mentioning the right and obligations of political parties.
This is why Section 25 of the Constitution states.
"(1) Every person shall have the right to -
(a) freedom of speech and expression, which shall include freedom of the press and other media;
(b) freedom of thought, conscience and belief, which shall include academic freedom;
(c) freedom to practise any religion and to manifest such practice;
(d) freedom to assemble and demonstrate peaceably and without arms;
(e) freedom of association, which shall include freedom to form and join associations and unions, including political parties and trade unions;
(f) freedom to petition the Executive for redress of grievances and to resort to the Courts for the protection of his or her rights.
"(2) Every person lawfully within The Gambia shall have the right to move freely throughout The Gambia, to chose his or her own place of residence within The Gambia, and to leave The Gambia.
"(3) Every citizen of The Gambia shall have the right to return to The Gambia."
These rights however must be exercised in a manner that would make Gambia a freer and better society.
This is why subsection (4) reads: "The freedoms referred to in subsections (1) and (2) shall be exercised subject to the law of The Gambia in so far as that law imposes reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the rights and freedoms thereby conferred, which are necessary in a democratic society and are required in the interests of the Sovereignty and integrity of The Gambia, national security, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court."
My emphasis is the right to assemble and the freedom to join political association.
Section 26 buttresses the Political rights of the sovereign citizen. It guarantees that
"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."
Hence each sovereign Gambian is entitled to determine the manner of government of the country and benefit from public services.
Section 32 guarantees the cultural diversity of each sovereign Gambian by asserting that "Every person shall be entitled to enjoy, practise, profess, maintain and promote any culture, language, tradition or religion subject to the terms of this Constitution and to the condition that the rights protected by this section do not impinge on the rights and freedoms of others or the national interest, especially unity."
This promotes the tolerance of cultural diversity of the people.
Section 33 offers the sovereign Gambian protection from any form of discrimination. It asserts:
"(1) All persons shall be equal before the law.
(2) no law shall make any provision which is discriminatory either of itself or in its effect.
(3) no person shall be treated in a discriminatory manner by any person acting by virtue of any law or in the performance of the functions of any public office or any public authority.
(4) In this section, the expression "discrimination" means affording different treatment to different persons attributable wholly or mainly to their respective descriptions by race, colour, gender, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status whereby persons of one such description are subjected to disabilities or restrictions to which persons of another such description are not made subject, or are accorded privileges or advantages which are not accorded to persons of another such description."
Section 39 buttresses the political rights of the sovereign citizen. It states:
" (1) Every citizen of The Gambia being of eighteen years or older and of sound mind shall have the right to vote for the purpose of elections of a President and members of the National Assembly, and shall be entitled to be registered as a voter in a National Assembly constituency for that purpose."
The Constitution then proceeded to give directives on the type of state the sovereign Gambian is supposed to build and live in.
Section 214 states:
"(1) The Gambia shall be a democratic State dedicated to freedom, peace, progress, prosperity and justice.
(2) The people shall express their will and consent as to who shall govern them and how they shall be governed, through regular, free and fair elections of their representatives.
(3) The State shall be guided by the principles of decentralisation and devolution of governmental functions and powers to the people at appropriate levels of control to facilitate democratic governance.
(4) In the composition of the Government, women shall be fairly represented.
(5) The Government, with due regard to the principles of an open and democratic society, shall foster accountability and transparency at all levels of Government."
Once all the principles of sovereign existence and democratic state administration were established the Constitution further went on to establish the role, duties and rights of political parties.
Section 60 asserts:
"(1) No association, other than a political party registered under or pursuant to an Act of the National Assembly, shall sponsor candidates in public elections.
(2) No association shall be registered or remain registered as a political party if--
(a) it is formed or organised on an ethnic, sectional, religious or regional basis;
(b) its internal organisation does not conform with democratic principles;
(c) its purpose is to subvert this Constitution or the rule of law."
Section 103A of the Elections Act further explains the role of political parties. It reads:
"Subject to the provisions of this Part, political parties may be established to-
(a) participate in the shaping of the political will of the people;
(b) disseminate information of political ideas and on political, economic and social programmes of national character; and
(c ) sponsor candidates for public elections."
Section 104 adds that
"(3) The number of political parties shall not be limited by law and every citizen of The Gambia shall have the right freely to choose whether or not he or she becomes a member of a political party and which party he or she supports.
(4) A political party shall not be formed on sectional, religious, ethnic or regional basis.
(5) Every political party shall conform to democratic principles, and its actions and purposes shall not contravene or be inconsistent with the Constitution or any laws."
It goes without saying that no political party could be registered unless it satisfies the condition stipulated in Section 105 of the Constitution. It reads:
"(1) The Commission shall, on the written application of a political party in the prescribed form, register the party, if the Commission is satisfied that-
(a) it is the principal object of that political party to participate in an election under this Act, including the-
(i) nomination of persons as candidates for the election, (ii) canvassing for votes for a candidate at the election, and
(iii) devotion of any of its funds or any part of it to the election expenses of any candidate taking part in the elections;
(b) internal organisation of the political party conforms to democratic principles;
(c) purposes and actions of the political party do not contravene or are not inconsistent with, the Constitution or other laws; and
(d) political party has a national character and is not formed on any sectional, religious, ethnic or regional basis."
Suffice it to say, even the content of the Manifesto to be submitted under section 107 of the Elections Act must express commitment to the indivisibility of the country and the fundamental principles of democracy.
In short, the party is required to present a Manifesto which indicates the following:
"(a) a written commitment to encourage the spirit of tolerance and multiculturalism amongst the inhabitants of The Gambia;
(b) evidence that the party is not based on religious, cultural or ethnic lines or on any consideration which may induce divisive political activity or promotion of unpatriotic and non-national interests;
(c) a commitment to provide opportunities for its members to benefit from the Government's programme of civic and member education; and
(d) a clear cut explanation of the party's programme for national development."
The IEC is further empowered to conduct oversight to ensure that political parties adhere to the dictates of law and may even effect cancellation of registration under Section 108 of the Act. It states:
"Without prejudice to section 106(3), the Commission shall cancel the registration of a political party if it is-
(a) notified in writing signed by a majority of the registered officers of the political party that the political party has, by resolution, dis solved or is going to be dissolved on a date which shall be specified in the resolution; or
(b) proved to the satisfaction of the Commission that the political party has, at any time after its registration, failed to comply with any of the provisions of this Part."
In the exercise of its powers the IEC cannot be subjected to any direction and control by any authority as stipulated under section 43 subsection (3) of the Constitution. It reads:
"In the exercise of its functions under this Constitution or any other law, the Commission shall not be subject to the direction or control of any other person or authority."
Only the courts are empowered to address aggrieved parties. The Courts are also empowered to review any decision made by the IEC to De-register a party.
"(1) A political party which is aggrieved by a decision of the Commission to deny it registration or to deregister it may, within fourteen days of the denial or deregistration, appeal to the Court."
Colleagues, political parties have to operate within the confines of the law and this fact should be known to all members of our parties.
The Code of Conduct agreed upon by Political parties is connected with, dependent on and determined by the provisions of the Constitution and the Elections Act.
This is clearly evident in the obligations imposed by law on candidates and political parties during Election campaign which the memorandum of the Inter-party committee aims to reinforce, at all times.
Section 90 states:
"Each candidate and political party involved in an election campaign shall-
(a) respect the fundamental principles of the State as enshrined in the Constitution; and
(b) carry out his, her or its campaign in keeping with ethical and moral standards and respect due to the candidates and political parties, voters and the Gambian people."
Section 91 adds:
"A candidate or political party shall not, during an election campaign period-
(a) insult or slander another candidate;
(b) abuse or engage in the improper use of property of the Government for political propaganda purposes;"
In fact, Section 92 makes it mandatory for the IEC to prepare a code on election campaign ethics. It reads:
"(1) The Commission shall prepare a code on election campaign ethics which it shall, at least fifteen days before the beginning of election campaigning, issue to each candidate and political party.
(2) The acceptance of the code prepared and issued by the Commission under subsection (1) shall be a condition of-
(a) the acceptance of a candidate's nomination paper; and
(b) registration of a political party to take part in an election conducted under this Act.
(3) The code of ethics on election campaign shall be published in the Gazette"
Colleagues, allow me to remind you that on the 12th September 2017 the Inter-Party Committee comprising representatives from all the registered political parties in The Gambia met at the Election House to review the content of the MOU signed by all parties on the 7th March 2017 and map out a way forward in institutionalising and operationalising its content. During our deliberations we reminded ourselves that political parties worked diligently to agree on core principles embodied in a Code of Conduct that would guide political activities and set up an Inter-party Committee as a forum for dialogue and cooperation between political parties to ensure adherence to the code of conduct and principles of democratic governance by all stakeholders.
We acknowledged that the memorandum was signed under a new political dispensation which avails to the country the opportunity to establish a level ground for multi p-arty contest since no ruling party exists in the country.
The MOU expresses conviction that " a peaceful and stable political environment underpinned by a transparent plural democratic political dispensation is vital for Gambia's future prosperity and the well being of our people .
It calls for recognition of the dignity and respect due to the office of president as well as the role of the opposition as partners in national reconstruction and development
It reinforces acknowledgement of the legitimacy of the Government and its right to govern within the confines of the Constitution and other laws of the land, on one hand and the rights of the political opposition to operate freely and hold the government to account.
The MOU reiterates that dialogue and cooperation between parties and the people provides the basis for sustaining peace and democracy.
It affirms that we have agreed to put all differences aside and work constructively towards national reconciliation and consolidation of democracy, good governance, due process, respect for fundamental rights and rule of law in the Gambia.
Colleagues, our parties through the MOU have agreed to be bound by the code of conduct which imposes on our members the duty to respect the Constitution and other electoral laws of the country, the right of all other parties to campaign freely and disseminate their political ideas and principles without fear, refrain from disrupting or frustrating the legitimate activities of other political parties, including the holding of political rallies and meetings, avoid using inflammatory and defamatory language, Not in any way threaten or incite violence, in any form, against any person or groups of persons, respect the full separation of powers, not to seek any way to duly influence or use other arms of government for political purposes, refrain from using civil servants and public funds for political campaign purposes, accept the outcome of transparent and credible elections , submit any grievance to the competent dispute settlement agency provided by law, accept and comply with the decisions of the competent dispute settlement agency.
After our review, it was generally observed by the representatives of the various political parties that the MOU is the ideal instrument to promote political pluralism and facilitate level ground for multi-party contest. It was unanimously agreed that the members should now endeavour to institutionalise the IPC in order to be able to implement the provisions of the MOU for the benefit of all political parties. It was also observed that the Inter-Party Committee will be able to tackle matters affecting political parties more effectively than acting in individual capacities. All political parties accepted the obligation to operate strictly by the provisions of the Memorandum of Understanding.
The way forward is now clear. There are three pillars of oversight. The law enforcement officers have the duty to enforce the law. If crimes are committed they have the duty to ensure that due process is adhered to in the enforcement of the law without fear or favour affection or ill will. Hence political allegiance should not provide a cover for perpetrating violence with impunity.
The second pillar is the IEC. It has powers to reprimand parties which violate the Elections Act.
Thirdly, the Interparty Committee could exercise peer pressure and persuasive influence. Article 9 paragraph ix provides for the Inter-Party Committee to receive complaints from member parties, IEC and the Government and find remedies.
Paragraph xii of Part three Article 9 states :
a)If any party has reason to allege that another party or stakeholder has violated the provisions of this code, it may draw the attention of the Inter-Party Committee to the matter by written communication to the Secretary stating the facts ;
b) The Communication containing the allegations and remedies sought will be reviewed in the following meeting of the Inter-Party Committee and addressed to ensure the implementation of the code,
c) The Inter-Party Committee may resort to any appropriate method of fact finding.
It is my conviction that we have the mechanism to ensure peaceful co-existence of political parties if we adhere to the memorandum of understanding.
On Tuesday 16th January the Inter-Party Committee met to discuss how to institutionalise or operationalise the MOU. We have agreed to establish sensitisation teams on a regional basis in order to disseminate the content of the MOU to supporters of all political parties in particular and the public at large. Their training will soon begin and the party leaders will be approached to grace the opening of the training programme and give their words of wisdom and express their commitment to the MOU.
The Inter-Party Committee will prepare its strategic plan; its short, medium and long term programme and a time bound work plan and has intention to engage all stakeholders to institutionalise the MOU.
We have weathered the most difficult storm without war. We have earned universal respect for this great feat of effecting democratic change in the country. We should not allow anyone to undermine the integrity of the Country by sowing the seed of political intolerance.