The Gambia Press Union on 19th March, 2022 held a Public Dialogue on Citizens’ Access to and Use of Electoral Information in Sanyang, Kombo South District of the West Coast Region.
The project, “Improving Transparency and Accountability in Electoral Processes in Africa”, is funded by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) through the Africa Freedom of Information Centre, AFIC. It is being jointly implemented by the Gambia Press Union, the AFIC in Uganda and in Zambia by the Panos Institute Southern Africa.
People from Sanyang and surrounding villages including Jambanjelly, Tanji, Tujereng, and Gunjur took part in a public dialogue meant to educate the public and encourage participation, trust and ownership of electoral processes.
The public was also sensitized on the role of a number of institutions in the conduct of elections and access to information. These include the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), the Gambia Police Force (GPF), and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).
Speaking at the gathering, the Chief of Sanyang village, Lamin Jabang, said that the public dialogue is a good initiative and urged participants to make good use of the opportunity to ask questions on issues relevant to the election process.
“I am delighted to have such an important event with important personalities such as the GPF, IEC and NHRC to come and sensitize my village people on the procedures of peaceful elections,” he added.
The Governor of the West Coast Region, Lamin Sanneh, said in his keynote statement that it is important that stakeholders continue to have these kinds of conversations to promote access to information before, during and after elections.
“This is the second time that the GPU organising such an event, ATI is importance in any electoral process and as we head to the parliamentary elections, it is important that citizens are able to know the role of authorities such as the IEC, NHRC and the Police and this is why such an activity is worth gracing,” Sanneh said.
He urged the participants, especially the youth, to take up the challenge and be agents of change to maintain the peaceful environment The Gambia is known for.
The President of the GPU, Muhammed S Bah, said that ahead of the parliamentary elections in April, every citizen should be able to use electoral information to make an informed choice.
“Access to Information in Elections is important and every citizen should be able to use electoral information to make informed choices which enhance a smooth and transparent process,” he said.
The Legal Officer at the National Human Rights Commission, Basiru Bah, said access to information is as important in elections as is the right to political participation, including right to vote.
“There have been challenging encounters in the enforcement of this right but recommendations have been made to CSOs, government and the IEC and many others have been taken on board by these institutions,” he said.
He commended by discussing the mandate of the NHRC during elections which includes the role of an independent electoral observer.
Deputy Commissioner of Operations at the Gambia Police Force, Sireh Jabang, said the dialogue gives them an opportunity to discuss and explain their roles to the public as electoral stakeholders and to share information.
“These kinds of gatherings are important as it will give a chance for us to have discussions and explain our role to the public for understanding,” she said. “Our role is to make sure that there is peace and order in the electoral process. Election is everyone’s business and we are to ensure that it’s done in a peaceful and orderly manner.”
The Independent Electoral Commission’s Returning Officer for Banjul, Sulayman Joof, spoke on preparations for the Parliamentary Elections.
“This is an important gathering to clarify issues and concerns regarding the electoral process, as the mandate body responsible for the conduct of elections in The Gambia,” he said.
He said the presidential election was held peacefully and they are ready to hold the parliamentary elections in the same manner.