A report on proactive disclosure of information and elections in The Gambia, commissioned by the Centre for Human Rights and funded by Article 19, has revealed a lack of internal democracy, accountability, and transparency in Gambian political parties.

The detailed report, authored by Jeggan Grey-Johnson and covering issues of access to information and the 2021 presidential election, its management, political parties and candidates, election observers, and monitors, among others, disclosed that the challenges of leadership renewal of political parties loom large.

It added that though the proliferation of political parties in the last three years has had a positive impact on political pluralism, there is a need for sharp and focused introspection by all political parties to reflect on the daunting issues that undermine their sustainability, credibility, and effectiveness.

“All parties are saddled with the burden of a personality cult, where the party founder remains at the helm of affairs for virtually the entire life-span of the party. This has resulted in the splintering of political parties, old and new, over the period. Democratic practice within political parties has also been questioned, as have the internal measures for dealing with transparency and accountability,” the report said.

It added that internal party dispute resolution has been ineffective, leading to protracted court battles between party leaders and their members.

“This has resulted in at least three parties still vying to be the ‘legitimate’ party, as has been the case with the oldest parties in the country, the APRC, PPP, and NCP. The undemocratic characteristics of political parties have also been exposed by the way in which coalitions and alliances are formed. These formations are often not subject to internal party structures, debates, and/or discussions, with decisions taken by a few and the rest following. The nature of these political pacts is usually vague, and formal agreements, where they exist, are not made public, leaving them open to public speculation and conjecture,” the report further said.

It cited the case of the Coalition’s 2016 MoU as an example. “The jury is still out as to whether the MoU, which stipulated a three-year mandate for Adama Barrow, was signed or not. Political parties are also highly secretive about the funds they receive through donations. This is a high-risk policy as it makes the party susceptible to illicit monies and resources filtering through election processes and systems. It also exposes the parties to money-laundering and corruption,” it stated.

The report recommended political parties implement the recommendations of the AU, Ecowas, EU, EISA, and local election observers, whose suggestions are anchored on improving the democratic ethos in the country through the strengthening of election integrity.

It is also recommended that parties publicly disclose all assets, investments, membership subscriptions, subventions, and donations. “Publicly disclose their financial arrangements as well as receipts of campaign funding from both public and private sources, together with campaign expenditures broken down into distinct line items. Regularly update their websites and ensure that party constitutions and other documents of public interest are accessible to the public. Disclose the qualifications and assets of party leaders and candidates, including elected officials. Make all audited reports accessible to the public,” it added.

Abuse of state resources

The report also disclosed that the abuse of state resources has been a persistent factor in The Gambia’s politics since independence. “However, it was firmly entrenched during the Jammeh dictatorship. This was sadly carried into the Barrow administration, and there are no signs that the practice will abate,” it added.

Its findings specifically point fingers at the president’s meet the people tour.

“The tour is supposed to be a nonpartisan affair. But time and again, both during Jammeh’s time in power and currently during Barrow’s tenure, the tour has been used as a platform for self-promotion, unabashed incumbency advantage, and boosting the chances of electability at the polls. Nine months before the 2021 elections, in March, the president undertook the tour, utilising all available state resources, including government vehicles and fuel, military, police and support staff, and segments of the civil service. The meetings were political in nature,” it noted.

Source: The Standard

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