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Opinion: Reforms That Can Move Gambia In The Right Direction

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Yahya N Darboe, USA.



Our focus should be on a step-by-step administrative reform of our institutions. The laws of the nation need to be changed to allow for effective running of our invaluable institutions to allow for efficiency and accountability. A robust assessment of our institutional functions with proposed changes for effective delivery of services without fear or favor is imperative.

Institutions such as the security services (especially the police), judiciary, local government, civil service, public enterprises, and other state agencies need urgent administrative and accountability reforms. Without such serious reforms, the country will not move in a positive direction and the status quo will remain as we have seen in past many years. Just talking and complaining about the failure of the system will not change it. The expected changes should be codified and promptly implemented so that the people will see the benefits immediately. To be able to do this, we must think out of the box with the input of all willing citizens considered.


Alkalos and Chiefs

Recently, there has been a big brouhaha about the Alkaloship (village head) of the village of Kassa Kunda in Western Region because the government decided to remove the sitting Alkalo and replace him with their chosen representative without involving of the village stakeholders in the process. The villagers decided to challenge the change because they prefer the former Alkalo. Despite their resistance, the central government authorities insist that the change was necessary. Since the Alkalo represents the residents of his or her village, one would think the people he or she represents would have a significant say in the process of selecting the person representing them? If it is left to the president and his political appointees to solely appoint the Alkalo, then selection will likely to be biased since they will favor a person who supports the ruling party. Such a case can only instigate disgruntled villagers who fill disenfranchised in the selection process. In a community like that, it becomes difficult for the Alkalo to lead because some of the disenfranchised will not respect some of the decisions of the selected Alkalo. In most cases every decision or proposal coming from the Alkalo is viewed through a political lens. Alkalos need to be selected or elected by the people he/she will represent and not be imposed on the community by biased and unelected officials in Ministry of local government or at the Regional Governor’s office. The Alkalos should not be beholden to the president but instead should be beholden to the whole community they represent.

This same scenario applies to District Chiefs too.


Security Services

An effective security service, especially the police, is essential to the maintenance of rule of law across the board. The police and their different areas of responsibility need to function well to build confidence with the citizenry.

Unfortunately, our police service is ill equipped to deal will many situations in the country including crowd control with the police intervention unit (PIU or Paras). The PIU should not be used as a political tool of the executive. Instead, they should lawfully and professionally maintain law and order for a peaceful society. The police prosecutions unit is politicized and lack the human and technical resources to investigate, charge and prosecute cases. It seems like political motivation is always a consideration when cases involve any hint of politics. In such situations, there is a double standard and two systems of justice: one for the supporters of the incumbent party and another set of standards for the opposition. We have seen cases where the president calls the shots as to whether a case should be prosecuted or dismissed. A case in point is the “3 Years Jotna” group Vs the State. We heard the President say that he asked the IGP to drop the charges against the group and the charges were promptly dropped. The office of the IGP and police prosecution team should be independent to run their departments professionally without interference from the executive.

The appointment, confirmation and dismissal of the IGP should be consultative and not the sole prerogative of the president. There should be layers of consultations and advice and consent provisions at each stage. These decisions should be made between the executive and the legislative body. This is the only way we can have the needed independence at the IGP level so that he/she will not be held hostage for political patronage. If the procedures are already stipulated as such, they should be strictly adhered to. In The Gambia, a lot of times one would find good rules and regulations in place, but strict implementation is often lacking. When there is no consistency in the proper application of rules and laws, the citizens lose faith in the system which leads to apathy and lawlessness.

The PIU should be trained professionally. Clear rules of command and control and accountability should be established in various operational settings. If such protocols are in place, a particular scenario can be easily handled without too much consultation and waste of time. In the current state, the low rank officer will consult the immediate senior officer, then to the next and up to the presidency. This is a reason why one would often hear security personnel citing “we got orders from the top.” A clear-cut protocol in place will ease the burden on most of the fine young officers and allow them to execute their duties without fear of retribution in case the process does not favor the powers that be. With such protocols in place, deliberate acts by officers are easily recognized and the officers found wanting of misbehavior and illegal acts can be identified and disciplined.


Judiciary

This is the foundation on which the rule of law is based and established on. Without a functioning judiciary that the people have faith in, everything else will falter in society. The judiciary is where aggrieved citizens seek redress on matters against the state and other entities and when fellow citizens wrong each other. The independence of the judiciary is very paramount in the execution of justice fairly and judiciously. The members of the judiciary should not be under pressure to rule one way or another outside of the law for fear of retribution by the executive. Therefore, just like other institutions, the appointment and dismissal of members of the courts should be done by consultation and a well-coordinated manner to give confidence to all stake holders. Judges should be assured of security in their jobs for life or for a specified period. A president should not be able to solely dismiss a judge at will.

I suggest that an independent Special Prosecution Unit be setup to handle high profile cases. The Attorney General’s office can refer cases deemed necessary to this office.

Resources should be provided to the judiciary to be able to dispense justice deliberately and fairly without undue delay, unlike what pertains today.

Independent Electoral Commission (IEC)

Elections are what determines who will lead us for a period of years. Elections allow the voters to choose their representatives in the Presidency, National Assembly and at the Local Government levels. Therefore, the process responsible for this exercise should be safeguarded to make sure the will of the people will be reflected in the election results. The people chosen to lead this institution should be honorable people of impeccable character.

Again, as stated about the other institutions, the commissioners and senior staff at the IEC should be chosen through a consultative process between the executive, legislature and other bodies to make sure there is buy-in from all stakeholders. The decisions they make should have input from all members of society including political parties. The IEC should not have a chummy relationship with just the executive, which would make them look biased. The IEC should be transparent and accountable to all the political stakeholders.


Society, at Large

There should be a massive sensitization of the citizens about their civic duties and rights. This education should start in lower basic school through senior secondary school and to tertiary institutions. Our children should be taught about ethics, honesty and accountability. They should be encouraged to debate amongst themselves and have serious discussions with the elders and especially their parents; this way everyone can learn from everyone and force tough discussions on important and necessary topics of national importance.

All these efforts are applicable to other relevant institutions and situations to make this endeavor a national undertaking to show tangible results.

By: Yahya N. Darboe, USA.

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