“Constitution Guarantees Equal Access to Public Facilities & Media” – Halifa Sallah

By Rohey Jadama

Mr. Halifa Sallah, the Secretary General of People’s Democratic Organization for Independence and Socialism (PDOIS) and candidate for Serrekunda Constituency has said that Section 41 of the constitution guarantees equal access to public facilities and the media by candidates at public elections.

He said people are aware that there is no Television or Radio coverage of the whole process of the election as far as the state media is concern. Sallah noted, “Section 41 of the Constitution guarantees equal access to public facilities and the media by candidates at public elections. It emphasises that an Act of the National Assembly should be enacted to provide equal access to public facilities and the media. That Act is the Elections Act and section 93 of the Elections Act makes it mandatory for the Commission during an election campaign period to ensure equal access, as far as time also is concerned, to each candidate and political party, on the public radio and television. This is mandatory”.

The PDOIS Secretary General   made these remarks yesterday 21 March, 2017 at a press conference convened at the Party’s office in Churchill’s town.

According to Sallah,   the objective of the press conference is to fill the information gap which currently exists. He   said he is wearing many caps and it is his humble duty to fill that vacuum to the best of his ability.

Currently, he added, that is not happening and tomorrow, if it does not happen today they will officially write to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) complaining of the violation of their rights as candidates to be heard over public radio and television.

He continued: “It is also important to emphasise that under section 89 of the Elections Act  the candidates are given rights for protection by the IEC during political campaigns, they are entitled to lodge complaints to the IEC for any violation of rights  but IEC is duty bound to enforce the election campaign ethics”.

He said   it is important to point out that candidates are protected from any derogatory remarks, any slander, any insults during political campaigns. It is important to bear in mind that the IEC is required under section 92 of the Elections Act to prepare a code of ethics which all candidates received 15 days before the campaign period indicating the moral   and ethical conducts they should adhere to in carrying out their campaign, he added. According to him, it is therefore important that the public is informed by the candidates   and the IEC of the essence of such a code of ethics so that the public is provided with quality campaign messages, on the basis of which they will be able to make informed choices. Sallah added that it is also important for the public to realise what elections are all about.

The renowned Sociologist proceeded to say that Political parties under section 60 of the Constitution are required not to be based on ethnic, sectional, religious or regional characteristics.

He went on, “You will hear during the campaign accusations of people of not being born in a particular constituency and some even telling people to go back home where they were born essentially nullifying the national character of elections and the national basis of contesting elections”.

The former Minority leader  added that under section 60 of the constitution no party in fact should be registered or stayed registered   if it is formed on sectional, religious, ethnic and regional lines. He remarked, “This, according to him,  is further stressed  under section 105 of the elections Act so it is important   to educate those who are participating in elections to fully understand  the message that they put across throughout the campaign of the coalition  that it is one Gambia, one Nation , one people”.

He said Institutions are established in order to provide services to the Gambian people. Sallah indicated that the executive is established   to provide services and that is why the president has power to create ministries or inherit ministries, appoint ministers   and charge them with the responsibility of exercising direction and   control over ministries for the purpose of meeting what is emphasized under section 26 of the Constitution as the right of every Gambian to  public services in equal measure.

He continued “Good governance requires that governments are transparent and accountable; this is why an institution known as the national assembly is established so as to make the laws that the executive must abide by in executing its duty in providing services to the Gambian people.

“The first duty of a National Assembly Member is to make laws for the good governance of a country and no National Assembly Member is fit to remain a National Assembly Member who made bad laws for the country. The only National Assembly Member who is fit to be a National Assembly Member is one who makes good laws for Gambians. It is also important that the minds of the people are not directed to issues that are not the business of a National Assembly Member”, said the PDOIS SG.

He added that the National Assembly Members are not members of the executive, there is separation of powers   and a president is a president and one does not become a National Assembly Member to serve the president, one becomes a National Assembly Member to serve the people   and the role of the National Assembly Member is to provide the laws on the basis of which the executive will execute its duties at the same time to carry out oversight so that the executive would fulfill its mandate. It means that if laws are violated by the members of the executives, the National Assembly Members must always make sure that they are brought inline to abide by the dictates of the law.

“They must also ensure that the quality of public services and their relevance would be always maintained. They have a duty to question what government is doing by inviting the ministers to the National Assembly to answer questions of concern to the public  and in that respect they carry out oversight to ensure that the public is served in it proper manner”, said the aspiring NAM for Serrekunda Constituency.

He went on, “I must emphasise that the campaign should have been centered on measuring the quality that each candidate is able to bring into the national assembly so that we would be assured that the second leg of the state which is  the legislature would be properly constituted to be able to serve the needs and aspirations of the Gambian people. I am sure all of you are aware that the coalition came into being as a matter of necessity, in a genuine multiparty system there is absolutely no need for political parties to converge without sharing the same policies, programmes,   and ways and means of addressing the challenges facing the nation   . The coalition came into being because of the absence of a level ground for multiparty contest in the country thus, disadvantaging individual opposition parties from being able to put up a very strong challenge to the incumbent at the time.”

Consequently, he added a compact was prepared aiming to bring an executive into being that would put a manifesto into operation that would ensure constitutional reform, legal reform, civil service reform, reform of institutions in general to put in place good practices to provide the architecture of a democratic state that would abide by the rule of law, respect fundamental rights and freedoms and ensure that justice is available to all. It is that architecture of good governance that the Coalition aimed to put in place and thereafter open up for parties to emerge and contest on the basis of their policies to seek the mandate of the people.

The second phase of coalition building should have been the contest for the national assembly  .  in the national assembly this is where laws are made, constitutions are reformed requiring National Assembly Members who would agree on constitutional reforms key among those constitutional reforms is the establishment of a term limit which currently does not exist  and part of the manifesto of the Coalition is to put a term limit in place and those who are contesting as National Assembly Members should be questioned by journalists on what their stance is  on that irrespective of whether they are members of the coalition or not because the nation is interested. Parties simply serve to provide the candidates but ultimately”, he added those who win are designed to serve the nation, so the nation must have an agenda and one of those agendas is to put an end to self-perpetuating rule by ensuring that the legislature, the law provides for a non-continuation of self-perpetuating rule.”

According to the PDOIS SG, it is also important to bear in mind that National Assembly Members have been removed from the National Assembly in the past by the former regime by interpreting constitutional provisions. in short, he went on Section 91(1)(d) of the constitution was meant to remedy what we used to call ‘cross carpeting’ of candidates from an opposition party to a ruling party when we had a constitutional framework where we had no separation of powers so (1) (d) asserts that one ceases to be a member of the National Assembly if one ceases  to be the member of the party to which you were a member of when one was elected.  That helped to prevent one person moving from one party to another and gives a seat to a party that it has not earned but ultimately party leaders exercise dictatorial powers by removing members of their parties who are members of the National Assembly from their parties and automatically they will also lose their seats. So there is need for a constitutional reforms and one thing that we have emphasized is if we want the security of tenure   for National Assembly Members and freedom from tyranny of party leaders, it is important to indicate that if they are terminated by their parties then they will sit as Independent National Assembly Members unless recalled by their constituents which are all reforms, constitutional reforms that are absolutely essential”.

“We all know that members of the Independent Electoral Commission are currently appointed by the executive and removed without cognizant of even what is established by the Constitution, so we need constitutional reforms so that the appointments of members of the IEC will not be entirely the responsibility of an executive that has a stake in the political process.  In the same vein no executive should be able to remove a National Assembly Member, they should have the status of judges so that only a tribunal will look at any matter that is raised in terms of improprieties and then act based  on the findings; the same thing with judges the security of tenure should be well entrenched so that the executive cannot remove them, these are all constitutional reforms that we require.

“We have emphasized the need for the decentralization of power to the localities. Obviously  you will come to a point where you have a chief who can be removed  at will by the president and a chief is a member of a district tribunal, obviously you are interfering with a judicial process; an executive interfering with a judicial process is clearly not in line with democratic principles, so one needs to look into all that. The same thing with the Alkalos subjected to removal by a minister  and appointed by a minister when  clearly there too interference can come in and  the political interest  and introducing hostility to the process.

“So these are all reforms that will be necessary and debated on at the National Assembly and hopefully constitutional and law reform to ensure there is enlarged freedom and rights of Gambian people, responsibility and accountability in terms of judgment.

“Where does the coalition stand at the moment, essentially the objective was to contest as a Coalition meaning that you will not find any two members of the Coalition contesting elections in any constituency. This according to Sallah, could have been achieved in two ways, one way was for all the coalition partners to contest under an independent coalition ticket, the other way was for them to be able to agree on putting candidates in each constituency without repeating each other. The fact remains, regardless of where the blame lies, we were unable to achieve that.

“So at this very moment you will find Coalition partners contesting elections in many constituencies, that is the reality that the Gambian people must face. All of us acknowledge the fact that those partners are still full partners of the Coalition 2016 even though divergent in their views on the National Assembly elections, this is why PDOIS as a party has received  two Mitsubishi  pick ups from the Coalition not the government, that should be clear. The Coalition is not a government, it is a partnership of eight stakeholders plus two independent national assembly members and two representatives from the civil society organisations. This constitutes the composition of the coalition.

Out of the coalition the government has picked up ministers who in becoming ministers must serve a government and must endeavour to separate their party loyalty from state responsibility, which is the only way you can have a separation of a party   from a state. It was this endeavour that led the Coalition to insist that the presidential candidate will be an Independent Candidate so that all the parties will claim ownership of that presidential candidate if he attains victory which has been achieved.

“We must distinguish the executive from the Coalition, that the executive is elected by the Gambian people to serve as an executive president who would appoint ministers to constitute a cabinet that would formulate policy and implement policy to provide the public services that the Gambian people need. So nobody should exploit the image of that presidency to promote an object of attaining a seat in the National Assembly because under the Gambian Constitution there is separation of powers you cannot be a National Assembly Member and be a minister at the same time.

“It is important therefore, in the campaign of the National Assembly Members not to use what has been provided by the Coalition to all the stakeholders on equal measure. As far as we know if other things have happened we don’t know. What we know is these two transports are for each of the stakeholders participating in the elections and there is a coalition logo that is meaningless as far as the campaign is concerned, it does not entitle one to claim that one is a coalition candidate in any particular constituency.”

He said all those who are contesting are contesting on their party tickets even though their parties are still coalition members, which should be very clear. He noted, “In addition to that we have been given for the six candidates to be  supported by the Coalition  a sum of money of Nine-hundred thousand dalasis which if distributed among our 22 candidates should entitle each candidate forty thousand nine hundred and nine dalasis and some bututs”.

“This according to Sallah is what has been made  available to PDOIS, we don’t know what has been available to anybody but for the sake of accountability  and transparency they are duty bound to tell the Gambian people and the nation at large, especially their candidates on the ground. But prior to this PDOIS has entirely financed its own candidates through the support of all those Gambians who strongly believe that this party can serve the purpose of ensuring accountability, transparency and good governance in The Gambia and this is why our candidates are now on the ground, they are given the mandate to campaign fairly, to abide by the code of ethics provided by the IEC  and the code of ethics we have signed to ensure that we put our differences behind  and put the national interest before individual interest. I am sure that we will come back to you with the memorandum of understanding that we have signed which talks about principles that we should abide by. That irrespective of party affiliation we should put the nation first and we should all see ourselves as a united people divided only by our aspirations to serve the country and provided different answers to the challenges of the people. We have accepted to comply with the laws of the country. We have accepted that in the conduct of our political campaigns we will respect each other, that in terms of language we will not use derogatory remarks against each other but respect each other’s integrity, we will not use violence or intimation.

“We will ensure the principles of separation of powers are respected because under the Elections Act no party is required to use government facilities for partisan political interest. We also agreed to form an interparty committee so that we will be able to deal with any problem that may emerge.”

He added that the document is waiting for one signature that had not been done because of the absence of one of the stakeholders at the signing ceremony that they had. He said for their part once that signing takes place all the parties will come together on national radio and television to read what is there in the memorandum of understanding and the code of ethics that they have accepted to place so that in their respective languages everybody will understand the content and they believe that if they abide by that content Gambians will be ever more united as one Gambia, one nation and people. He said they will ever be “united into a community of sovereign citizens equal in sovereignty irrespective of our ethno linguistic origins, our religion, our origins, our gender and any other characteristics.