By Yusef Taylor, @FlexDan_YT
The Access to Information Act and the Anti-Corruption Bill (AC) were both tabled in December 2019 during the tenure of the 5th Legislature which was voted into office in April 2017. With the tenure of the current National Assembly members (NAMs) set to conclude in April 2022, the question remains how comes the Access to Information Act, 2021 has been approved by the National Assembly (NA) last year meanwhile the AC Bill has still not yet been passed by Gambian Parliamentarians.
Claim: One Civil Society Organisation actively advocating for Gambian Parliamentarians to pass the AC Bill is the Open Society Platform the Gambia (OSPG) which lamented that the AC Bill has spent over two years in Parliament. [From the 22 min mark].
OSPG Executive Director Mr Abdoulie Jadama noted that “there is an Anti-Corruption Bill sitting at the National Assembly since December 2019, two years, the Bill was there it cannot be enacted why? Because of the political class and it’s the same political class within the Civil Service and anybody in society that are conniving now to rob the Gambian people. D148 Million has been reported missing at the Ministry of Health [via the Auditor General’s report], GAM Petroleum US$30 Million [scandal]”.
Fact Check: The delay of the AC Bill was also the subject of a popular radio program “Straight Talk” aired on West Coast Radio 92.1 FM held on 19th January 2022. During the radio program, Hon Alhagie Mbow of Upper Saloum, a member of the Finance and Public Accounts Committee (FPAC) dealing with the Bill phoned in [from the 34 min mark on the video] to offer clarifications on the status of the Bill.
According to Hon Mbow, “there was a delay on our side, no question about that and we take full responsibility about that because the Bill came at the time, we also had other Bills”.
“In Parliament, it’s difficult to say that this Bill is more important than the other Bill but what happened is that the Bills came from different Ministries and each Ministry thinks their Bill is more important than the other”.
Hon Mbow explained that at the time the Committee had to do extensive consultations with various stakeholders. “Sometimes we may not have the capacity to deal with certain Bills and that’s the reason why we have to consult with others and sometimes that actually will cause delays,” he said.
Speaking specifically on the Access to Information Act and the AC Bill Hon Mbow explained that “sometimes we may have a Bill which could just come through because we have a lot of experts within the members themselves like the Access to Information Bill, but in this particular case [AC Bill] our report was actually done in 2020 and before that, we had Covid so most of the Calendar was cut by half or even more. So, we couldn’t present the Bill at the time in 2020 so we moved to 2021 also”.
“So, in 2021 [the FPAC tasked the Table of the Clark], they are the ones responsible for scheduling activities in terms of presentation of reports and Bills and stuff like that. We also told them that we are also ready for the [Report on the AC Bill] to be tabled but there were some issues, at the time of finalising the [Report to the AC] Bill some of the members were not actually present. If you understand what I mean”.
Our research has unearthed a seven-page agenda dated 31st August 2021 for the National Assembly’s “Third Ordinary Session” scheduled to run from 6th to 30th of September 2021. The agenda seen below highlights that NAMs were scheduled to receive the report of the FPAC on The Gambia AC Bill, 2019 after debating President Adama Barrow’s State of the Nation Address. Unfortunately, that never happened because Parliament did not have enough NAMs to form a quorum and commence proceedings.
An article published by Gainako Online News captures the Speakers failed attempts to summon sufficient NAMs to form a quorum. Below are two pages from the NA Agenda.
Looking forwards Hon Mbow explained that “finally, now we have the Bill cleared we have gone through the last process and the entire Committee has vetted the report and we’ll present the [Report to the] Bill on February 3rd ”.
As predicted Gambian Parliamentarians debated the much-anticipated report on the AC Bill, 2019 on 3rd February 2022. The report was adopted with amendments and the Bill will be tabled for the consideration stage on 14th February 2022.
Speaking to the Executive Director of Gambia Participates, Marr Nyang who runs an Anti-Corruption Civil Society organisation “both bills [Access to Information and AC] were tabled in December 2019 — it is clear that the Anti-Corruption Bill has not been prioritized by the National Assembly”.
In his view “the Anti-Corruption Bill needs emergency treatment at the National Assembly because corruption is getting out of hand and you need a legislative and institutional framework that will significantly minimize public sector corruption”.
Verdict: The Gambia’s Justice Minister tabled the AC Bill, 2019 since December 2019 and are currently in the last phases of adopting or rejecting the Bill which should enact an Anti-Corruption Commission. On 15th September 2021, the National Assembly was scheduled to table the FPAC Report to the Plenary, however, this never happened further delaying the process. The Bill will be put for its third and final reading on 14th February 2022. Claims that the AC Bill has been delayed by at least two years are accurate. This claim is TRUE.