By Yusef Taylor, @FlexDan_YT
The Gambia’s Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) has vented his frustration with Gambian Civil Society actors he claims have “violated the very fundamental principle of being an [election] observer”. However, two party representatives disagree with the IEC’s notion that Civil Society Organisations shouldn’t take the IEC to court.
Speaking at the presentation of Peace Ambassadors the Gambia [PAG] Voters Registration report on 31st July 2021, IEC CEO, Sambujang Njie said “we have seen recently a Civil Society Organisation who were accredited from the word go they went to the court to challenge IEC and this has violated the very fundamental principle of being an observer.”
It can be recalled that two Civil Society groups namely; Gambia Participates and Center for Research and Policy Development and Councillor Abdou Aziz Gaye for Box Bar Ward filed a court case at the High Court on 23rd June 2021 against the IEC’s approval of the Banjul Mayor’s issuance of Attestation Forms.
In the landmark case delivered on 13th July 2021, Justice Mahoney resolved that the IEC has no authority to authorize the Mayor of Banjul to issue Attestations for the purpose of voters’ registration. According to the court ruling, the IEC and Mayor have contravened section 12 of the Elections Act 1996 and ordered for the plaintiffs to be paid D20,000.
Unhappy with the ruling IEC CEO, Mr Njie made reference to his experience as “an international observer … across the world” and claimed that “the very fabric and fundamentals of elections observation is to be non-partisan, non-bias, to be free and fair-minded and even not to talk to the press. But we have seen observers who from the word go they call up the IEC, why did you do this? Which means you have already a preconceived mind.”
According to Mr Njie the CSOs “did not stop at that [they] went to the courts and the premise put before the courts you said as a result of our observation. My God! These are our allies. If our allies are trusted and accredited and given the function to observe, what we expect from them is what [PAG] are doing. At the end of the day send us a report. This is what [PAG] have done but we thought this would have been better if you had done it this way but taking it to the court what do you think we can do now with some of the Civil Society.”
APRC’s Dodou Jah says CSOs are helping the IEC
Speaking to Deputy Spokesperson, Dodou Jah of the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC) after the event he deliberated on the reaction of the IEC CEO. According to Mr Jah, CSOs are “helping [IEC] for the future, to work according to law.” In his view, the IEC “are not legal experts and it is high time they have a qualified lawyer in their midst to help them interpret the law, especially the intent of the law, it’s very important they should take it in good faith and know that the CSOs are trying to rectify what is wrong.”
Speaking on the High Court’s judgement in favour of the CSOs Mr Jah said “he wasn’t surprised about the ruling” because he “always queried that the Mayor should have known better”. Upon hearing this Gainako reminded the APRC representative that his Party, which lead the former Government benefitted from this same arrangement in the past. However, Mr Jah disagreed that the two situations were incomparable. In his view “what happened in the past is people from Banjul being given attestation and I clarified that being born in Banjul at the hospital does not necessarily mean that you are within Banjul.”
Providing first-hand observations Mr Jah said “what we saw are people from the Kombos and other areas filling up these gelleh gellehs [mini-buses] and going to Banjul to look for attestation. That was wrong and it is happening for the first time.” Justifying his recommendation Mr Jah explained that “Banjul is the center of birth certificates being issued. Why the need for the attestation?”
GDC’s Mr Kah says CSOs have every right to sue IEC
Also at the event was Deputy Party Leader number two of the Gambia Democratic Congress, Mr Amadou Kah. When asked what he made of the IEC CEO’s assertation that CSOs shouldn’t take the IEC to court Mr Kah said “I believe the reason the court accepts them [CSOs] to do that is because they are also citizens of this country and so they have every right to raise an alarm on whatever they see is not in the right way.”
“I will just urge IEC to understand that we are going to a critical and very important election to everybody and they would be getting a lot of heat onto their side. But what would make them in control of whatever is going to come tomorrow is their perseverance, their patience to be able to absorb whatever heat that comes to them from whatever angle” said Mr Kah.
In recommending a way forward GDC’s Amadou Kah said he would “propose to the IEC that whatever organization that has engaged themselves in observation and they have come up with reports, these reports should be taken in good faith and studied by them critically. Even if they feel there are bias let them accept it and see how they can adjust it to whatever they have as a team.”
In the same vein IEC CEO, Mr Sambujang Njie concluded his intervention by assuring the PAG and delegates present that their Institution “will continue to collaborate with our partners and the [PAG Voters Registration] report will reach the Commission on Monday”.