Banjul- 20 October 2016– Individuals with professional backgrounds ranging from geology, demographics, economics, international relations, law, communications and academics, have mobilized to form an Access to Information lobby to pressure key institutions like the Independent Elections Commission and other state entities like the Gambia Bureau of Statistics to voluntarily disclose data, statistics, finances and funding models being utilized to conduct the 2016 presidential and 2017 National Assembly elections.
The Right to Know (R2K) Gambia Coalition stated that the upcoming December Presidential election is being organized against the backdrop of the total personalisation of the state and its institutions by President Jammeh. This, it says, has resulted in increasing abuse of rights and disregard of the rule of law, while state institutions and public enterprises have weakened.
“State and democratic institutions that are supposed to ensure transparency and be accountable to the people, remain under the firm grip of the President who has subverted all democratic processes to serve only his political and commercial interests. Thus the space for popular participation, access to information and freedom of association have been severely curtailed by legislative repression and enforced by military and police brutality,” said a spokesperson for the group.
The group believes that the retrieval of information, which in other countries is normal routine, is actually near impossible in The Gambia, given the heightened levels of illegality by the state, whose actions are often shrouded in secrecy. It is this culture of secrecy, and abuse of regulatory frameworks by a paranoid regime, say the R2K-Gambia, that they will confront.
The R2K fired its first salvo yesterday, 19 October 2016, when it sent a three page letter requesting for information from the Chairperson of the Gambia Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), Mr. Njie, on key issues pertaining to the running of the upcoming elections exercise. The detailed questions, which totalled 17, ranged from population data, supplementary voter registration results, and utilization of elections Acts to funding, budgets, procurement of the BVR system and gifts received by the IEC and its Commissioners from President Yahya Jammeh.
“R2K has stated from the onset that it is spearheading this campaign in the spirit of partnership and civic duty, it is a non-partisan entity that focuses on rule of law and democracy, good governance, human rights and the principles of access to information,” said an R2K Gambia spokesperson.
However, there are doubts whether state institutions in The Gambia will heed to the requests likely to come from the R2K in the coming weeks. This has not deterred the group, which states that it is important to get answers to the questions being asked, which it believes is relevant, legal and an obligation from entities approached to respond.
“If they refuse to respond to the requests being made by the R2K Gambia Coalition, who are Gambians, then it means that they have absolutely no respect for our Constitution, the ECOWAS Protocol, AU treaty mechanisms and the citizenry. That alone is evidence that something is not right in this election process and therefore they have something to hide.”
The R2K Gambia Coalition has committed to elevate the principles of Access to Information on elections and stated that they will make public all information sent to, and received from, state and non-state entities in the country. It has already shared the request for information with all Gambian political parties, ECOWAS, AU and UN.
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R2K Gambia is a made up of a grouping of individuals with professional backgrounds ranging from geology, demographics, economics, international relations and law, communications, and academia. All members are human rights activists. We are located in US, UK, West and Southern Africa. We are a non-partisan entity that focuses on rule of law and democracy, good governance, human rights and the principles of access to information.