Gambia’s Parliament is Seemingly Better and offers Lessons for Africa:
Although I wished for more, I thank God for the rising independent wins in Gambia’s parliamentary elections. A parliament with the most Independent MPs is more likely to have more conscientious voting and less partisanship; one is a certain blessing and the other is just a probable blessing. Foni seems to realize most of the independent candidate victories and thanks to the controversial partial marriage of convenience between NPP and APRC. When the ruling party (NPP) and ex Ruling Party (APRC) join hands and were defeated by Independents in the strongest region of the EX-ruling party, that requires a study. Twelve independent candidates won, out of fifty-three constituencies. Compare our number of Independents versus u.s and every country, but quality is another thing and not all independent law makers are like Bernie Sanders of u.s.
Many frowned at the partial marriage of convenience between APRC and NPP, but the spin-off seems good at the parliamentary level– it brought more independent candidates. Barrow cannot be totally credited in dividing APRC, Yahya Jammeh’s late refusal is another spin-off blessing to the Gambia. Jammeh helped divide his APRC in many ways. Individuals in marriage of convenience did yield some good at times, so I am not too surprise if God repeats it between parties or even nations. Still, I prefer marriage of Love or remain single like an independent candidate, who must now have “one-night stands’ or ‘marriage of convenience’ through their voting. So, the independent candidates that always vote with one party must be scrutinized and dealt with.
Caution: How we end up with many candidates must also be studied before we celebrate. Some of the independent candidates were actually angry rejects, they belong to a party and were rightly or wrongly rejected by their parties. Did such win or the ones that were always independent? The media have an important role to play, especially with independent MPs. Teaching them and covering them enough with still tough questions will help.
Like many countries, the Gambia lacks ideal political parties, so we need competent independents. The highly raised MPs salaries are part of the reason to more seeking? Not sure, but I oppose the intolerable raise. President Barrow have questionable advisors who tell him ‘Huge salaries will attract highly ‘educated folks’ to parliament. That is a theory or assumption that must be gauged against better theories and its effects? How many highly educated people Barrow or xyz replaced as candidates? The liars (advisors) will give excuse or tell you in 15 years, while we over pay? A decent raise is not bad, but gauge the salary difference between lawmaker, cleaner at court, and law enforcer (police) in every country? Even in companies, the worst of them have huge pay rate difference. All work cannot have equal pay, but the lowest should make at least ten percent of the highest salary in an ideal company or government… A lawmaker making almost $2000 a month may seem small, but how can I say a law enforcer should appreciate $100 a month? The highly educated and conscientious deserve pay, but money will never be the primary attractive reason to start or stay. Ideally, the conscientious are ready to sacrifice 5 to 10 years for country, set records and train others , then move on… Good allowances and special working arrangements are more ideals to attract thinkers, not just highly educated folks who over value money…
Although executive ‘oversight’ is an important aspect of MPs’ role, it is exaggerated in the Gambia. The reason you are called lawmaker instead of ‘overseer’ speaks volumes. No wonder why many lawmakers think the loudest against the executive is the best MP? If oversight is the most important role , then the executive party should have a limit of representatives or they are choosing who should check them. A law for judges to replace 10% to 15% of lawmakers where one party wins over 80% of MPs? The most important aspect of that oversight function is actually making laws for the executive to follow.
So the primary role of an MP is making laws for the executive to follow and laws for ordinary citizens+ to follow. Gauge them in other aspects, but please gauge them on their primary roles. So far, The most celebrated MP in Gambia’s history is mr. Halifa Sallah, and he partially failed on this important aspect. Although Mr. Sallah helped shaped the Gambia’s constitution while he may not have been MP then, but he almost made zero laws as MP? This is an irony that you and I can help do the most important role of MPs, but they get the credit? I can hear the roars of mr. Sallah’s fans, but how about we start something to present and future Gambians. Fifty years time, your grand child may ask how many great laws mr. Sallah or xyz made for the Gambia, and you may not be able to name ten? You can discuss the three or claim partisanship killed his proposed good laws. But a good student of history will demand how many good laws he proposed, ‘I want to study them, implement or upgrade them’… Now, how many bad laws he never questioned? He supported stupid and cruel marijuana laws, while a marijuana guy is now asking our journalists and parliament record office and press briefing be different? Like students, MPs records should be detailed and not vague. Every MPs card: 1. How many laws s/he successfully initiated versus failed? 2.How many laws he supported from the government versus others? 3.How many laws s/he ended to contrast with replacements or just null? 4. How many laws he made for executive vs people? Etc. Such will greatly help historians, but it will also influence MPs to be better.
The five MPs the executive will pick will be ‘highly educated’ or party favourites that locals rejected? Having judges pick 10 percent of a parliament may be much smarter than having the executive pick. Judges are not perfect, but if we give guidelines and bar them from choosing from the judiciary workers (friends), then we can fight partisanship even where voters failed to vote independent. Imagine if the u.s supreme court chooses ten percent of the senate/congress to serve two terms, maximum; you study how such vote and argue, then you may get better than Bernie sanders. Feel free to claim our supreme court is poor or corrupt, but trying to ascertain less fights, more conscientious mps, etc should be taken seriously. Our new constitution should dare pioneer, not just copy.
The IEC must understand the importance of efforts and dangers of indifference. Among the reasons of low voter turnout in the parliamentary elections is not knowing enough of candidates. As simple as having websites or social media addresses of candidates can boost interest. Excuse mongers can claim twenty percent of voters are illiterate , but boosting the turn out of the literate is one thing, but they can also influence the illiterate through what they learn. Good choices tend to have many more greater spin-offs. Asking and answering questions on recorded social media is much harder than giving ten different answers in private homes, based on eye readings and other factors. Every age comes with its tests and opportunities, do not under utilize the opportunities of those who pay you. The government give you tax payers money, so helping the voter know who to vote for is everyone’s responsibility, but more so those paid to think and accept thinkers on improving our democracy… Giving me the name and party of a candidate is not enough, help us with links. The candidates paid you fees and mentioning their website is not too much ‘advertisement’, but a spin off that may be spin-down to some. Candidates will learn about other candidates through claims or evidence for votes. We cannot run from the future and being late does not help, beyond marijuana legalization. Internet campaign through IEC require almost no money, internet registration is feasible now, and early voting should seriously be considered. Explaining to voters that the law was not Ramadan accommodating may help calm some. Again, type of website you have should change or have social media accounts for discussions.
We thank God for the peaceful elections, urge our MPs to use conscience over party’s desire. We urge the media and others to learn and teach. May God bless Showlove Trinity: Let’s learn, let’s work, let’s have fun.
By Jarga Kebba Gigo
Activist and transformer.