ExplainersPoliticsThe Gambia

Explainer: Did The Gambia Coalition 2016 implement only three out of 22 of Barrow’s manifesto on democracy and rule of law?

On January 13, 2023, Madi Jobarteh, a human rights activist and social commentator, had a face-off in a debate with Halifa Sallah, the secretary-general of People’s Democracy Organisation for Democracy and Socialism (PDOIS), following the former’s comments that The Gambia Coalition 2016 betrayed Solo Sandeng. 

Solo Sandeng was a member of the United Democratic Party who state agents murdered for staging a peaceful protest and demanding electoral reforms. You can watch the full debate on the LSTV1 Facebook page. This post has 27,000 views, 184 comments and 507 likes. 

Madi has said that the coalition government implemented only three promises in their manifesto on Democracy and the Rule of Law, which includes reform plans. The three he named were: The removal of section 62 (1) (b) of the constitution, which puts a maximum age limit on the presidency; the amendment of section 91 (1) (a) of the constitution; and the adoption of the Access to Information Act.

On January 11, Madi wrote on his Facebook page: “Adama Barrow, Aji Yam Secka, Ousainou Darboe (in jail by then), Fatoumatta Tambajang, Halifa Sallah, Sidia Jatta, OJ Jallow, Isatou Touray, Hamat Bah, Mai Ahmad Fatty, Henry Gomez and Bolonding Sonko were the heads of political parties and formations that constituted the Grand Coalition in December 2016. 

“The Grand Coalition led by these parties and leaders had an MoU and a presidential election manifesto in which they stated in no uncertain terms their ardent desire to effect system change upon winning the elections.

“Instead of these leaders embarking on the full and uninterrupted implementation of their own MoU and Manifesto and upholding the ideals for which Solo Sandeng was brutally murdered, these leaders rather decided, shamelessly, to cut out deals for themselves. 

“First, they changed Section 62(1) (b) of the Constitution to remove the age limit for the president to enable Fatoumatta Tambajang to qualify to be appointed vice president in November 2017. 

“Their second selfish and disgraceful act was also to amend Section 91(1)(a) to protect their seats so that they can now cross carpet from one party to another as they like without having to lose their current seat.

“Since then, these Coalition leaders completely ignored any demand for system change as they failed to reform laws at the heart of human rights, democracy and good governance.”

Madi claimed that The Gambia coalition 2016 members only implemented reforms in Barrow’s manifesto for their interests. 

His comments about the Coalition members betraying Solo Sandeng did not go well with some of the members. One of them, Halifa Sallah, decided to debate Madi which was captured on Facebook. 

In defence of the Barrow administration, Halifah, among other things, argued that there were major constitutional bottlenecks which prevented the administration from implementing the reforms and promises.

“They talk and talk, but they don’t understand the constitution. They don’t understand the laws,” he stated.

He cited the challenges with the Elections Bill, which he suggested was thrown out by the Supreme Court. He would rather the government focus on constitutional reform rather than an attempt to fulfil these promises or reforms.

But Madi says the argument by Halifah was “an attempt to mislead.” He argued Halifa could not use constitutional bottlenecks to cover up their failure to implement the reforms.

He said where it suits them; they have used a Private Members Bill to change aspects of the constitution, something they could have done to fulfil some of the promises they made before coming to power.

He said while corruption festers, the Assembly has failed to hold President Barrow accountable for several acts of illegality.

Given how controversial the subject is, DUBAWA decided to keep an eye on the issues raised and to find out if, indeed, only three of the promises have been fulfilled. 

What were the promises made?

To verify the claims made independently, it is essential to know exactly what the promises were before the coming into power of President Barrow.

In the section on Democracy and the Rule of Law in the coalition’s manifesto, 22 promises were listed. Among the pledges stated include;

  • Freedom of Information Act shall be enacted to strengthen media oversight.
  • An NGO Act shall be enacted to promote Civil Society oversight.
  • The Law Reform Commission shall be restructured and revitalised to enable it to guide the Constitutional and legal reform process to consolidate the rule of law.
  • They shall protect civil servants and disciplined forces from being used for partisan political objectives;
  • Ensure equal access to public facilities as required by section 26 of the 1997 constitution;
  • Open the public media to divergent views and opinions as required by section 208 of the 1997 constitution;
  • Repeal the legal requirement of political parties applying for permits before using amplification facilities. Instead, introduce a consultative mechanism that enables the police to determine which party has the user right to a meeting place on a first-come, first-serve basis.
  • Prevent leaders from encouraging self-perpetuating rules. The coalition administration would put in place a term limit of two mandates of five years each;
  • Repeal the maximum age limit for the presidency as stipulated in section 62(1b) of the 1997 Constitution.

DUBAWA’s checks indicate that out of the 22, three have been implemented since Barrow took over. Section 62(1) (b) was removed, and Section 91 (1) (a) was amended when the coalition members were still partners, whilst the adoption of the Access to Information Act was done in 2021.

In 2017, following President Barrow’s nomination of Fatoumatta Jallow Tambajang as vice president, the section on the age limit for the presidency was removed from the constitution. In October 2017, National Assembly Member, Samba Jallow, sponsored a private bill seeking the amendment of section 91 (1) (a) of the constitution. 

According to the said section: “A member of the National Assembly shall vacate his or her seat in the National Assembly if he or she ceases to be a member of the political party of which he or she was a member at the time of his or her election.” This provision in the constitution was amended. 

In 2019, the chairperson of the Coalition 2016, Fatoumatta Jallow Tambajang, announced that the coalition partners agreed to extend President Barrow’s term from three years to five years on the basis that the reforms agenda had not been exhausted, noting that it was impossible to complete in three years. 

In 2021, The Gambia adopted the Access to Information Bill into law. The National Assembly passed the bill in July 2021, and became law in August 2021. According to a Media Foundation for West Africa article, adopting the ATI law is in keeping with the 2016 campaign promise. By then, an opposition coalition led by their presidential candidate, Adama Barrow, used its first mandate to dismantle Yahya Jammeh’s autocratic legacy, laying the foundations for democratic and accountable governance in The Gambia. 

Attempts by DUBAWA to get Mr Halifa Sallah or any member of the coalition members to speak to the remaining promises proved futile. However, DUBAWA will update readers on any new development as far as those pending promises are concerned.  

The researcher produced this fact-check per the DUBAWA 2023 Kwame KariKari Fellowship partnership with Malagen to facilitate the ethos of “truth” in journalism and enhance media literacy in the country.

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