Thursday, March 10, 2011

No level playing ground for politics in The Gambia

In part two of our interview with Mr. Kemesseng Jammeh, the United Democratic Party’s (UDP) former National Assembly Member for Jarra West, our Reporter Sulayman Ceesay discuses with him on the current political situation of The Gambia.
There is very little space for a level playing ground in Gambian politics regardless of having a constitution which calls for multi-party democracy; Mr. Jammeh told The Voice Newspaper at his residence in Tallinding on March 2, 2011.
“Going by the constitution is fine but more often than not what is happening is different from what is in our constitution,” the erstwhile Minority Leader of the National Assembly (1997 – 2001) said.
He accused the ruling party, Alliance for Patriotic Re-orientation and Construction (APRC) of using state machineries at its advantage, thereby creating very little space for free choices.
According to him, local chiefs, Alkalolu (village heads) and other civil servants who are paid by the tax payers have since resorted to acting like “political agents” serving the interest of only one political party.

This, he said is against the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed between Opposition Parties and the Ruling Party in The Gambia in 2005. The MOU was meant to foster a political level playing ground, since the most important component of the MOU is that public officials should not showoff about their political affiliation.
He argued: “But we see public officials including the security personnel showing their political loyalty to the ruling party, even going to the extent of denying political parties a permit to hold a rally.”
A case in point he said is the issue of the UDP, which was denied a permit to hold a rally in 2009 for which its Campaign Manager was charged to court, convicted and sentenced to a jail term. The National Reconciliation Party (NRP) was also denied a permit to hold a rally in Upper Niumi, the North Bank Region (NBR).

Human Rights

According to him, there is a very little respect for fundamental human rights in The Gambia. “It is very common in The Gambia for opposition members to be victimized, noting that Kanyiba Kanyi was arrested since 2006 and nobody knows about his whereabout. Such things amount to harassment and intimidation of the electorate,” he said.
Jammeh said there are lots of human rights violations in the country, while noting that it is clearly spelt-out in the constitution a person arrested on suspicion of committing a crime should be told within three hours why he or she is arrested and be charged to court within 72 hours. However, he said that is not the case as people have been arrested and detained for more than 72 hours without charge.

The Kingship

Mr. Jammeh said people and countries are moving away from the monarchial system of government and that he cannot understand why Gambia is trying to introduce it. “We are in the 21st century and monarchy is a things of past, but to my surprise I saw chiefs given vehicles by the President to facilitate mobility and after that they were seen going round the country campaigning for President Jammeh to be made a King,” he said.
“Am doubtful whether these chiefs are ignorant of the law or what, because having a King in The Gambia will have serious implications. According to the Constitution of The Gambia, which is base on multi-party system, section 1(2) says that, “The Gambia is a sovereign secular republic”.
“The sovereignty of The Gambia resides in the people of The Gambia from whom all organs of government drive their authority and in whose name and whose welfare and prosperity the power of government are to be exercise in accordance with the constitution.” He also compared Kingship or monarchy to enslavement, which he added the people in North Africa are trying to do away with.

High commodity prices

Mr. Kemesseng Jammeh argued that life in the second republic is more expensive compared to that of the first republic, in those days, the money was not much like it is today but the purchasing power was very good.
He said: the little we earned during those days was able to do more than the thousands we are earning today and the index of prices of commodities was cheaper and we were able to do many things with our little salaries.”
He explained that the basic salary of a qualified teacher use to be £16, a packet of iron sheet at £3 but today it cost D1400, a bag of rice was also cheap and today it is very expensive at the price of D800.  
He said today the free rise in prices of basic commodities has left people finding other means of survival since they cannot rely solely on their monthly salaries.

On agriculture and production

He indicated that the productive sector of any country should be very good because in the normal circumstances people should eat what they grow, but if that did not happen they will import more of what they eat.
If you compare the import and export trade of The Gambia, what the country import is more than what she export. The productive sector of Gambia is not functioning as it should be. Groundnut has been the main source of export but for the past years the sector has not been functioning well.
He said promoting agricultural should mean farmers being provided with all the farming materials including fertilizers, seeds etc, however, he noted that in recent years an organization has been formed to distribute fertilizers to farmers, which is a positive move in improving agriculture in The Gambia.
Mr. Jammeh further recognised the introduction of the NERICA Rice by the government saying it has brought a lot of difference since its introduction.    

Elections and Agenda 2011

He said it will be very unfortunate if people are losing confidence in their political leaders, the more that happen the more problem comes. The masses should take leadership of their own country, but if they refrain from voting that mean they are nothing in their country. People should try to bring about change through constitutional means and that is possible.
He noted that there is a possibility for opposition parties to come together, “We tried it once but did not go through” but it is possible before presidential election. He admitted that without an alliance it will be difficult for the opposition to win the 2011 Presidential Election.
Asked whether he will vie for a elected seat in Parliament again, he said “for me to represent my people in parliament will be determined by my people at constituency level”, while calling on Gambians to reflect on the state of affairs of the country and consider voting out the APRC, because the manner in which they are operating is not going very well.
He urged Gambians to register in order to exercise their rights to vote. Asked about Agenda 2011, he said it is a PDOIS Agenda and the UDP did not contribute to it. “It’s an Agenda of one party, no other party contributed to the Agenda,” he said.  Source - The Voice         

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