Friday, July 15, 2011

Hanging on the Balance of probabilities

Halifa Sallah, Secretary General  PDOIS
“Since sufficient number of genuine Gambian voters have registered, since we are also aware that many people who are not qualified to vote have been given opportunity to be registered, it is necessary to rely on the evidence provided by our registration agents to draw conclusions and make generalisation regarding the genuineness of the Registration exercise,”
A media dispatch from the Opposition Party, People for Democratic Independence and Socialism (PDOIS) said. READ ON…


PDOIS’ STATEMENT ON THE REGISTRATION OF VOTERS
The 2011 electoral cycle began with the Registration of voters. The PDOIS monitored the Registration exercise in all the seven administrative areas. We did not consider it prudent to commit financial resources to ensure that we had one registration agent in each of the registration Centres. However, we covered enough Centres to be able to form an opinion on the freeness, fairness and genuineness of the registration exercise. We have engaged our registration agents in a debriefing exercise in order to be able to issue an evidence based report on the registration process.

                             The Tasks of the Registration Agents
Our Registration agents were asked to address five questions.
1. What are the strengths of the registration exercise?
2. What are the weaknesses?
3. Do the weaknesses override the strengths to the point of negating the basis to have a genuine master register that could serve as a foundation for holding genuine election?
4. Do the strengths override the weaknesses to the extent of assuring the establishment of a master register that could be relied on to hold genuine elections?
5. Has the exercise enabled them to gather sufficient evidence which could serve as ingredients to legitimately advocate for a reform of the system of registration of voters?
The Strength of the System
It is observed that the introduction of new technology, the computerised system of registering voters, had facilitated the recruitment of electoral staff based on merit. This had reduced the partisan allegiances of the electoral staff and enhanced their professionalism.
The quick responses to queries by the supervisors, officers and commissioners did give registration agents some clout in controlling some abuses where they were present. This made it possible for the registration staff to control the attestation forms in places where the PDOIS registration agents were posted and thus made those who wanted to interfere with the process to use more clandestine means of perpetrating their fraudulent activities.
The number of teams established and the conducting of registration during weekends enhanced access and facilitated the registration of everyone in the country who wanted to be registered.
A revising court is to be held to assist in scrutinizing the list of voters to expunge those who had fraudulently registered as voters. A fee of 10 dalasi which is to be paid to file objections is less that the sum of 25 dalasi that was set in the past.
The Weaknesses
The right to vote comes together with the duty to prove that one is a citizen of the Gambia,; that one  is eighteen years or above or will be eighteen by November 24th and that one  is resident or was born in the constituency one applies for registration.
Section 12 subsection 2 makes it a requirement for a claimant requesting to be registered to be a voter to present one of five documents. The five documents are a birth certificate; a Gambian Passport; A National Identity card; a document certified by five elders that an applicant is a citizen of the Gambia; a document certified by the district Seyfo or an Alkalo of the village that the applicant was born in the district or village.
The fact of the matter is that under the Gambian constitution being born in the Gambia is not sufficient to make the person a Gambian citizen. In short, if one is born before 1965, one’s parent or grandparent must have been born in the Gambia or had naturalized to be a citizen of the Gambia in order for the person to be a citizen. If one is born after 1965 one of one’s parents must have attained citizenship citizen by birth or by naturalisation before one becomes a citizen of the Gambia.
Hence if a person brings a birth certificate or the documents provided by a chief or alkalo attesting to the fact that that one is born in his or her district or village the registering officer would not be able to affirm the citizenship of the person unless he or she inquires into the place of birth or citizenship of the parents of the applicant.
Before the deletion of section 18 subsection 1 of the Elections Act the registering officers had the powers to interview claimants to get to the facts. The ruling party utilised its parliamentary majority to delete section 18 subsection 1, which reads as follows:
“A registering Officer shall notwithstanding the information contained in a form of claim, examine such form and shall
call for, receive and consider such evidence as he may think fit touching upon the validity of such claim; and 
Require such evidence to be given on oath or affirmation and for that purpose administer such oath or affirmation
Investigate as he may think fit with the assistance of a village head, village elders or leaders of the adult age group present and adjudicate upon the claim”
All these provisions were deleted.
No basis of adjudication to determine citizenship by the registering officer was provided for in the amendment of Section 18 of the Elections Act.. They simply empowered chiefs and alkalo to provide documents to affirm place of birth and five elders to sign attestations affirm citizenship. Anyone could rely on such documents to be recognised as a citizen.
It goes without saying that some people have fraudulently acquired ID Cards, Birth Certificates and attestations by elders. However, the APRC legislators decided to tie the hand of the registering officers so that they would not inquire into the validity of documents issued by introducing Section 12 subsection 3 of the Elections Act which reads “the commission shall not reject a valid document produced under subsection 2.”
Hence the system makes it easy for both those who are qualified and not qualified to register as voters.
The sheer cost of maintaining registration agents in each registration centre made it impossible for opposition parties to have agents in each centre. This militated against proper scrutiny of the whole registration exercise. This weakness has to be addressed by seeking non partisan funding to maintain registration agents in all registration centres.
Furthermore, the fact that the question of citizenship is still hanging has made many persons who have stayed in the Gambia long enough but have not naturalized; others who are married to Gambians but have not registered to become citizens through marriage and some who were born in the Gambia of parents who are not citizens of the Gambia as well as recent visitors to the Gambia who want national documents or the underage, to rely on attestations, to register as voters.
Attestations have therefore become the major instrument for promoting fraudulent registration practices. It goes without saying that once one acquires a voter’s card in a fraudulent manner one would either abstain from voting or be tied to the wishes of the person who gave assistance for one to get the voter’s card. This could serve either the ruling party or the opposition depending on who is keener to mobilise the dishonest middle agents who would accept to be bribed to mobilise people who are willing to be accomplices of fraudulent registration exercise. This is the greatest weakness of the electoral system.
In short, tens of thousands of persons who are not qualified to be registered may have been registered through fraudulent acquisition of National documents and fraudulent attestations. The question now arises,  Are the weaknesses of the system too grave to make the holding of genuine elections permissible or are they negligible ?

Hanging on the Balance of probabilities
 Since sufficient number of genuine Gambian voters have registered, since we are also aware that many people who are not qualified to vote have been given opportunity to be registered, it is necessary to rely on the evidence provided by our registration agents to draw conclusions and make generalisation regarding the genuineness of the Registration exercise.
     
The Evidence provided by the Registration Agents
The fact that the APRC legislators had done away with section18 subsection1of the Elections Act there was no provision which provided room to have elders or village heads to be positioned at Registration Centres. This is why the IEC Chairman and staff continued to emphasise that Attestation forms could be collected  directly from the Registration staff by claimants  and then taken to elders of their choice to serve as their Attestants.
Despite the public notices and the civic education conducted by the IEC personnel that made it abundantly clear that the so called council of elders had no place in registration centres, some people who had already taken the role of self appointed Attestants had to either find clandestine ways of continuing their Attestations or tried to defy the IEC by establishing tables close to registration centres. PDOIS Registration agents succeeded in having many of the tables removed but left the one at  Bundung Mosque , Serre Kunda Central as a political nursery bed to gather  fresh information  regarding the operation of  self appointed Attestants.
The facts collected by our registration agents gave us clear indication why the powers of the registration officers to interview claimants, and administer oaths or affirmations should be restored if fraudulent registration practices are to be negated.
For example in the first week of registration at the Bundung Mosque, 397 claimants relied on Attestations to get voter’s cards. However 355 of the claimants had their forms attested to by the same five elders giving numbers other than their voters ‘card numbers as required by the IEC.
In the second week 440 persons relied on Attestations to get their cards. 414 of those claimants had their forms attested to by the same five elders. Hence in a matter of two weeks, the same so called elders had attested to the forms of  769 persons.
In some instances some of the so called elders would thumb print for absentee Attestants because of ignorance of how data was being collected. These self imposed attestants took great risks. Take the case of the young girl, FK.She brought a birth certificate to be registered. She was rejected on the grounds that she was underage. An APRC Member of the National Assembly gathered a group of party stalwarts including himself to attest to the form of the girl. The number of the Attestation form is 0070746. The girl now possesses voter’s card number 2041413009.According to the Attestants including the member of the National Assembly; the girl was born on 15 January 1993. The girl was initially rejected because the birth certificate she brought put the date of birth to 11 November 1995.The girl is now 16 and will be seventeen in November. The birth certificate LRL/3/315/10 with the number 0817680 gives a date of birth different from what has been given by the Attestants. We call on the National Assembly member to exploit the amnesty given by the IEC and convince the young girl to go and surrender her card; otherwise she would find herself before a revising court to give an example how politicians use children to promote their fraudulent political activities.
Our agent has revealed that out of the 5693 persons who were registered under Bundung Mosque 1294 relied on Attestations.   1024 of these persons who relied on Attestations relied on the tables set by the self appointed Attestants. In Brufut many people had been registered through attestations who live in the place they call GhanaTown.  

                                  Our Deductions
What was true for Bundung Central Mosque was true for many of the other registration centres. However all our registration agents acknowledged that even though many people did try to corrupt the system most people who registered in the Registration centres they monitored were qualified  to be registered as voters.. They added that those who showed National documents were more than those who relied on Attestations.
According to them whether we take cases  before the  revising courts or not the current list of voters , if transformed into a master register, could be relied on to hold genuine elections. They corroborated  the opinion that if the Gambian people really want change they could rely on the current list, if transformed into a master register, to effect democratic change. They however insisted that we should take cases before the revising court to teach lessons to those who wish to trade on fraudulent registration practices. They also recommend for us to do something about attestations which is the vehicle through which those who  unqualified to be registered as voters gain access to voter’s cards.

                                          OBSERVATONS
Those who have acquired their voter’s cards fraudulently should surrender them to the IEC. People’s names and pictures are to be posted. Sooner or later one is going to be exposed. Those who want to be Gambian citizens should find the right channel to naturalise.
After the list is posted those identified to have voted during the elections of neighboring countries would have their names extracted and forwarded to their governments for scrutiny. This goes for Nationals of Senegal, Guinea , Ghana , Mali , Mauritania  etc
Those who are found to be underage would have their names forwarded to their schools.
Once the revising courts start to preside over objections the registering officers who should serve the persons whose names are objected to would find it very difficult to do so because of the lack of street names and compound numbers in urban areas like the KMC.PDOIS had taken the government of the Gambia to the African Commission on the issue of registering voters in urban areas without using street names and compound numbers and we won the case when the Government promised to comply with our observations.

RECOMMENDATIONS
The hiring of buses from Senegal and Mauritania to bring claimants to register as voters tend to disadvantage Gambians abroad and favour wealthy political parties especially the ruling party. We therefore strongly recommend that the IEC puts Section 11 of the elections Act into effect. It states that “The Commission shall prepare, compile and maintain in accordance with this part a register of voters for each constituency and a register of Gambians registered voters in foreign countries.” People abroad have been asking what the political parties in the Gambia have done to protect their right to vote. PDOIS maintains that it is mandatory for Gambians in foreign countries to be registered as voters. It is now left to the Gambians abroad to form an Association and hire lawyers to fight for their right in the Gambian Courts, the ECOWAS Court and The African Commission to have their right to be registered as voters respected.
The duty to interview claimants and even subject them to an oath or affirmation to validate claims,   which was provided for by section 18 subsection (1) of the Elections Act  and was amended, should be restored. All political parties should collaborate, through their registration agents, to scrutinize the work of the Registration officers to ensure that only those who are qualified to be registered are allowed to do so.
The 10th Annual Activity Report of the African Commission on Human and People’s Right 1996-1997 contains a report on the outcome of communication 44/90 emanating from PDOIS on the necessity to have street names and compound numbers in large population centres so that the place of birth and residence of the claimant would be documented to ease the tracing of those who engage in fraudulent registration exercises. The Government of the Gambia promised The African Commission that it would redress the complaint lodged by PDOIS. We strongly recommend that the promise made to the African Commission by the Government of the Gambia be implemented otherwise PDOIS will resuscitate the case for further review because of non compliance.
The ID Card is a National document which all Gambians, 18 years and above must possess. The constitution permits those who marry Gambians who reside in the country for 7 years to register to become citizens. Those who live in the Gambia for at least 15 years may naturalise to become citizens. There is need for the question of citizenship of the Gambia to be determined once and for all according to the 1997 constitution. Once this is done a registrar of births and deaths should be attached to the office of each village head and to each major health centre in each ward to record all births and deaths in a village or ward. Biometric birth certificates should be issued. This could be transformed into biometric ID Cards at the age of 18 which should be utilised by all to get biometric voters’ cards. This would put an end to most of the fraudulent activities that characterise the current system of registration of voters. There would be no need to utilise Attestations to determine citizenship
Civic education needs to be conducted in schools and over the air to ensure that each Gambian would know the value of the voter’s card to the point of refusing to be anybody’s tool and be motivated to take it as a pride to take the initiative to get the card as well as to vote for the candidate of one’s choice.
The IEC should make sure that in establishing new rules and procedures for the electoral process it will compare its new formulation with the past ones so that the new ones will always be of higher standard than the practice it seeks to replace. This is what is in line with good governance.
The IEC is preparing the list. It has given a provisional figure of 837,029 registered voters. The destiny of the Gambia lies in the hands of each of the registered voters. If each person considers his or her vote to be insignificant then no body would vote. We would not be the architects of our own system of government. The counting of votes starts with the first one. Hence each vote counts. Each vote is important. Each vote should be cast if we are to be seen to be equal shareholder of National power. PDOIS, therefore takes this opportunity to congratulate all Gambians who saw the need to differentiate themselves from the other mammals in the country by taking the time to go to be registered as voters so that they would have the power and voice to say how their country should be governed. In few months to come the 2011 to 2013 electoral cycle will begin. They will have the power to retain things as they are or change the political architecture of the country once and for all. The choice is theirs. They have the power to decide. Decision that could best serve to promote liberty and prosperity must be based on informed choice. Decision based on intimidation and inducement could never give rise to a better society thriving on liberty and prosperity. This is the moment of contemplation. Soon the moment for decision will arrive. Let the true Sovereign Gambian who puts National interest before all parochial interests stand and be counted. Are you in the majority? Are you ready to take charge of your destiny? The future will tell what type of Gambian citizen has the power today to determine Gambia’s future. History has its pen and paper and posterity shall be the judge. The End.

  • Issued By Halifa Sallah, Secretary General People for Democratic Independence and Socialism (PDOIS), 28th June 2011.

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