Citizens of the Gambia have a right and the duty to call their elected and appointed public officials to express their opinion or concern to them about national issues. Citizens have a right and a duty to call public officials to express our disagreement or to congratulate them on any issue or concern citizens have. This calls can be on their phone or through email or on radio, television or social media or in meetings and other forms of gatherings and channels, peacefully. That is citizen participation in a Democracy.
Therefore, the complain by some NAMs during the discussion of the draft constitution about citizens calling them out as harassment, intimidation or insult is not only unfounded but it also constitutes a threat against citizens. This action from some NAMs is only intended to silence citizens, thus preventing electorates from holding their elected representatives accountable hence undermining democracy and good governance. Just because citizens elect their leads does not mean those leaders must be left alone because they know what to do and they will do what is right all the time.
Each and every National Assembly Member should have a telephone number, email address, an office space as well as other means of communication that will ensure access by the electorates. Hence the practice of sharing the phone numbers of NAMs and sharing their pictures on social media with the purpose of influencing their decision is a normal practice in any democracy. NAMs should welcome such nonviolent and direct engagement action than to perceive it as offensive and intrusive.
Civil society actors have been quite responsible and respectful and there is no NAM who can call out a name of the civil society actor to have insulted him or her. Yes, a NAM may not wish to be called or to see his or her picture on social media campaign posters, but that does not mean that such campaign is offensive, illegal or intrusive. Therefore, NAMs must humble down themselves and realize that they are the people’s representative. They must recognize and accept that the people have a right and a duty to engage them directly.
Remember, when these NAMs were candidates seeking election in 2017, they embarked on massive campaigns in our communities. Those campaigns included telephone calls to voters and in many instances would even visit voters in their homes just to seek votes. When elected, NAMs have the mandate and the power to promote public interest by ensuring that they allocate necessary resources for the provision of social services and the protection of the rights of citizens. Hence the work of NAMs touches on the life and death of each and every Gambian.
Furthermore, NAMs are expected to perform their duties in line with their conscience and national interest. However, it is also obvious that NAMs, just like any other public official, do sometimes underperform, or violate their mandate or ignore the law and even engage in corruption and abuse. As human beings not each and every NAM will have good wisdom to know the right and the courage do the right in the interest of the nation. Furthermore, NAMs can also be influenced by other interests for various reasons. Therefore, citizens who are particularly conscious of their rights and duties cannot afford to keep their hands off of NAMs and all public officials.
This is why electorates, citizen groups, businesses or other entities engage in advocacy, lobbying or litigation as a means of participating in influencing decision making. They engage in these actions to hold elected officials and public institutions accountable so as to ensure transparency, efficiency and responsiveness. It is through such engagements that citizens make sure elected public officials respect the rule of law, protect human rights, combat corruption and abuse of office and protect the public good.
Let us put it to public officials that the democracy that the Gambia enjoys today was not delivered by the President and National Assembly Members on their own. They did not elect themselves into office. Rather they all went out to campaign for votes from citizens. Therefore, it is blatant attack and a threat to our democracy for NAMs to ridicule and threaten citizens who are playing their constitutional duty to hold them accountable.
Let NAMs promote and nurture the culture of democracy and not seek to attack citizens who are practicing democracy for the good of the country.
For the Gambia, Our Homeland