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It Takes Strong Institutions to Check the Power – EU Ambassador Tells MPs

The European Union Ambassador to The Gambia, Attila Lajos has challenged the Gambian lawmakers to use their powers and check power concentration in ensuring that human rights and democratic principles are respected.

He was speaking at an event organised by the regional free expression advocacy group, Article 19 and International Human Rights for Development in Africa (IHRDA) meant to build the capacity of legislators to safeguard human rights.

“Look, Gambians will always have disagreements on policy. This is a small country, but a strong-willed one. People have different points of view.  Of course, democracy is messy. You go through your ups and downs.  But the journey is worthwhile, and it goes beyond casting a ballot.  It takes strong institutions to check the power — the concentration of power,” he stated. 

Mr. Lajos recalled the National Assembly being the country’s highest legislative institution, has suffered many interferences over the past decades when total disregard for the rule of law and gross violations of human rights was the order of the day in The Gambia. He reminded the legislative body of how their predecessors used their powers in contributing to entrenching and legitimizing the repression by enacting unjust laws that negated human rights.

 “In the years since then, The Gambia has charted its own course through an extraordinary democratic transformation — from the rule of an iron fist to the rule of the people. Your democracy needs to be sustained and fortified by its checks and balances: a dynamic civil society; political parties and unions; a vibrant media and a strong National Assembly who need to ensure that — in The Gambia — there will be no turning back from democracy. We join in the TRRC’s principle of Never Again.”

Lawmakers with President Barrow at the National Assembly

The EU Ambassador said the parliament has a unique opportunity to breathe life into Gambia’s newly found democracy and challenged parliamentarians to prioritize human rights and demonstrates commitment to it.

“Indeed, human rights are the cornerstone of democracy and to achieving sustainable development. By putting human rights issues at the centre of parliamentary agenda, we hope that there will be restoration of citizen trust in the oversight role of parliament in safeguarding of human rights.”

He hailed the establishment of the Select Committee on Human Rights and Constitutional Matters with inclusive membership from the different political parties represented in the National Assembly.

“It takes a free press and an independent justice system to root out abuses and excess, and to insist on accountability.  It takes open society and active citizens to reject inequality and injustice. It takes a National Assembly with a vision that does not shy away from its moral duty.”

These, according to Mr. Layos, will require “a refusal to tolerate the corruption that stands in the way of opportunity; a commitment to transparency that gives every Gambia a stake in their government; and a belief that the freedom of Gambians – that Gambians have fought for is what holds this great nation together.”

Parliament in session

The current Gambian parliament is seen differently by different people. While many people often salute the MPs for speaking out and asking tough questions regardless of party affiliations during parliamentary sessions, others question their commitment to accountability.

Late last year, some lawmakers received D10,000 from President Adama Barrow ahead of the national congress of the United Democratic Party. This was widely seen as bribery.

In 2017, the president gave vehicles to lawmakers and when questioned were asked about the source of the vehicles, State House said they were donated by anonymous supporter of the president. The identity of the source has never been announced.

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