By Nelson Manneh
The National Human Rights Commission has indicated in their 2021 general registration of voter’s report that the number of attestation forms requested during the registration process was high due to factors such as ineligibility based on lack of proper documentation, possession of invalid documentation, etc.
“In the rural areas, the problem may have partly stemmed from the inadequate decentralization of the immigration and birth registration services as most people cannot afford the fees and the incidental costs of having to travel to the Greater Banjul Area or their Regional capitals to acquire national documents.”
Section 26 of the 1997 Constitution guarantees the right of every Gambian with full age (18 years and above) and capacity to take part in the conduct of public affairs, including registering for a voter’s card to vote at genuine periodic elections.
The commission said in terms of access, some registration centres were not disability, elderly, and pregnant women friendly.
NHRC report added: “Although persons with disability are assisted during registration and given priority, there were no sign language interpreters present in any of the centres visited, and documentation was not made available in braille form for the visually impaired.”
The Commission observed that the number of registered youths was minimal in some registration centres visited due to the standard definition of youths applied (persons 18-20 years of age) by IEC, which excludes persons aged from 21 to 35 years as per the national definition.
The objective of the mission according to them was to monitor the voter registration process to ensure that registration procedures were compliant with the guidelines set out by the IEC and were in accordance with human rights principles; and to collect evidence-based data and report on any form of human rights violation that may occur during the registration process, to safeguard or monitor the right of all eligible Gambians to participate in the upcoming elections, and to prepare and present to the IEC and other relevant stakeholders the findings of the monitoring, including any challenges in the registration of voters and recommendations to address the issues observed during the monitory visits.
Their report stated that at the request of the NHRC, an eighteen-member group was issued accreditation from the IEC as observers in the registration period. The composition of the group included Commissioners and staff of the NHRC. This group was subsequently divided into four (4) teams, led by Commissioners. Each team was designated to cover a region (an area).
The Commission visited a total of 67 Registration Centers throughout the country.
Despite the progress made, the 2021 voter registration exercise offers valuable lessons for future voter registration efforts, said the NHRC.
Recommendations to the IEC
The Commission recommended IEC to conduct regular visits and inspect voter registration centres to ensure issues relating to electricity and faulty equipment/machines are addressed to avoid disruption in the registration process.
They added IEC should ensure that registration centres are spacious, so as to accommodate applicants in areas with high voter turnout and that Centres should also be secured and shielded to avoid disruptions in the registration process due to rain or adverse weather conditions.
They recommend IEC to make voter registration centres more accessible to the citizens so that they do not have to travel long distances to register.
According to them, IEC should standardise rules of registration regarding location and ensure they are homogeneously applied throughout and ensure consistency in the definition of ‘youth’ as per current national Youth Policy among others.
Recommendations to the Government
Enhance access to immigration services for citizens to acquire their required national documents.
Make the issuance of birth certificate automatic upon birth at all health centres.
Make the costs charged for acquiring national documents such as IDs and passport affordable to average Gambians.
Recommendations to Political Parties
Give comprehensive training to the representatives deployed in voter registration centres on the registration procedures and the laws on citizenship.
Advise their party representative to be law abiding and desist from all forms of intimidation of applicants during registration and voting.