TAT commentary By: Alf Soninke
Politicians like journalists as special groups in society do in common enjoy freedom of expression. This is a right available to all persons in society, but it has bestowed it on politicians and journalists as a special privilege.
This enables politicians to do their work in parliament, for instance, very effectively, likewise journalists to fulfill their duty to society.
And what better time to exercise that freedom than when politicians are at the hustings?
In as much as there is code of conduct devised by the IEC, as well as campaigning guidelines prepared by the Inter-party Committee, among others, the politicians must not be hamstrung in their politicking to make the electorate vote wisely.
And, one way of doing this is to talk openly and frankly about issues and people, so as to properly enlighten and assist voters to identify and choose persons who could be trustworthy servants of the people.
A case in point – anticipating to win the December 4 presidential election, we understand that there are many cars presently parked at or near State House.
Also, that the owner is seeking to employ many new drivers for the vehicles – so if you know a competent driver, please ask him to go find out.
However, what gnaws is whetted these are govt vehicles and govt drivers? If so, the monies involved would be public funds. Were these vehicles and drivers provided for in the new 2021-2022 national budget?
Well, if the new vehicles and drivers are not paid for by the govt, then who or what private entity is funding their acquisition?
We recall how Yahya Jammeh acquired and parked vehicles in and near State House, and how he controlled the allocation and use of government vehicles.
He decided which central govt institution – ministry or department – gets allocated a vehicle; and which PS or director gets a new vehicle.
And, all such institutions and persons were at the mercy of the Office of the President. This included the police, armed forces and other sections of the security services.
This created an atmosphere where all public servants – including those in the legislature and judiciary – were beholding to the Office of the President.
Everyone strove to be in the good books of Yahya Jammeh, otherwise your institution loses out.
Indeed, one had to literally lobby and beg for vehicles and other favors from State House, and it created opportunities for patronage and influence peddling; not to speak of the dictatorship it engendered in this country.
Therefore, these are legitimate questions to ask, and should rightly be a matter for a politician on the campaign trail to talk about. Again, what better time than at the hustings!
Shouldn’t the campaign period be when politicians are able to reveal suspected and known vice for the public to know who to trust, and help them decide how to vote wisely?
Well, of course, we know all about the fragility of African polities, but is that reason enough not to expose perceived corruption.
Does it necessarily follow that a politician, who talks about the sins of the other guy vying for public office, could cause violence and threaten national peace and harmony?
Are we saying that our public security and related institutions are so weak that they cannot contain matters, should a group of people choose to take the law into their hands?
Moreover, is it not the case that our laws are still in place, and could be resorted to by any aggrieved person who complains of defamation?
Should the political campaign be so sanitized that we do not get to learn who is trustworthy to be elected as our new president after Dec 4?
Again, is it not the case that should a politician choose not to talk now, but talks after the election, he/she could be harassed and victimized by the incumbent, post Dec 4.
Better still, if you do not talk now, but start revealing things after the election, will it be perceived and dismissed as a case of sour grapes?
Also, as is the National Assembly debating chamber, is the campaign period not harvest time, so to speak, for the investigative journalists seeking tips?
Definitely, for the crusading reporters, this period of political campaigning is when they could hear and do follow up to report on accusations and allegations – again to help the electorate vote wisely.
Also, to keep fact-checkers very busy!
As for talk that politicians should be campaigning based on their manifestos, it is clear that all the politicians, fundamentally, have similar policies and programs, and are espousing the familiar mundane ideas.
Asking them to focus only on selling their manifestos has made the current campaign period not only dull, but lacking in controversy and newsworthy revelations.