By: Kebba AF Touray

Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) convened a major national conference of stakeholders in the Non-State Sector, on Friday 19th January 2018 at the TANGO Conference Hall.

The event was meant to reposition and refocus Gambian Civil Society for Effective Participation in Building The New Gambia and to set the stage for a more informed and principled partnership with Government, in furtherance of the objectives of the democratic change to which the Coalition Government has dedicated itself to further express the decision and desire of Gambians at the 1st December 2016 polls, among others. The theme of the conference is “The Gambia We Want”.

Ms. Beatrice A Mboge on behalf of the Gambia Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said GCCI believes that competitive and environmentally sustainable industries and enterprises have a crucial role to play in accelerating economic growth, creating employment and reducing poverty since the country seeks to encourage job creators rather than job seekers.

“As we provide the necessary linkages that pitch industries and enterprises in the desired business networks, opportunities are derived and we are gradually moving into the era of entrepreneurship development”, she said.

She said the by-product of such an initiative is product and service development for the realization of “Made in The Gambia” products and services. “We will endeavour to work closely with the government to ensure that the national business council is revised, and would meet regularly to advice on economic matters”, she added

Saikou Jammeh on behalf of The Gambia Press Union (GPU) said the conference is significant; that a portion of the excitement is that Journalists and Media Owners are breaking free from decades of political, institutional and legal controls which have stifled press freedom in the country since independence. He expressed optimism that with the emerging media boom after the dictatorship, points towards an era of a liberal and pluralistic press.

Jammeh called for the freedom and independence of the press, to give voices to all groups in society, irrespective of differences, do away with laws that criminalize speech and restrict press freedom and give way to laws that promote free speech and empower the press, where Deyda Hydara among others would have lived a full life and investigate into violations made and perpetrators brought to book and impunity for crimes against journalists is nipped in the bud, so as to have The Gambia we want.

“To have The Gambia We Want, there is the need for persons living with disabilities be allocated adequately in the national budget, have access to information, health and special schools in rural communities, to make learning accessible with adequate feeding for persons with disability and for the reintegration of persons with disabilities in all the programs, policies and sectors of the country”, said Yaya Manneh, on behalf of The Gambia Federation of the Disabled.

Njundu Drammeh of the Child Protection Alliance(CPA) called for the strengthening of child protection systems, enforcement of laws to safeguard children from all forms of abuses, investment in children’s’ education, protection and promotion of their rights, adding that they comprise 45 percent of the country’s population and cannot be neglected in national development efforts.

Haddy Dandeh Njie of the Female Lawyers Association (FLAG), called for the improvement of the health conditions of women, protection of women from all forms of abuses, and harassment and the creation of employment opportunities, noting that the lives of women and girls matter to the economic and political progress of the country and the world at large; that this should be a focus for The Gambia.

Barrister Neneh Cham of the Gambia Bar Association (GBA) said their association is responsible for the regulation and conduct of its members. She expressed concern on the lack of transparency in the appointment of judges, lack of independence in the Judicial Service Commission structure and non-adherence to rules of constitutional amendments. She urged for this to be history in ‘‘The Gambia We Want’’. “The existence of The Gambia Bar Association ensures that lawyers practice the law in a uniform and consistent manner that complies with the principles of the profession and the laws of the country”, Barrister Cham said.

John Charles Njie, Chairperson of TANGO, in his closing remarks, said the conference aims to share its position on the state of affairs in the country in partnership with other Gambian non-state actors. He welcomed the Coalition Government and pledged their full support in the furtherance of the supreme interest and the deepest aspiration of the citizenry. Mr. Njie implored the government to strengthen the rule of law and accountability mechanisms, and fight corruption and mismanagement and put human rights as the bed rock of its governance architecture. “We want a Gambia where respect for human rights and dignity becomes the foundation between service providers and right holders. We want a transformed Gambia, free from corruption, cronyism, nepotism and injustice. We want a reformed, motivated and efficient public service in the Gambia, among others”, concluded Mr. Njie

Other organizations highlighted their challenges and recommendations and added voice to the aforementioned organizations for all to take center stage in achieving “The Gambia We Want.”

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