As we just emerged out of the election cycle with claims of ‘migrant voters’ ferried in to boost the vote count for the outgoing president, one glaring fact emerges. Aside from the abuse of office and betrayal of trust, Gambian citizenship is open to abuse very easily. Hon. Halifa Sallah addressed the issue numerous times before and it is worth addressing it as a priority. How easy is it to acquire a Gambian legal document?
Very easy indeed, this is not an attempt to build walls between us and our African brothers and sisters, of course they are welcome to live and work in The Gambia if they so choose to. But in a volatile world like the one we live in, abusing one’s national documents can have disastrous consequences; that’s on the global stage, it gets worse at the local level. Who gets what benefits from tax payers? Who claims what privileges from being a citizen? Who decides the country’s future? Etc. are all questions that need looking into as citizenship grants many privileges. We are witness to how immigration policy affects national policy decisions and makes or breaks politicians around the world.
The current case of all illegally acquired documents can be reviewed and determinations made as to the fates of the holders of such documents, it will be expensive and time consuming, but it can wait. At least until such time that a renewal is needed and then a thorough vetting can be done. What will be cost effective (almost cost free) will be to put up a system forthwith that will address this issue henceforth.
The traditional institutions of local governance can be utilized to this effect. In every community in The Gambia, when there is a birth or death, the local Imam or Pastor is made aware as well as the Alkalo of that community or their representatives, a system of records could be set up whereby these authority figures will keep track of every life birth or death in their community. This record would be collected at regular intervals by the census bureau and the immigration department as well as all relevant government institutions and entered into the national database. All vital information relevant to every case should be entered at the time of the record and a provision be made requiring the issuance of a birth certificate within the first few weeks of delivery of any child, and a certificate of death in the case of a bereavement, linking that data to a numbering system assigning every citizen a Social Security or TIN number.
The Alkalo, the Imam/Priest, the local Councilor, and a medical service appointee (attending midwife/nurse) will all sign this record to verify its authenticity. Information such as the name of the child, the date on which he or she was born, the name of the parents and their citizenship status (develop a citizenship code for the various forms of legal citizenship; birth, naturalization, marriage, descent etc.) All other relevant medical information can be collected at the health center/medical facility where a second set of records will be kept.
Having put in place the requirement for various signatories as attestions, no names will make the list unless absolutely verified. Once all these layers of security are put in place before the issuance of a birth certificate, it should then be made a required document to present for the acquisition of any other national document. Any citizen that presents a birth certificate to request any other national document should be granted that request automatically. This will be because the birth certificate will be rendered the most authentic national document; the acquisition of which will dispel any doubts as to citizenship status. The immigration department will be responsible for all other forms of regulating and granting citizenship of any other form.
All Alkalolu should be trained and certified as notaries for the state. This will ensure that in the event of a lost document, the Alkalo can bring forth his copy of that document, make a duplicate and certify it as authentic.
The Alkalo, the local mosque or church as well as the local/nearest health center or hospital will all have a copy of this certificate with the same corresponding serial numbers (assigned by region) in case verification is needed in the future or a replacement.This information could gradually be loaded into a digitized database at such a time that it is feasible, affordable, and can be hack-proof. So many issues could easily be resolved with such a database such as:
- Ease of census; with raw data collected on the spot as it occurs, the census bureau will have a much easier job collecting relevant census data by comparing the book recording births and that recording deaths within a specified period of time.
- Voter registration; The IEC can make use of that data to know the number of eligible voters at any given election cycle and even make projections as to the number of citizens who will attain voting age eighteen years ahead. The need for voter registration and issuance of voters’ cards will be done away with once the system is rendered fraud proof. All that will be needed will be some form of nationally issued identification document to cast a token at an election. A mailing system can be introduced to collect voter information that may be election specific which means a functioning postal system.
- Expected school enrolments every academic year; this number can be easily tabulated to determine the resource capacity of each school for proper planning. The student/teacher ratio, classroom capacity and other logistics can be planned ahead when this raw data is available. So much information can be easily accessed for effective public policy decisions and social service delivery.
- A citizen’s profile; where a file could be easily made available to the local police unit and records inserted as they occur. This will help the person, as well as all agencies that require police reports as background checks…these are currently cooked up.
NB: the mosques and churches as well as the Alkalo should all house offices for record keeping. What sermon was delivered on what day, what occasion, by which Imam/Pastor (biography needed), who was married in that mosque/church to whom and on what date etc. these institutions should go beyond their traditional limitations and adjust to modern realities. A lot of our history is obscure because of poor record keeping, we can start now and a century or millennia from now, our progeny will be able to trace history back to us and build an accurate family tree. These historical records can be preserved in the best ways experts deem suitable. And the good news is that once this system is instituted, it will be entirely cost free as all these institutions already exist, they just need to be functioning.