A week-long training programme delivered in July to the Hansard team of the National Assembly of The Gambia by Tynwald Head of Hansard Ellen Callister has proved the successful first phase of a joint project sponsored by the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) working with the UK Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA UK) in a move ‘to bring parliament to the people’ of the West African republic.
The project comes against the background of a newly elected National Assembly of the Republic of The Gambia and was launched in tandem with an induction course to new Members delivered by CPA UK representatives with WFD support, after an assessment by the National Assembly’s director of Hansard Ms Isatou Conteh identified a need to communicate more effectively and transparently with the electorate.
Mrs Callister, who was joined in Banjul for three days by the WFD’s programme manager for Africa Charlotte Egan, spent the week setting up the Hansard department with digital transcribing equipment then delivering intensive training sessions and practical support to clear a substantial backlog of reports.
Ms Egan said: ‘Support to The Gambia's Hansard team is the first step of joint WFD-CPA UK programming in The Gambia and we are thrilled to be working with Tynwald again. WFD has been very impressed by the progress the Sierra Leone Parliament's Hansard team has been able to make with Tynwald support under our Sierra Leone programme and we are looking forward to seeing similar results in The Gambia. We are especially pleased that we are able to use the Sierra Leone Parliament's Hansard team to help deliver the training in The Gambia in collaboration with Tynwald; this really shows how far the team has come and will provide a unique opportunity for The Gambia staff to learn from those who have gone through a similar experience and from others in the region; equally it is a great opportunity for Sierra Leone staff to show what they have learned, strengthening South-South learning.’
Mrs Callister continued: ‘The project built on the success of a similar WFD-sponsored training programme we provided in the Isle of Man to two officers of the Parliament of Sierra Leone last year.
‘When I first arrived in The Gambia it was clear the seven-strong team were struggling to cope with the volume of work and outdated equipment. They were extremely receptive to the training sessions, though, and by the end of the week were able to play back digital audio through headphones and transcribe reports from that week’s sittings, which was very rewarding for all of us.’
Mrs Callister also had the opportunity to meet with the Hon Mariam Jack Denton, Speaker of the National Assembly, when she outlined the benefits of networking the Hansard computers so that the team could work more efficiently together. ‘Madam Speaker took the proposal on board and said that she was aware of certain members of staff who had been transferred to other teams but who were already fully trained and experienced Hansard editors. She said she fully intended to make good use of their existing skills to assist the Hansard team to develop the service,’ said Mrs Callister.
The second phase of the project, scheduled for September, will see the Parliament of Sierra Leone’s Musa Foullah, editor of debates, one of the officers seconded to the Isle of Man in 2016, supported by Samuel Songa, head of the department for official reports, deliver a follow-up week of training. Mrs Callister said: ‘I’ve seen Musa’s draft programme which I believe will lead on perfectly from the work I have begun. Musa will be moving on from the practical elements and developing more advanced aspects of editing. Not only is this great news for the National Assembly but also something of a coup for Tynwald, the Isle of Man and the wider WFD/CPA UK project in that Musa will be applying the skills he gained while working with us last year to strengthen another developing nation’s parliamentary democracy.’
Mrs Callister’s secondment coincided with an historic parliamentary event, the State Opening of the National Assembly of The Gambia by the President of the Republic, His Excellency Adama Barrow. She said: ‘Charlotte and I were very grateful and honoured to have the privilege of attending the sitting of the National Assembly at which His Excellency gave his State Address. This was clearly a very special occasion for The Gambia and in the annual cycle of the National Assembly, and gave real context to the Hansard team’s work while providing a useful impression of proceedings in live session. It was a memorable occasion for us to experience the atmosphere of genuine excitement and optimism for the future of the nation and its people, and the event set the grounding for discussing the importance of the Hansard record as a vital tool in enabling the parliament to reach out to the wider community.’