As we celebrate yet another Independence Day, we must reflect on the state of our nation over the past 53 years, and hence the theme of my address focuses on THE ‘NEW GAMBIA’ FOR REFLECTION AND SOUL-SEARCHING FOR INCLUSIVE NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT.
My fellow Gambians,
Together, we have ushered the New Gambia into a world of hope – while we shall jealously guard to preserve the freedom and dignity of our people. We should continue to nurture the spirit of unity to build the New Gambia that we want and deserve. Peace is priceless, that is why my government will tirelessly work towards safeguarding this peace to be able to set our development agenda on the right path. Peace is really paramount and where there’s peace there’s economic growth and citizens are free to go about to do business. Continue to maintain and improve that more than ever.
We can only continue to enjoy a peaceful atmosphere if we embrace our diversity, and as citizens selflessly contribute to making The Gambia the best it can be. We will always have our differences but we must learn to respect those differences. There is no one correct perspective but let us remember that despite our political, ethnic, economic, gender difference, we have one thing in common –we have one Gambia and we are all Gambians. That, the Gambia and its leaders must stop tribal politics and build the country in the interest of the people. The old have passed away, all things must be renewed and be new.
We can only impact positive change in our institutions and society if we realized that the ultimate responsibility to bring effective systems in place lies with all of us, state and non-state actors. We all have specific responsibilities that we cannot neglect. In this regard we must take responsibilities bestowed on us and be accountable to the citizens. No matter what position you hold in my government, or profession you practice, or be you an opinion shaper, or a politician, we are in it together for the success of this country. Great decision to enhance accountability and transparency. Publish government procurements, make available contracts for public scrutiny and imbibe in the citizen the spirit of oneness and so they can all contribute the progress of Gambia.
We have won the war against dictatorship, which is the easy part, maintaining the peace for our democracy to thrive will be our utmost challenge. This will require patience, tolerance, and even mistakes will be made but we will correct them as we work towards perfecting the New Gambia. In this journey we are not alone, the world has opened its arms and shows us a lot of goodwill in this experiment of democracy, and we must make good use of this opportunity. The Gambia has been re-admitted to the Commonwealth of Nations because of our strife to promote democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law. The war against tyranny wasn’t easy Mr. President. It was a dangerous result-oriented decision that has given hope to the new Gambia. It was also a collective effort and your boldness to free the people from totalitarianism is highly commendable. Democracy must be in the hands of the people and do the honorable at the end of your term.
My fellow Gambians,
In shaping the New Gambia, my government has begun the task of steadily reforming the government machinery. The reforms will put in place the instruments for best practices we formulate in governance through the policies and practices in the execution of our duties. This will also include cultural and attitudinal change in the timely execution and delivery of our work. In this regard my administration will focus not only on service delivery but also on the quality of work expected of public servants. Under my administration, every artificial barrier that will prevent the application of creativity, innovation and service delivery system will be completely removed. Good to have known of your cultural and attitudinal flagship program to help your government to be duty conscious so that the people would emulate. Cultural and attitudinal change is the biggest threat to development in Africa. The attitudes of government official must be proactive and not reactive to leverage on for a prosperous society. You have now obtained domestic political freedom and Gambia would need economic freedom, property right, democratic innovative policies, and ease of doing business must be improved. Barriers to prosperity is often created by government. Regulations must be fair and broaden the tax base with reforms that create entrepreneurial environment for businesses to strive. Do not use export to buy import.
It is one year into my administration, and yet we have remove one of the major huddles – Management by Fear – by creating an enabling environment that encourages critical thinking, collaboration, positive engagement, guided by a clear vision in our quest to build the New Gambia. This vision is captured in our National Development Plan 2018-2021. This plan is our National blueprint that would ensure the New Gambia is put on a firm footing to deliver good governance and accountability, social cohesion and national reconciliation and above all to revitalise and transform the economy for the wellbeing of all Gambians. A good short term plan to reinvigorate the economy and make it more resilient is needed in the short term. The National Development Plan, 2018-2021 was launched on 6th February 2018, with the goal “to deliver good governance and accountability, social cohesion and national reconciliation, “It also aims to revitalize and transform the economy for the wellbeing of all Gambians.” This is just awesome and the necessary structures must be put in place to make citizens interact with activities of the government so all can offer advices to build the Gambia we all need. ……………………….
My priorities which are in line with the NDP is to fix the energy problem, improve health and agricultural sub-sectors, youth empowerment, and education and tourism.
To this end, the office of the President and Ministry of finance will work in tandem to ensure that a robust monitoring and delivery system is put in place so that I will be personally briefed on a quarterly basis on the status of implementation of the NDP. The power sector really need a paradigm shift to help restore, improve and expand power to less privilege. About 35 percent of Gambians have access to electricity. This calls for proper investments to address the 40 MW deficit needed. The best future opportunity for investors is the liberalized electricity generation segment. The Gambia needs to significantly increase electricity generation to meet the projected energy demand in the country. This demand is increasing due to several factors, including a rising urbanization rate (60 percent). The main difficulty is that the country is experiencing a transmission bottleneck that would hamper transmission and distribution even if extra generation occurs.
With Health, the cost of providing health care continues to rise owing to increasing demand, changes in diagnostic and therapeutic technologies, inflation and currency fluctuations. Over 66% of the total health funding in the Gambia comes from international health development partners, raising issues of sustainability and predictability of funding to the sector. Between 2010 and 2011, about 10–11% of the Government’s budget was allocated to the health sector, basically for recurrent and development. This requires ways the government need to put in place to reduce aid from foreign partners and fund its own programs at the health sector.
The agricultural sector is the most important sector of the Gambian economy, contributing 32% of the gross domestic product, providing employment and income for 80% of the population, and accounting for 70% of the country’s foreign exchange earnings. It remains the prime sector to raise income levels, for investments, to improve food security and reduce levels of poverty. However, farming is still traditional and needs policies that would help simulate high production of crops individual and national income. Agriculture and fisheries, industry, transport and energy must be of concern for critical for development
“Tourism has been one of the most buoyant sectors of the economy, contributing 12 percent to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) while being a major foreign exchange earner and a healthy employment generator. This sector has registered impressive growth rate of up to 4.5 percent on average, thus encouraging the construction of more hotels and increase in the number of tourist arrivals.’……”tourism will be diversified and innovations will seek to introduce and promote eco-tourism, inland and community-based tourism as well as conference tourism. However, most tourist arrive and spends most of their holidays. To address this, “Stop all-inclusive holidays, or make them a maximum of half-board. force the tourists to go outside the hotels and spend their money in local businesses. With all-inclusive, the hotels make all the money and then the money is transferred to European companies”. Get rid of “bumster” who harass tourists in Gambia as well.
Fellow Gambians, 2017 was a challenging period in starting the transformation process because we inherited a structure and a system that was dysfunctional, with coordinated policies, and in some instances no records for my government to immediately continue governance. We have also recognized the impatience from fellow Gambians and in some cases frustrations in the speed with which they want to see things happen.
In spite of all these challenges, my government has registered modest but profound improvements in tax reforms which has significantly benefited companies and individuals, improved macroeconomic performance by improving our import cover from one month to four months, improved fiscal discipline by cutting on our expenses and reduced borrowing. We will also implement the vehicle policy that will reduce the overall government spending in maintenance and fuel cost.
Similarly we have improved the power supply across the nation, where in some places fellow citizens are enjoying 20-24 hours of steady supply. More needs to be done Mr. President. Allow investment through privatization and avoid monopoly of power supply.
On Justice and Judicial reforms, a Constitutional Review Commission, Truth, Reconciliation and Reparation Commission and the Human Rights Commission have been enacted. The Executive Secretary of the TRRC has also been appointment. At this junction, I will use this opportunity to declare a moratorium on the use of the death penalty in The Gambia, as a first step towards abolition. Good! President Barrow, a onetime security guard in London who was elected president in December 2016, signed a UN treaty on the abolition of capital punishment last year. This really one way of considering humans as humans and we bless you for your kind heart. Gambia has joined such as Benin, the Republic of Congo and Guinea who have all abolished capital punishment.
Similarly the Security Sector Reform assessment has been completed and it will guide the programme design and implementation.
On Works and Infrastructure, we have secured $75Million grant from the Chinese to construct roads and bridges in the Upper River Region. Resourced-backed loans aren’t the best for Gambia and Africa. This will enable the Chinese to come in to mine natural resources, bring in their own engineers to construct whatever infrastructure the loan is meant for and recoup the money back with resources and interest. Mr. President, Please disclose the contract clause between Gambia and China of the $75 Million Loan once you believe in accountability and transparency.
The Gambia is open for business and we have taken steps to facilitate trade and provide incentives for investment in the country. We now have a country that will benefit from greater openness through international trade. Many investors are exploring the Gambian market and opportunities. Adopt market liberalization policies for investment and opportunities for the people of Gambia.
We have formulated several policies to enhance our trade relations and to better integrate The Gambia in to the multilateral trading system. The Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) has been ratified. The Gambia was successfully reinstated into the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) which provides duty free market access to the United States. Until 1985, The Gambia had pursued a protective trade policy regime with price controls, import restrictions and licensing, quota and selective quantitative restrictions. This regime had a framework that took into consideration the system of macroeconomic policy characterized by fixed exchange rate system and allocation of foreign exchange for imports on a case by case basis. In 1986, the Government abolished the fixed parity between the Dalasi and the Pound Sterling and left the exchange rate of the Dalasi to be determined by the free interaction of the factors of demand and supply. Moreover, all restrictions on current and capital transactions were lifted. Consistent with the trade liberalization policy, commercial banks were not required under the floating exchange regime to obtain the approval of the Central Bank to sell foreign exchange to their customers for all current transactions. The Gambia for a range of reforms undertaken since the last Review. The country has adopted the five-band ECOWAS Common External Tariff (CET) from 1 January 2017. The average CET (MFN) rate is 12.3%, down from an average rate of 14.1% of the previous customs tariff. None of the CET rates exceeds The Gambia’s tariff bindings. However, it was noted that there was a large gap between the country’s average bound rate and average applied rates, and only 15% of the tariff lines were bound, rendering the tariff regime less predictable, although in practice the ECOWAS CET regime has reduced the country’s discretion in setting tariff rates. Continue to increase the participations in the multilateral trading system to achieve higher and inclusive growth.
The Ministry of Youth and Sports is partnering with Ministry of Trade, Industry, Regional Integration and Employment on the EU funded Youth Empowerment Project working closely with the International Organisation for Migration.
The price of groundnut at the seccos has increased from D16,850 last year to D18,800 per ton this year. Also, the Islamic Development Bank provided my government with $25million to support farmers with groundnut seeds and fertilizers. The Agriculture and Natural Resources policy 2017-2026 has been reviewed to boost and add value to agriculture.
The Ministry of Fisheries, Water Resources and National Assembly Matters and the Ministry of Justice reviewed the fisheries regulations 2008 to make it more relevant to our current realities.
My government has signed an agreement with the FTI tour operators to boost the tourism industry and build the capacity of young people in the sector, all aimed at making tourism an all year round activity.
My government has put in place the right policies and programmes to protect our environment and combat the effects of climate change and has benefitted from $20.5million from the ECO system based adaptation climate change project to restore and build The Gambia natural resource base. Great! Human attitude is a major threat to the environment. May be an attitudinal policy would be needed.
To improve health delivery, we have obtained mobility for Village Health Workers and Community Health Nurses across the country.
In one year, MRC Holland Foundation has supported the construction of 477 new classrooms in 50 schools, renovation of 318 classrooms, 520 toilets and 28 staff quarters built, 28 schools and staff quarters solarised and 29 boreholes dug in 29 schools. Great! The issue has to do with maintenance. May be a maintenance policy could be drafted to help keep these infrastructures in shape.
The curriculum review process is ongoing and with support from the World Bank and the Global Partnership for Education, we are building on existing programmes to enhance access to quality basic education, including early childhood education. Accessibility is very importance, besides, ensure quality.
To enhance capacity in the education sector, 75 Teachers in various disciplines are undergoing their graduate studies at the University of The Gambia. To further strengthen the freedom of the media, my government is preparing an Information Bill and a committee on Media Law Reform has been set up to review the existing media laws to support the drafting of a Media Law that is in line with the developments in media and communication technologies. The Bill ought to be pass quickly to encourage free press, free speech and respect opinion criticism from individuals, and civil society organization.
The first Private television station has been licensed and all the radio stations that have been illegally shut down have been re-opened. This is one step to improving the market competition in the media landscape. We may need more of these private media outlets to enhance visual innovation and employment in Gambia. Bravo! Mr. President.
In one year, I held three bi-annual press conferences with both local and international press all aimed at informing the Gambian and development partners on the state of affairs of the nation. We will continue to pursue our communication strategies. What has been the measurable results? Make the discussions public for the people to know what transpired on their behalf. This is part of accountability.
May I now turn my attention to the students. We have begun a journey that will usher in democratic change and this comes with respect for human rights and the rule of law. However, it equally calls for responsible citizenship, and to this end, I want to encourage you to be steadfast in your education and learning to become future teachers, nurses, engineers, technicians, doctors, journalists, politicians and business people to name a few on whose shoulders the New Gambia will be carried into the future. We need these professions to thrive as a modern nation that is successful. Success can only be built through hardwork; there is no short cut to success. Those countries that have advanced placed country before self, show respect for rule of law and have positive attitude towards nation building. One huge problem of the Gambia’s educational system is lack of competent and well qualified teachers across the country. The Gambia College used to produce less than 40 highest certificate teachers graduates (HTC) in the 1990s but today the College produce close to one 1, 000 teachers of both PTC (primary teacher’s certificate) and HTC. Again, Demand for education is higher than the level of supply, and the quality and rate of continuity (i.e. the proportion of students who continue to the next class or next level of education) is low, particularly for girls, as not all children remain in school up to the Upper Basic level. Out of 69 per cent of children starting school, only 63 per cent reach 9th Grade and only 17 per cent achieve a pass in mathematics, which indicates a major problem relating to quality. The rural poor girls have only 1 per cent chance of reaching Grade 12 as opposed to 43 per cent of boys in the urban areas (Country Status Report 2010).
Therefore, I am calling on both parents and teachers to redouble their efforts to instill discipline, hardwork, truthfulness, self-reliance and love for nation before self. It is such values that can make The Gambia great again.
I cannot conclude my statement without thanking our partners who stood by us when it was difficult and continue to stand by us as we strive to realise our national development plan. Each one of them took strategic decision to support us because of our common belief in nurturing democracy, rule of law, freedom and equality of all citizens.
On that note I thank you for your kind attention and wish you a happy celebration.
GOODLUCK AND WE WISH TO THE REAL TRANSFORMATION OF GAMBIA.
Member of YAFO.