By Omar Bah
In his fourth state of the nation address at the National Assembly yesterday, President Adama Barrow assured Gambians that the 2021 presidential election will go ahead as planned despite covid-19 turmoil.
“I assure all Gambians that my government is determined that the general elections will be conducted in 2021, as scheduled. My conviction is that whatever our position or belief may be, we should always concede to the national interest, and forego selfishness,” he told lawmakers.
He said his government remained committed to its promise and desire of upholding good governance, democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights.
“I encourage all Gambians to remain calm, focused and dedicated to making a positive difference in the welfare of the nation. These are moments to build on our resilience in order to achieve our noble aspirations. The pandemic has taught us the need to cultivate a new culture of cleanliness, a new social order of living in harmony as human beings, a new political vision of working together and a new way of embracing solidarity,” he said.
The president took a little over an hour to outline his government’s progress and challenges in a speech dominated by The Gambia’s uncertain economic future.
Economy he said The Gambia was on a “steep rise” towards economic boom when the “unexpected” struck – the coronavirus pandemic – and caused a major holdback.
“The decline in import volumes and economic activities will correspondingly lead to shortfalls in import duties and other tax revenues. Based on the current situation, an estimated 20% of expected revenue will be lost,” he said.
President Barrow said the total estimated fiscal impact from the decline in import duties and other tax revenues is D2.3 billion.
“That is 2.4% of GDP. The Ministry of Finance projects that the fiscal deficit will widen from 1.5 percent of GDP to 2.1 percent of GDP. An initial analysis also shows that GDP growth rates this year could decline from 6% to 2%,” he added.
He added: “With declining revenues and the need to provide humanitarian assistance and support businesses during this period of economic downturn, the government is faced with a challenging task for the coming months. But no matter what the impact will be, the government has already devised post-pandemic plans to protect lives and livelihoods.”
“With regard to revenue earnings, in 2019, the Immigration Department generated over D139 million. It is predicted that collection for 2020 is likely to drop severely due to the pandemic. Similarly, the production and issuance of national identity cards, biometric passports and other official documents were postponed. The result was a huge loss of revenue for the sector,” he added.
The Gambian leader said the Gambia Navy has intensified routine sea patrols to ensure the security of the borders.
Jobs and employment
He said the Ministry of Trade has now completed the review of the Labour Act 2007 and a draft bill has been developed. The bill, he added, will seek to strengthen industrial relations in the country by ensuring the efficient functioning of the labour market.
“Currently, the sector is building an Employment Service Centre to facilitate linkages between job seekers and employers. The construction works of the centre commenced in 2019, and are due for completion this year,” he noted.
He said the government is strengthening collaboration with the private sector through the National Business Council, which is now fully operational.
“Besides policy reform, GIEPA is devoted to furthering investment promotion programmes to attract private sector investments into The Gambia. In the last two quarters of 2019, four Special Investment Certificates (SIC) were issued. They have a combined investment potential of US$28,810,000 and a combined employment potential of over 500 workers,” he said.
He said 270 youths have been trained on marketable skills, while 144 persons were trained to improve their entrepreneurial skills.
“Concurrently, the sector is working with 80 SheTrades companies to support women to improve their production capacity and the quality and packaging of their products” he noted.
He said in 2019, 85 MSMEs, 213 youths and 116 entrepreneurs were supported through the youth empowerment project.
“The YEP project was able to create 928 new jobs, and 132 jobs were sustained. Currently, three grants; namely: YEP Mini-grant, Tekki Fii Solar Grant and the Agro-Grant, continue to provide financial support to young entrepreneurs,” he added.
He said the level of Ecowas discussion are at an advanced stage on the sensitive and exclusion lists in the trade in goods.
Barrow said a survey on the labour market has estimated that 52,752 jobs were lost in both the formal and informal sectors as a result of the lockdown.
On agriculture, the Gambian leader said D100 million has been budgeted for farming implements, equipment, disease control mechanisms, livestock and poultry and seed production, among other interventions.
“It is a welcome development that an Emergency Response Plan has been set in motion in collaboration with the World Food Programme. About 22,073 highly vulnerable households and roughly 69,499 food insecure households will benefit from this arrangement,” he added.
The president said the uncertainty caused by the Covid-19 pandemic has led to the suspension of the planned drilling exploration by FAR-Petronas.
“Hence drilling has been rescheduled from end of the year 2020 to 2021. Similarly, British Petroleum’s drilling activities will commence in 2021,” he said.
“Through the on-going structural and legislative reforms, the government will table a bill to create an autonomous Petroleum Commission to further strengthen the regulatory landscape and guarantee regulatory independence for the upstream activities of the sector,” he said.
He said the Ministry of Fisheries has from September 2019 generated D178,710,608 from industrial fishing operations.
Parliamentarians are scheduled to debate the president’s address later in the current parliamentary session.