By Ebrima S. Jallow
On June 25th, 2020, the Honourable Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs, Mambury Njie chaired a virtual stakeholder consultative forum with private sector operators, Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, regulatory bodies, international development partners and other relevant stakeholders. The forum discussed ways to facilitate and operationalize business development services, and to digitize business platforms for MSMEs business operations in The Gambia, with the current covid-19 reality. In his address, the Honourable Minister told participants that creating business development knowledge and skills, coupled with promoting business platforms for MSMEs, will help to smoothly operate on a regular basis thus harnessing existing business opportunities in this novel corona pandemic.
As the chair, the Honourable Minister outlined the importance of the forum to creating resilient MSMEs and the positioning of the country to join the rest of the world to what he referred to as “build back better”. He further called on all stakeholders to reflect on the critical issues facing MSMEs caused by the pandemic and diligently examine how resources, policies, laws and regulations could be leveraged upon to support MSMEs and The Gambia’s Economy at large. Honourable Njie expressed his optimism that by the end of the forum, participants would formulate fine decisions on how to firm up on the proposed pillars and priorities identified and to maintain clarity on the institutional and coordination arrangements necessary for pushing forward the MSMEs development agenda.
Based on the 2013 Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise mapping, Honourable Njie told participants the crucial role played by MSMEs in developing The Gambia’s economy. He adduced that these Enterprises have always been drivers of equity, economic growth and sustained development in The Gambia. They create and retain wealth, generate employment and provide the support for private sector growth and expansion, he added.
The Minister revealed that the sector contributes an estimated 20% to GDP and employs the largest share, 62% of the active labour force (15 to 64 years) of which 70% are self-employed. He reiterated that the government continues to position the private sector as the engine of growth, transformation and job creation with reference to Strategic Priority Eight (8) of the current National Development Plan (NDP 2018-2021). He further stated that as this strategic priority is being pursued, an enabling business environment characterised by upgraded policies, laws and regulations and strong ICT infrastructure is being undertaken and will continue to progress.
In 2018, the Honourable Minister told participants that another Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise mapping study showed that the informal sector of The Gambia’s economy is made up of 83,910 unregistered MSMEs. This is an indication that this segment of the business landscape needs to be catered for as the government re-prioritises the MSMEs development trajectory in a Covid-19 world. Honourable Njie used the occasion to invite reflection on the matter of financing for MSMEs. He claimed that majority of MSMEs which are ‘necessity enterprises’ are poorly financed and therefore globally uncompetitive. The plight of this business sector has been worsened by the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic which signifies that much effort is needed towards pushing the sector towards greater stages of innovation, innovative financing and productivity. For the Minister, digitizing MSMEs’ business operations accompanied by robust Business Development Services is a very smart and much needed initiative.
Honourable Njie reminded participants that the outbreak of Covid-19 in The Gambia necessitated preventive measures such as border closures, flight restrictions, provision of food aid and nationwide sensitization by government and other development partners, while private sector operators, especially MSMEs had to design flexible and shorter work schedules.Like other countries in the world, these measures were established to conform to the physical distancing rules of the World Health Organisation (WHO). Because of the dominant ‘face-to-face’ business model used by the MSMEs in The Gambia, the Covid-19 outbreak has made it difficult for a lot of Small and Medium Enterprises to effectively carry out their business activities and as such there is reduced economic activities and loss of earnings for the sector.
On behalf of the government of the Gambia, Honourable Njie welcomed this initiative and assured that the Gambia’s economy needs to reopen responsibly to ensure that all sectors of the economy are repositioned in line with the new normal. He noted that multi-sectoral and very functional task teams will be necessary to provide the needed resources and guidance as the government creates and enhances synergies along this worthy cause. He therefore called on all relevant stakeholders across all sectors in The Gambia such as the Civil Society Organisations, domestic and international development partners and the Media to help support and expedite the BDS and MSMEs digitalization in The Gambia.
While bearing in mind the need to avoid duplications, leverage on existing comparative advantages as well as best practices, the Honourable Minister calls on all senior government officials to strengthen their leadership and coordination roles during the process. According to him, this is paramount if they must develop a robust and realistic (BDS) and Information Communication Technology (ICT) business platform that adequately captures the national development priorities.
Having acknowledged that the success of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises is also a success for the government, the Honourable Minister seized the opportunity to thank the entire UN system and all other development partners in The Gambia for the immense technical and financial support rendered to this process over the years.
On a final note, Honourable Minister Njie extended his special thanks to the United Nations’ Development Programme (UNDP) under the leadership of Madam Aissata De for this initiative and similar works ongoing and in the past. He hailed the UNDP for being a genuine and reliable partner to The Gambia in its drive towards achieving its sustainable development objectives.
Ebrima S. Jallow is information officer at the works ministry