By Alagie Manneh

The Gambia Chamber of Commerce and Industry has been pushing for greater transparency and accountability in its programmes and activities designed to support businesses, institutions and communities deal with the devastating effects of Covid-19 pandemic.

The Chamber supported various women groups, schools and hospitals, spending over D14 million since the outbreak in December last year.


Sanatorium rehabilitation
In March this year, GCCI embarked on renovation works of the EFSTH sanatorium, under the initiative “Businesses Fight Against Covid-19”. The Chamber refurbished a ten-room ward of the hospital, its general ward with a capacity to accommodate 30 patients, the Intensive Care Unit and a nurses and doctors’ room. In addition, air conditioners, televisions, washing machines and internet services were provided.

The head of the hospital’s Clinical Unit and Coordinator of Covid-19 for the sanatorium Dr Jagne, thanked the Chamber for the foresight and called on others to follow suit.
He said: “We are grateful for the support; this is because there have been enormous efforts both by private individuals and government. We need to put this to the public so that it will be a stepping stone for people to learn from and for the community to know that Gambians have done a lot to make this place look better. We believe this would motivate other philanthropists and businesses to emulate GCCI and other individuals who contributed immensely in revamping the Sanatorium.”

Help for all Councils
It is often said that an altruistic always puts others first. That is exactly what the GCCI has been doing since the pandemic; reaching out to helping Gambians and shaping precarious futures as Covid-19 persists. The Chamber’s support targeted all eight Area Councils in the country, who received among themselves D1.6 million designed to help them and their communities with livelihood sustenance and some form of income, particularly for women and children.

PPEs for Health Ministry
The Chamber’s support to the Ministry of Health was not only limited to renovating the Sanatorium, it doled out a further D1 million to purchase PPEs for the EFSTH to help ease some of the difficulties healthcare workers were confronted with in this pandemic.

UNDP, GCCI come together
Indeed, it is a monumental ask to put a figure on how much or how many groups and communities GCCI has assisted since the pandemic. The Chamber continues to go far and above in helping the country and her people manage the effects of Covid-19. It partnered with the UNDP to renovate the remand wing of the Prisons and have agreed to provide at least 200 bunk beds to allow for social distancing to avoid any case incident as well as reduce overcrowding at this most forgotten institution. At least D800,000 has been spent in this endeavor. The two partners procured a mini bus, fuelled and maintenance for 6 months for the safe traveling of prison officers as well as are currently working with the Prison Administration to assist in the urgent renovation of the Mile IIand Jeshwang Prisons.
The Chamber then went on to complete ongoing works at the Prisons clinics and kitchens at a tune of D1.6 Million.

Joint press conference to galvanise funds
Last March, the President, Board Members and Management of the GCCI held a joint press conference with the senior management of the Ministry of Health at the GCCI Head Office in Bijilo. At the televised press conference, it was announced that the business community, particularly members of the GCCI and the general public will be invited to donate funds through a telethon. A target amount of 20 million was earmarked for the telethon, intended to support government’s national response plan for Covid-19.
The GCCI Executive also announced the postponement of International Trade Fair Gambia 2020, annually organised by the GCCI, and re-scheduled for December 2020, in a bid to curb the spread of Covid-19.

CEO weighs in
GCCI CEO Mr Alieu Secka said the interventions and assistance to Gambians have been acknowledged by the Barrow administration.
He used the opportunity to stress that the Chamber, as the private sector representative, took the threat of Covid-19 very seriously: “We had our first meeting with officials in March and assessed the readiness of the government to deal with this pandemic,” Mr Secka said.

He said the Chamber will continue to engage the government on ways to mitigate the hardship Covid-19 has caused on businesses and livelihoods of business communities including through the National Business Council meeting with the VP and five ministers.
Explicating further on the motive behind GCCI’s Covid-19 initiatives, CEO Secka noted: “As responsible members of society, we also have been deeply touched by the recent spike of Covid-19 and the loss of key members of our society including former GCCI President Alhaji Alieu Mboge.”

The CEO called on every one to accept that Covid-19 is real. “They must continue to observe safe hygiene, social distancing, wear masks in public and stay home unless necessary,” he advised.

CEO Secka said the new emergency regulations must be welcomed and respected as the country charts a way out of the global virus. “We accept it as absolutely necessary while at the same time recognize the huge challenge for our members, businesses who have to pay salaries, their suppliers, banks, loans and overheads.

He said the Chamber is currently engaging government with a view to navigating a way on how to restore some form of economic activity in the country.
“We hope we will find a solution that will allow businesses to operate while at the same time respect all the necessary steps and actions to fight Covid-19 in The Gambia.
Below are some of the groups, businesses and institutions the Chamber assisted including some of its engagements and other activities since the outbreak:

· Covid-19 Video Sensitisation on Multiple Media and TV Station. Cost: DD125, 100
· Digital Thermometers for Schools. (Basic and secondary education ministry) Cost: D2.6M
· Supply Families with Food Donation. (Gambia Federation of the Disabled) Cost: D50,000
· Support to Creative Arts. (National Centre for Arts and Culture) Cost: D50,000
· Ten (10) Days National Awareness Tour. (Network of Journalists on Disaster Risk Reduction) Cost: D50,000
· Renovation of the Police Clinic. (Gambia Police Force) Cost: D497,235
· Ambulance (Ministry of Health) Cost: D2,440,075
· Covid-19 Market Disaster Support (Brikama Area Council) Cost: D100,000
· Equipment/Bed Mattresses (Ministry of Health – Covid-19 – Ndeban Centre) Cost: D476,000
· Sanitary Materials for Public Places (Children Voice Foundation) Cost: D50,000
· Gambia Business Against Covid-19 Report & Sensitisation. (Network of Financial & Tax Reporters) Cost: D82,000
· Livelihood Support. (Senegalo-Gambia Network of Women Agri-Business) Cost: D100,000
· Livelihood Support (Club Foire-Gambia) Cost: D100,000
· Covid-19 Transmission Protection Face Masks. (GCCI members) D510,000
· Partitioning of Refrigerated Mortuary from GPA. (Ministry of Health) Cost: 80,500.

TAF Africa Global
Apart from the Sanatorium which remains the only government full treatment centre to date, TAF Foundation donated the refurbishment of Ndemban Clinic to the tune of D2.2m.

Telethon, interviews granted
to Radio and TV media
Several interviews, press releases and newspaper articles were done by the GCCI Board and Management to provide background to private sector support to government, through the GCCI. Telethon organized on March 19, 24 and 31, 2020 on two major Gambian television networks and four online TV networks, raised 15 million dalasi in pledges and was probably the first biggest public sensitization on Covid-19. The three-event telethon covered a broad viewership and as a result many private entities and individuals embraced the initiative as model citizens by pledging their donations.

Meeting of top business leaders on mitigation suggestions of the economic disaster
GCCI appointed a Covid-19 Business Advisory Committee to complement the leadership of the GCCI Board, which was available to the Government of The Gambia, offering much-needed pragmatism in dealing with emergencies and crisis management.
Several Covid-19 related meetings were held with the donor community such as the UNDP, WHO, WFP, government ministries including ministries of health, trade, Finance and also the Gambia Revenue Authority. As a policy, we engaged only at the request of Ministry of Health officials and Government agencies, and directly negotiated with the most competitive and paid suppliers ensuring best value. We also consistently posted on GCCI website all receipts and expenses so that the generous donors can be fully informed. Every single transaction followed a trail of request, negotiation and delivery to site which guaranteed that every Dalasi is accounted for.

Intensive social media engagement
and publication of GCCI Covid-19 Guide
The GCCI shared infographics on precautions and symptoms of Covid-19. This information was shared on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. We also engaged our members and audience on social media by sharing information from the Gambia Ministry of Health and other pages.
As a standard procedure of sensitizing our members, we created a pop up on our website that gives guidelines on practicing social distancing and other safety measures to protect our members against Covid-19. Our website is visited by both members and non-members.
We created a dedicated page on our website where we share Covid-19 resources from our various partners.

Trade Fair Grounds
In April this year, GCCI started works totally self-financed on its dedicated grounds for the annual National Trade Fair. The objective is two-pronged: to effectively conduct trade fairs at GCCI’s own site for the first time and second, in support of Covid-19 touse the grounds, could be equipped with 300 tents, as possible treatment centre if needed by the government.
The Ministry of Health has recently announced that it will be using large tents erected at the stadium for such expanded treatment centre.