By Nyang Njie
December 1st ushered in a new lease on life for Gambia and Gambians. Gambians registered their dissatisfaction with the former administration and severely punished them at the polls. Furthermore, Gambians displayed a sense of urgency paving the way for the new Gambia by having a zero tolerance attitude towards Jammeh and his incessant antics during the self-styled political impasse. Now that the dust has settled and our euphoria has waned off, we have lofty expectations in rebuilding the country we all claimed to love. Gambians are yearning for transformative change whereby we do away from the culture of business as usual (transactional) to the business of transforming from what was to what ought to be.
I have been keenly following developments in the new Gambia particular that of public policy with a bias on economic management. I do hope that this administration leverage on the expertise of well meaning Gambians with requisite competence in revitalizing this economy because a poor showing of the economy will undoubtedly punish them in subsequent election cycles. In order for this economy to thrive, the government must be mindful of 3 economic fundamentals
i. Fiscal Consolidation (Scaling down the budget especially recurrent expenditure and rationalizing government operations and fleet management)
ii. Debt Resolution (Debt Rescheduling, Creation of longer term debt instruments etc.)
iii. Growth (Boosting growth leaders such as agriculture, Tourism and Fisheries)
Having said that, I am very disturbed with the economic rationale of the Ministry of Trade regarding their facilitation of flour imports to the Gambia and I therefore want to seek answers to their haphazard yet troubling economic pronouncements that will not only affect their sector but all other sectors of the economy. I hereby opined without hesitation and with a high degree of certainty that an importation strategy will not help develop the economic base of our country.
Economies need growth drivers and key amongst these drivers are local production/ manufacturing. The policy employed by the Ministry of Trade, Employment and Industrialization is not only adverse to the macro economy but goes against the set objectives of the ministry. The Ministry is task with spurring growth hence creating employment and their promotion of imports goes counter to job creation. Secondly, the Ministry is tasked with the promotion and development of an industrial environment and the promotion of imports over local production deter our march to industrialization.
Public policy must have a medium to long term view and that being the case, the Trade Ministry must not focus on immediate price reduction and that is nothing but a gimmick. I saw a trouble yet patronizing advert on the Point publication of July 24, 2017 praising the President and Minister for a job well done in allowing importation thereby reducing prices. First of, prices are generally sticky and it takes a lag effect for prices to filter down the distribution channel before reaching the consumers.
The only factor that may be responsible for a sudden drop in price is a price war orchestrated to assert market dominance. This implies that importers are willing to sell below cost to discourage local production thereby rendering the sector sterile. I want to respectfully inform the Honorable Minister and her Technical entourage that importation has its flaws starting with under invoicing which adversely affects custom valuation, curtailing of value transformation and job creation in the economy and the eventual degradation of our industrial ambitions. Most of the flour imported into the Gambia come from Western Europe and Turkey and they are highly laden with farm subsidies and this creates a distortion in pricing.
I therefore want to ask the honourable minister of Trade to clearly spell out the intended policy gains her Ministry wants to achieve in promoting importation over local production. Honourable Minister, your policy decisions generally have far reaching implications and am sure you were not cognizant of the fact that the major by product of a flour mill is the creation of animal feed meal precisely chicken feed.
For your information, the Government of the Gambia aspires to have a vertically integrated poultry sector whereby we create our poultry from the hatchery to the food chain by generating all the inputs and production factors but your initiative is not only frustrating those efforts but it is scrapping the possibility of making Gambia poultry self sufficient. For this and other reasons, I urge you to have broader consultations before making such pronouncements in the future as mixed policy signals tend to put off investors because investment requires visibility and confidence.
This new concern we trying to nurture called the #NewGambia begs for transformative processes not transactional intermediation. We do not want business as usual so let us look at the bigger picture and promote sustainable solutions that will underpin and bankroll our march towards economic independence. We do have merchant houses that have operated in Gambia for over a century and kindly show me one value creation they have added to our economy. I do hope my input is taken in good faith and in the interest of the greater good as Jeremy Bantham would have alluded to.