Your Excellency, the Vice President,
My Lord, the Chief Justice,
Honourable Secretary General and Head of the Civil Service,
Honourable Cabinet Members,
Honourable Members of the National Assembly,
Lord Mayor of Banjul,
Venerable Religious Leaders,
Members of the Diplomatic and Consular Corps,
Members of the Media,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is with great honour and joy, together with a deep sense of service to the nation that I deliver this address to the Honourable Members of the National Assembly.
In view of the numerous events that happened within the 2018 Legislative Year, my address today is a concise account of my government’s performance during the course of the year. It focuses on key achievements, legislative frameworks, policy concerns and other matters of national significance. Additional details on any issue may be pursued by this august body if you consider it necessary.
Government attaches great importance to every public institution and sector, because any sector that fails to perform well could undermine the performance of other sectors and the nation at large. With this in mind, the address discusses each sector, no matter how brief it is. The order in which they are discussed does not follow any rule. However, I will begin with the economy, as it is the backbone of our development framework.
1. THE FINANCE AND ECONOMIC SECTOR
Madam Speaker, I am proud to report that the country’s economic growth has generally strengthened, while inflation has now moderated. For the past two years the economy grew by 4.8% in 2017 and improved to 6.5% in 2018.
Balance of payments (BoP) estimates indicate that the current account deficit narrowed to 1.5 percent of GDP in the first half of 2019 compared to a deficit of 1.7 percent of GDP in the corresponding quarter in 2018. The improvement in the current account balance is attributed to the increase in foreign inflows related to the support from development partners, diaspora remittances, and tourism.
Gross international reserves is projected at 4 months of next year’s imports of goods and services.
The exchange rate of the dalasi remains broadly stable supported by market confidence, and increased inflows from private remittances, higher receipts from tourism, and official inflows from development partners.
Government fiscal operations for the first six months of 2019 indicated that total revenue and grants stood at 9.8 percent of GDP compared to 8.6 percent of GDP in the same period last year.
Total expenditure and net lending declined from 11.5 percent of GDP a year ago to 10 percent of GDP in the first part of 2019.
According to the financial soundness indicators, the banking sector remains adequately capitalized, highly liquid and profitable. The ratio of non-performing loans to gross loans declined to 2.3 percent from 2.7 percent a year ago, largely reflecting enhanced credit administration processes and effective loan recovery measures.
Private sector credit expanded by 28.8 percent, higher than 20 percent a year ago.
With the private sector expected to play a significant role in financing of the National Development Plan (2018-2021), we have drafted a revision to the Public Private Partnership (PPP) Law with the support of Expertise France and other International Financial Institutions. As a result, we will submit the bill to the National Assembly for consideration.
In the context of the ongoing State Owned Enterprises (SOE) reforms, we are revising the SOE law which is also planned for submission to the National Assembly before the end of the year. Already, reforms have been initiated within the sector and are progressing very well. Because of the need to review our tax regime the Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs will present to this body a taxation Bill, among others for ratification.
Madam Speaker, the education sector continues to be given priority by Government in view of its centrality in the development process. This priority is demonstrated by the heavy investments into our two education subsectors and their programmes. Some of these will be mentioned, beginning with the Higher Education sector.
3. HIGHER EDUCATION, RESEARCH, SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
Madam Speaker, Honourable Members,
The Higher Education sector continues to implement various programmes with the primary goal of building the human capital stock of The Gambia. Guided by the 65% Science and Technology turnaround policy, the award of scholarships has been increased for students reading the Sciences, including Medicine.
With external support, during the 2018-19 academic year, 283 students either graduated or had awards at either Master’s or Doctoral level. For the first time, The University of The Gambia (UTG) is now offering a PhD course in Public Administration, in addition to a number of Master’s degree programmes and a Bachelor’s degree programme in Dentistry.
Under the African Centres of Excellence Impact Project, Government will shortly access Twelve Million US Dollars (US$12,000,000), for infrastructure and capacity development.
Another Three Million, Five Hundred Thousand US Dollars (US$3,500,000) has been secured from UNESCO-KOICA to transform The Gambia Technical Training Institute (GTTI) into a university.
I must observe that the education sector also continues to receive massive support from the University of Brussels (VUB) and MRC Holland.
On frameworks, four Bills relating to the UTG, GTTI, the Management Development Institute and the National Accreditation and Quality Assurance Agency will soon be presented to this august body for review and approval.
4. BASIC AND SECONDARY EDUCATION
Madam Speaker, enrolment trends in The Gambia show continual increases at all levels of the basic and secondary levels.
In real terms, enrolment ranges from 62% in 2017 to 64% in 2018 for the Early Childhood Development level; from 108.6% to 112.7% for the Lower Basic Education level; from 67.4% to 68.1% for the Upper Basic Education level; and, from 45.9% to 47.8% for the Senior Secondary Education level.
Completion rates also show upward trends at all levels.
To attain universal access to education, 48 multi-grade schools have been constructed through World Bank support.
In addition, working with BADEA and OFID, two hundred and twenty new classrooms are being built in forty-two schools. Noting the size of the West Coast Region, the construction of three Senior Secondary Schools is underway in Gunjur, Sanyang and Somita.
Furthermore, through the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development Project, thirty-nine Upper Basic and Secondary schools will be built.
Ladies and gentlemen, the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education has embarked on a review of the school curriculum.
The national syllabuses now contain, for the first time, subjects such as: Information and Communication Technology, Plumbing, Plastic Work and Energy, comprising renewable and electrical energy.
Entrepreneurship education is also fully integrated into the school curriculum at this level of the education system. The revised curriculum will be introduced into the school system very soon.
The Ministry is similarly working with the General Secretariat for Islamic/Arabic Education to have a standard curriculum capable of equipping all students with functional skills.
Another development is a new re-entry programme for youths and adults who dropped out of school for one reason or another.
5. WOMEN, CHILDREN AND SOCIAL WELFARE
The creation of the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare indicates my government’s commitment to addressing the social, economic and general wellbeing of children, women and the socially marginalised members of our society.
The new Ministry signals our awareness of the importance of these members of society.
I must observe, however, that issues of women, children, the less privileged and minority groups in the country cannot be addressed in isolation, as they affect the whole of society.
As such, efforts will be intensified to ensure that their rights are protected, and their participation increased in all aspects of development, including appointment to leadership positions.
Our goal is to empower both women and men to live quality lives in an inclusive society free from all forms of violence, neglect and abuse. To achieve this, I urge all sectors to work together to address all issues of equity, equality and social justice.
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,
The security institutions under the purview of the Ministry of Interior have been making steady progress in their endeavour to protect life and property. They have been building the capacity of their personnel for this purpose.
In December 2018, five hundred and forty-one personnel were trained on protection, track control and management.
The European Union has expanded this by supporting the Security Sector Reform Process to the tune of 1.5 Million Euros, and has trained forty officers.
The construction of a Fire and Rescue Station in Bajakunda is near completion for use this year. The project is estimated to cost Thirteen Million, Four Hundred and Ninety-five Thousand and Eighty-four Dalasi, Fifty bututs (D13, 495,084.50). The well-known Remand Big Cell Block at Jeshwang Prison has also been constructed.
Proposals for this sector include moving the female Wing at Mile Two Prison to Jeshwang Prison.
Other construction works include building a modern prison, a new headquarters in Banjul and a Training Academy in Mandinaring Village.
Also planned is the construction of a Fire Rescue Station and staff quarters in eleven stations in the country.
Legislation and policy frameworks for The Gambia Immigration Department are keenly being monitored, and it is expected that the sector will endeavour to review the 2008 Refugee Act for tabling in this Assembly. .
To conclude, the need for tighter security measures is urgent and most desirable. Consequently, all efforts will be made to secure all persons and property in The Gambia.
The media has reported on the security sector reform and the security sector policy and strategy. In collaboration with The Gambia Armed Forces (GAF), the Ministry of Defence is working very hard to develop and reform the Armed Forces in order to make them truly disciplined and professional.
In the interim, we recognise and appreciate the Gambia Armed Forces (GAF) for their involvement in various types of activities.
On national security, GAF has recently created two additional battalions in Basse and Kanilai, while The Gambia Navy continues to conduct coastal maritime security patrols within our territorial waters and enforce relevant maritime regulations.
As evidence, the Navy arrested six fishing trawlers during the past year for illegal fishing in our territorial waters.
In other fields of service, our soldiers continue to provide medical and educational services, and are involved in construction works, crop production and poultry.
Aside from their voluntary cleaning exercises across the country, our Armed Forces participate in multinational peace and security operations, as well as in training and joint military exercises.
Over the years, about five thousand peace keepers have participated in various peacekeeping missions.
We will continue to strengthen them and support them in every way possible.
8. PETROLEUM AND ENERGY
The Government, through the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy, has completed the first successful bidding rounds for our Petroleum Oil Blocks. This has resulted in the signing of a Petroleum Exploration and Production License Agreement with British Petroleum (BP) for the A1 Block.
The Government has a 10% participating interest in the license at signature and Gambia National Petroleum Corporation (GNPC) will represent Government’s interest in the A1 Block license agreement.
GNPC has also entered into a Joint Operation Agreement with BP, which will help build the capacity of young Gambians and enhance sharing of resources and expertise.
Considering the significant transformation of the petroleum sector, Cabinet has approved the reform leading to amendments and formulation of new bills during the course of this legislative year.
Madam Speaker, we have all noticed improvements on the supply of electricity in the country due to policy and investment initiatives introduced by my government.
This has increased the electricity generation capacity in the country from forty-five Mega Watts in 2017 to eighty-five Mega Watts in 2019, thus exceeding the peak load of seventy Mega Watts. Despite challenges with the transmission and distribution (T&D) network, we have reduced T&D losses from 22% in 2017 to 20% in 2019.
In March of this year, the European Union launched a One Hundred and Forty-One Million Euro (€141,000,000) project for clean energy for The Gambia. This initiative is expected to generate twenty-six Mega Watts of solar energy distributed across four hundred kilometres, and will benefit one thousand rural schools and one hundred health centres country-wide.
The project is aligned with the NDP policy objective of increasing our energy mix with renewable growth from 2% to 40% by 2021.
In addition to the OMVG substation project launched in Soma earlier this year, another substation is under construction in Brikama as part of a rollout plan of the two hundred and twenty-five KV line from Soma to Brikama.
Furthermore, my government has secured a grant of Sixty-Six Million US Dollars (US$ 66,000,000) from the World Bank to provide electricity to all rural and peri-urban villages within one hundred kilometre radius of the Brikama and Soma OMVG substations. Our goal is to address the energy needs nationwide.
9. TRADE, INDUSTRY, REGIONAL INTEGRATION AND EMPLOYMENT
Madam Speaker, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Government has kick-started reforms to improve the business environment in the country, promote investment and industrial activities and to establish a fair trading environment for private sector development.
Action taken in this respect include the drafting of the 2018 Legal Metrology Bill to replace the current Weights and Measures Act of 1977; updating the National Trade Policy (2018-2022); development of a National Entrepreneurship Strategy; updating the Investment Policy and formulation of the Trade Strategy and Industrial Policy.
In its quest to spur industrialisation, GIEPA has entered into a Joint Venture Agreement with TAF Africa Global for the development and management of an Industrial Park at the Banjul International Airport.
This Joint Venture is an investment in excess of Three hundred Million US Dollars (US$3,000,000), with the potential to spur more economic activity.
The facility will be developed to house manufacturing entities, educational institutions, hotels, and office spaces.
To mitigate funding challenges faced by Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), the first ever Gambia Angels Investor Network has been created by the Youth Empowerment Project (YEP) in close collaboration with GIEPA. T
he parties will work to facilitate domestic and international investment in Gambian businesses.
The eventual objective is to trigger growth and development, and bridge income gaps.
Madam Speaker, a National Business Council has been set up to provide a platform for the private sector and Government to engage on business issues, and recommend policy options.
Government is committed to implementing the regional integration programmes. Already, the quality policy framework for the improvement of The Gambia trading environment has been revised and fully aligned with the ECOWAS Regional Quality Policy.
The document will be tabled here for discussion during the year. Let me add that The Gambia now hosts the ECOWAS Regional Competition Authority headquarters. This office is now fully operational.
In partnership with the International Trade Centre, my government launched the ITC Shetrade project Gambian Chapter in February 2019.
This is a global initiative to empower women economically through trade and investment. The project seeks to connect three million women to markets by 2021.
Through this project, two hundred and fifty youths have been trained and deployed for service. 12% of them are “back-way” returnees, and 4% are physically challenged persons.
Finally, to assure quality within the sector, and to produce a responsive legal framework for an effective National Quality Infrastructure, work is in progress to review the 2010 Gambia Standards Bureau Act.
10. OFFICE OF THE VICE PRESIDENT
Under the Office of the Vice President are important units, comprising: the Social Protection Secretariat (SPS), the National Nutrition Agency, the Food Safety and Quality Authority (FSQA), the National Population Commission Secretariat (NPCS) and the National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA). I will refer to them briefly.
With the Thirty Million US Dollar (US$30,000,000) World Bank Social Safety Nets Project, the Office of the Vice President has established leadership and coordination mechanisms to reinforce social protection efforts in the country.
Linking social protection and health, it is fitting state that the National Nutrition Policy (2010-2020) has been reviewed, and a Strategic Plan (2018-2025) is being developed to implement the new National Nutrition Policy (2018-2025).
The National Nutrition Agency, as the institutional home for these developments, continues to work on nutrition issues to foster healthy and sustainable livelihoods, especially for women and children.
In collaboration with the Ministry of Health, the US$ 21.18 Million Maternal and Child Nutrition and Health Results Project is now being implemented in thirty-seven (37) health facilities and three hundred and forty-five (345) communities in the North Bank, Central River, Upper River and Lower River Regions. The project aims to contribute to reducing maternal and child mortality and ill health.
Similarly, implementation of the EU funded Three Million Euro (€3,000,000) Project for nutrition security is ongoing.
The project is designed to support lactating mothers.
It provides care, as well, for women and their children for the first one thousand (1,000) days with cash transfer for their diets, access to health care services and nutrition education.
Over the last year, an average of five thousand, eight hundred and seventy-five (5,875) beneficiaries were paid six hundred Dalasi (D600) each, with additional three hundred Dalasi (D300) for each twin monthly.
I am pleased to report that a national survey shows a reduction in stunting, wasting and underweight.
However, the findings suggest an increase in the rate of non-communicable diseases.
The Food Safety and Quality Authority continues to ensure the safety and quality of food and feed from farm to fork, no matter the source. The Authority has since won awards, and continues to serve as a model within the sub-region.
The Gambia, through NDMA, is among the countries that have met the global reporting standard of the Sendai Framework and the African Union strategies devised to reduce the incidence and impact of disaster in the country.
The NDMA is now implementing two five-year projects, namely: the Africa Disaster Risk Financing Insurance and the UN-India Partnership Fund.
Crucially, the latter focuses on the use of drones and early warning systems for disaster management linked to floods.
The Agency has now developed and validated the first ever National Disaster Response Plan (2019-30) and, working with partners, provided seeds to 10,719 farmers across the country in preparation for the 2019 rainy season.
Let me observe that Government regrets the recent disaster that struck in the CRR and URR. It certainly justifies all the steps taken by the Agency to prevent such disasters.
Together with support from partners, philanthropists and stakeholders, we have taken steps to respond to the needs of the victims.
Such events make it urgent to revise the National Disaster Risk Reduction Strategy and the 2008 NDMA Act in order to make them more responsive to disaster issues.
11. TRANSPORT, WORKS AND INFRASTRUCTURE
Guided by the National Transport Policy (2018-2027) and the National Public Building and Facilities Policy (2018-2027), the Government’s programs, through the Ministry of Transport, Works and Infrastructure, cut across air, road and sea transport, with a lot of infrastructure development.
In the area of aviation, the sector registered steady progress in 2018, with the Banjul International Airport recording 25% increase in passenger handling.
Based on the strategies employed, this upward trend is expected to continue.
On road construction, lots of infrastructure development is ongoing. The one hundred and twenty (120) kilometre primary road network on the North Bank, estimated at a cost of eighty-seven Million US Dollars (US$87,000,000), for example, is due for completion in February 2020.
In December 2018, the three-year URR Bridges and Road Project, funded through a grant of Eighty Million US Dollars (US$80,000,000) from the People’s Republic of China, was launched. This project has been designed to ease movement and enhance economic activity within the region.
In January of this year, I commissioned the long-awaited Sene-Gambia Bridge, with H.E. Macky Sall, President of the Republic of Senegal as Guest of Honour.
The importance of this famous bridge, not only for The Gambia and Senegal but also for the sub-region, cannot be overstated. We are certainly grateful to the African Development Bank for the €67 Million grant that funded the project.
Madam Speaker, also in progress is a three-year 10.3 Million Euro EU/UNOPS Feeder Road Project. Contracts for the construction of over one hundred kilometre road have been awarded, and works have commenced in all Regions. Details on this project will be provided as works progress.
Other projects include the reconstruction of the Bansang Town access road, sections of the Essau-Kerewan Highway, and Sankulay Kunda-JanjangBureh Bridge, the by-pass link road from Stink Corner to Abuko.
On water transportation, The Gambia Port Authority recently formulated a new Master Plan (2019-2038) and a five-year Business Plan to guide the institutional reforms and infrastructure developments to improve and sustain the operational capacity and financial viability of the Port of Banjul. The Plan sets to attain the National Transport Policy (2018-2027) objectives.
This august body will be pleased to learn that the Port handled 2.5 million metric tonnes of cargo by end-2018, compared to 2.4 million metric tonnes the previous year. This represents a 2% increase.
Total Twenty-Foot Equivalent (TEUs) Containers handled increased by 20% from one hundred and thirty thousand (130,000) by end-2018 to one hundred and eight thousand (108,000) for 2017.
These achievements confirm Government’s commitment to upgrading the status of our Port, and they show how well we are doing within the region.
On air traffic, work on the Airport Improvement Project Phase II Extension is in progress at the Banjul International Airport, and will last for eighteen months. The project is expected to boost handling capacity to five hundred thousand (500,000) passengers per annum. This is critical, as the country prepares to host the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) Heads of State Summit in 2022.
Let me observe, in passing, that the postponement of the OIC Summit is the only setback of the year.
However, rescheduling the meeting puts us in a stronger position to host it better.
Related to this, the construction of the International Conference Centre is progressing steadily, with 75% of the works done. Completion is scheduled for September, 2019.
The project has the potential to create about one thousand (1000) jobs when complete.
12. INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATION INFRASTRUCTURE
The Gambia Government, through the Ministry of Information and Communication Infrastructure (MOICI), is formulating a National ICT Master Plan to guide ICT implementation in The Gambia.
With support from the Council of Europe, Government is also developing legislation on Cybercrime and Electronic Evidence, as well as Data Protection and Privacy.
In the same vein, a comprehensive review of the 2009 ICT Act is in progress. The review seeks to make the Act more relevant to the ICT sector. The exercise includes review of the draconian media laws to allow for freedom of expression in the country.
The National Broadband Network (NBN) Project was successfully phased out in April 2019.
In this connection, the Twenty-Five Million US Dollar (US$ 25,000,000) concessionary loan from China has been utilised to establish an additional four hundred (400) kilometre national fibre optic infrastructure to complement the existing ECOWAN project, which exceeds nine hundred (900) kilometres. The NBN was formally commissioned recently.
13. WATER RESOURCES AND FISHERIES
Government remains committed to ensuring access to safe drinking water, as well as providing timely and accurate information on weather and climatic conditions for the nation.
As a result, we have received funds from the African Development Bank to finance the Climate Smart Rural WASH Development Project for infrastructure and service improvement over a period of about sixty-three (63) months, beginning October, 2018.
The project will benefit one hundred and forty-four (144) communities and increase access to safe water by 17% and safely-managed sanitation by 2%.
To complement this, in collaboration with the Japanese International Cooperation Agency, portable water will be supplied to about thirty additional communities.
A Bill will be brought to this Assembly for enactment of a comprehensive Water Act, and will seek to establish a new National Water Resources Management Authority. Similarly, The Gambia Meteorological Authority Bill will be tabled by the Ministry of Fisheries and Water Resources for your review.
Fisheries: The Fisheries Sector of The Gambia remains steadfast in their quest to contributing to food security, nutrition and revenue generation, as well as addressing poverty and unemployment, particularly for our women and the youth.
As discussed in this Assembly, in October 2018, The European Union (EU) and the Republic of The Gambia signed a six-year agreement to allow EU vessels to fish in Gambian waters.
It offers the vessels to fish up to three thousand, three hundred (3,300) tonnes of tuna and tuna-like species, and seven hundred and fifty (750) tonnes of hake annually.
In return, The Gambia would receive a financial compensation of Five Million, Four Hundred Thousand Euros (€5, 400,000).
Finally for this sector, Government is in the process of amending the 2008 Fisheries Regulations to include a 50% upward revision of the fishing license tariff. This will increase the revenue earning potential of the country.
To be continued