STATE OF THE NATION ADDRESS IN THE 2018 LEGISLATIVE YEAR BY HIS EXCELLENCY, THE PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF THE GAMBIA, ADAMA BARROW

13th SEPTEMBER  2018

CONTENTS

  1. Introduction. 3
  2. Trade, Industry, Regional Integration And Employment 3
  3. Information And Communication Infrastructure. 5

4.Education. 5

5.Energy And Petroleum Sector 6

  1. The Environment 7
  2. Transport, Works And Infrastructure. 8
  3. Justice. 9
  4. Fisheries And Water Resources. 10
  5. Interior 12
  6. Health And Social Welfare. 12
  7. Youth And Sports. 13
  8. Tourism And Culture. 14
  9. Lands And Regional Government 15
  10. Women’s Affairs. 16
  11. Finance And Economic Affairs. 17
  12. Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation And Gambians Abroad. 18
  13. Conclusion. 19

Your Excellency, the Vice President,

Madam Speaker,

My Lord, the Chief Justice,

Honorable Cabinet Members,

Honourable Members of the National Assembly,

Lord Mayor of Banjul,

Venerable Religious Leaders,

Service Chiefs,

Members of the Diplomatic and Consular Corps,

Members of the Media,

Fellow Gambians,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

1.Introduction

1.1 All praise is due to God, the Lord of all, for granting us the blessing and favour of gathering here today to witness the State of the Nation Address in the 2018 Legislative Year, which I have the singular privilege of executing on behalf of the entire Gambian nation.

1.2 In accordance with the legal obligation I owe this August Assembly as President of The Republic of The Gambia, this morning, my address will focus on five main areas. These are: the Major Government Achievements registered during the 2017 Legislative Year; Policy and Legislative Matters linked to the mandate of this August Assembly; National Unity; Socio-Economic Development Plans, and Matters Requiring Executive Action. Honourable Members of the Assembly are at liberty to pursue any details of interest to them through the Select Committees or during normal sittings.

1.3 Before proceeding, however, on behalf of all Gambians, I take special delight in congratulating all those who were elected during the electoral cycle of our beloved nation, which ended recently with the Municipal and Local Council Elections. In particular, I congratulate, most heartily, the Lord Mayoress of Banjul, the Lord Mayor of the Kanifing Municipal Council and the Chairpersons of the various Regional Councils.

  • Similarly, to all the Councillors and officials who have been elected, nominated or appointed to serve in any of the ranks of Government, I say: Hearty Congratulations! I pray that we all have a very successful and peaceful tenure of office, marked by fulfillment of the aspirations and expectations of the electorate, reagrdless of any form of diversity that may exist.

Together with the remaining arms of authority, and all other sections of society, we now have a fully constituted government machinery to move this nation forward in a manner that befits a sovereign democratic nation of free and dignified people.

1.5 Therefore, I urge all of us, including all non-state actors, to work together amicably, sincerely and purposefully in the interest of the nation and humanity at large.

Madam Speaker,

1.6 The 2017 Legislative Year, which is under review, has been positively eventful, with my Government registering resounding success in its overall objective of implementing the National Development Plan (2018-2021). The highlights of these events are reflected in the sector summaries I will now focus on, beginning with the Trade and Industry sector.

Madam Speaker,

2.    Trade, Industry, Regional Integration And Employment

2.1 In line with Government reforms, we continue to explore means of improving the business environment, promoting investment and ensuring a fair trading environment for private sector development.

2.2 In this direction, Government is in the process of reviewing the Labour Act, 2007 and establishing a new Trade Union Bill in order to strengthen industrial relations in the country. This will be presented to this August body when finalized. In the interim, this sector completed the formulation of an Industrial Policy and Trade Strategy in February, 2018 for immediate implementation.

2.3 Both instruments are designed to provide a more focused approach in implementing trade and industrial development programs and to reinforce investment in the productive sectors and promote exports.

2.4 In the area of investment promotion, Government is in the process of amending the GIEPA Act, 2015 to maximize public engagement and benefits in key priority sectors. This is part of the efforts to widen the scope of domestic taxes and reduce over-reliance on trade taxes.

2.5 Following the implementation of the ECOWAS Common External Tariff in January 2017, Government has now harmonized the Gambian tariff with the ECOWAS Tariff.

As a result, we will continue to collaborate with ECOWAS Member States to promote the free movement of goods and persons.

2.6 Implementation of the Eleven Million Euro Youth Empowerment Project from the European Trust Fund is ongoing. The overall objective of this four-year project is to tackle the economic root-causes of irregular migration through increased job opportunities and income prospects for the youth. The project has trained over one thousand (1000) youngsters in various skills within one year. This is complemented by the Fourteen Million Dalasi (GMD 14,000,000. 00) Skills for Youth Employment Fund launched this year, which aims to equip another one thousand  (1000) Gambian youths with relevant technical and vocational skills in partnership with local training institutions.

  • Also worth reporting is our partnership with The International Labor Organization and The Government of Japan to support the establishment of a USD $3.9 Million project on “Employment Creation for Youth to Build Sustainable Peace in The Gambia.”
  • The goal of this project is to promote employment opportunities for the youth through infrastructure construction, together with skills training and entrepreneurship support. Particular focus is put on women, returnees, the Diaspora and refugees. The project is expected to employ two thousand, five hundred (2,500) young people in infrastructure construction works, and within the Agriculture, Fisheries and Tourism sectors. Additionally, two hundred and fifty (250) youths are expected to complete skills training and receive entrepreneurship support in relation to the construction sector. At least, 30% of the project beneficiaries would be women.
  • These are crucial interventions to reduce unemployment, which will be mentioned later.

3.  Information And Communication Infrastructure

Madam Speaker,

3.1 The Government of The Gambia, through the Ministry of Information and Communication Infrastructure, is working on a National Broadband Network Project. In this regard, GAMTEL has secured a USD 25 Million concessional loan from the People’s Republic of China to address the last mile access, including rural access.

The National Broadband Network seeks to supplement the Africa Coast to Europe (ACE) and the ECOWAS Wide Area Network (ECOWAN) in addressing the national infrastructure challenges.

3.2 Members of this August Assembly will be pleased to learn that government has put in place sufficient safeguards to affirmatively address the revenue leakage at our National and International Gateway. A new Measurement System will be installed to accurately document, monitor and digitally store all call traffics in and out of The Gambia.

3.3 Among other things, this System is expected to include Revenue Assurance, Anti-Fraud Management, IMEI Management, Quality of Service and Mobile Money Monitoring.

3.4 I am happy to report further that, with the liberalization of Television Broadcasting, four (4) TV licenses have been issued to QTV, Paradise TV, Star TV and MTA respectively.  Other applications are currently under review. In addition to these developments, a Taskforce has completed the review of the media laws and Cabinet will review its recommendations. All these are part of the processes for freedom of expression to thrive in the country.

4. Education

Madam Speaker,

4.1 The Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education tabled the revised Basic and Secondary Education Bill, 2017 that was approved by Cabinet for enactment.

4.2 This Act provides for the management and development of educational services in The Gambia, and shall govern the operations of all schools from pre-school to the secondary level, including non-formal schools.

4.3 In its drive to provide quality and relevant education and training, and to strengthen the human capital stock of The Gambia, the higher education subsector has set a policy target to train 65% of all graduates in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), Agriculture, Health and other related sciences.

4.4 To respond more effectively to the human resource development needs of the country, plans are afoot to transform The Gambia Technical Training Institute into a University of Technology and Engineering and the Management Development Institute into a University of Management and Public Administration.

4.5 Ultimately, the constituent schools of The Gambia College will also be fused into The University of The Gambia. In this regard, the Acts of these institutions are currently under review.

The relevant Bills will be tabled before this August Assembly for ratification.

4.6 The University of The Gambia Faraba Banta Campus Project is in progress, and Government looks forward to its successful completion to accommodate all relevant university activities. Meanwhile, a good number of scholarships are offered in-country and in notable universities of various friendly countries. The impact of this is beginning to be evident.

5. Energy And Petroleum Sector

Madam Speaker,

5.1 On the Petroleum sub-sector, major international oil companies have expressed interest in exploring and commercializing our hydrocarbon potential.

The licensing of offshore blocks of A2 and A5 are required in order to drill an exploration well before end of 2018. In spite of this, the regulatory instruments of the Petroleum Products Act, 2016 have been validated and sent to the Ministry of Justice for finalization. These tools will be utilized to standardize the downstream sector as a source of revenue.

5.2 On energy, it is common knowledge that my Government inherited a malfunctioning utility with dilapidated infrastructure. Therefore, to address this in the short term, Government has approved a two-year emergency power supply agreement between KARPOWER and NAWEC for a 30MW generation capacity.

NAWEC is also implementing a number of projects which includes operation of a new 11 MW power plant at Kotu Power Station, funded by BADEA and OFID, and estimated at US$22.32 Million. The replacement of a 9MW generator at the Brikama Power Station, through funding from the World Bank, is ongoing.

5.3 Also underway is an additional US$24 Million 20MW project in Brikama, funded by the Islamic Development Bank. The implementation and construction works are expected to end by the first quarter of 2019.

5.4 In partnership with the World Bank and the European Union, Government plans to implement a project entailing installation of solar panels for all our schools and health facilities, as well as upgrading and rehabilitation of the existing dilapidated infrastructure.

5.5 The second phase of the successful partnership with SENELEC of Senegal, reported before, will interconnect the Karang/Amdalai border to supply power to Barra and its catchment areas. Finally, a project has begun to replace existing asbestos pipes, drilling of new boreholes and expansion of the water network to underserved areas. This is funded through the Indian line of Credit at an estimated cost of US$22.5 Million.

5.6 It is in view of the acute and distressful energy crisis that all these details have been provided to reassure all Gambians of the urgency with which my Government is striving to end the power crisis permanently.

  • On the issue of mining, Government is investigating the activities of operators engaged in sand and heavy mineral mining.

Members are assured that Government will pursue the best interest of the Gambian people in this endeavour.

6.     The Environment

Madam Speaker,

6.1 In order to address the current major environmental challenges, Government’s attention focuses squarely on reforestation and waste management, as well as coastal and marine resource management, among other interventions.

6.2 The ban on manufacturing, importation, retailing and use of plastic bags in The Gambia is in place.  Key among its effect is the drastic reduction in volumes of generated and accumulated waste.

6.3 The National Environmental Agency is currently reviewing and updating the National Implementation Plan linked to the Stockholm Convention and Chemical and Pesticide Management Act, 1994. The new Bill will incorporate emerging environmental issues that were not anticipated in the Act.

6.4 It is encouraging that the country concluded a US$ 2 Million agreement from Global Environment Facility to assist in redressing some of our waste issues.

6.5 To address unplanned developments, and uncontrolled exploitation of the coastal and marine resources, there is need for an integrated coastal zone management system involving all stakeholders. As a result, it is urgent to pass the Integrated Coastal Zone Management Bill, 2015 into law. Follow-ups will be done on this.

Waste management and disposal continues to be a menace, but it is hoped that the newly elected Local Government officials, especially for Banjul and KMC, will give these issues special attention.

7.     Transport, Works And Infrastructure

Madam Speaker,

7.1 The Ministry of Transport, Works and Infrastructure has successfully updated the National Transport Policy (2018-2027) and formulated a National Public Buildings and Facilities Policy (2018-2027). The two policies are set for presentation to Cabinet and the National Assembly for approval and ratification, respectively.

7.2 On road infrastructure, it is heartening to state that works will commence shortly on the 48.3 km Basse-Fatoto-Koina Road project, which includes the 150 meter-long Fatoto-Passamas Bridge, as well as the 200 meter-long Basse-Wuli Bridge. This intervention is long overdue, in view of its importance, and deserves high priority.

7.3 As updates, the Stink-Corner Access Road, the Soutouma-Sereh-Gambissara Road Project, as well as the reconstruction of the Wellingara-Sinchu Road, the Nusrat High School Road and Master Jatta Road are complete and in full use.

7.4 Government now intends to construct 400 kilometers of rural roads using PRO BASE Technology. This involves 104 kilometers of Feeder Roads over a three-year period, at a cost of ten million, three hundred and forty-six thousand, seven hundred and forty-seven Euros (€ 10,346,746).

7.5 A Concept Note for the construction and upgrading of over 500 kilometers of urban roads has been prepared recently, with the objective of reducing traffic congestion and increasing mobility at low cost.

7.6 The much-talked about Trans-Gambia Bridge, the Laminkoto-Passimas Road and the Sukuta – Janbanjelly Road Project are all progressing satisfactorily.

7.7 The design for the extended phase of the Airport Improvement Project, which is exclusively funded by the Saudi Fund, has begun. The entire project is scheduled for completion in twelve months. On a related development, the Civil Aviation System has completed a comprehensive Universal Safety Oversight Audit Program by the International Civil Aviation Organization in 2018.

7.8 The Civil Aviation Bill tabled before the National Assembly has been enacted. Basically, it seeks to meet new and emerging Standards and Recommended Practices tied to global civil aviation safety and security measures.

8. Justice

Madam Speaker,

In line with the promise to the Gambian people in accordance with the National Development Plan 2018-2021, the Government continues to make steady progress in building a solid foundation for good governance, the rule of law, respect for human rights and transitional Justice programme.

8.1. Constitutional Review Commission

Following the enactment of the Constitutional Review Commission, Act in December 2017, the Constitutional Review Commission was appointed and charged with the responsibility to draft a new constitution. The Commissioners have commenced work in earnest with the appointment of the Executive Secretary and a Secretariat.

8.2 Establishment of the Truth, Reconciliation & Reparations Commission (TRRC)

Following the enactment of the Truth, Reconciliation & Reparations Commission, (TRRC) Act in December 2017, the setting up of the TRRC is at an advanced stage.

The eleven potential Commissioners representing all regions and interest groups have been identified and their names published for any objection from members of the public.

The preparations are well underway for the launching of the Commission in October 2018.

8.3 National Human Rights Commission

For the first time in our history, a National Human Rights Commission Act was also enacted in 2017 in line with the Paris principles for the establishment of independent human Rights Commissions. The appointment of five Commissioners is well underway through a Selection Panel which has been constituted in accordance with the Act to facilitate the selection process.

We expect to have the Commission fully constituted before the end of 2018. With the establishment of the Commission, ordinary Gambians will have an alternative and affordable avenue to provide redress for human rights violations in the country.

8.4 Anti- Corruption Commission

In line with the aspiration to foster good governance and combat corruption, a Draft Anti-Corruption Bill has been finalised and ready to be submitted to the Cabinet for final review and approval. This bill seeks to establish an Anti-Corruption Commission and provide effective measures for the eradication, suppression and prevention of corruption and corrupt practices in both private and public life in The Gambia. We expect to table the bill before this August body by the end of 2018.

8.5 Criminal Justice and media law Reforms

In a bid to sanitise our criminal justice system and to ensure a conducive environment for the media, a comprehensive reform program has been initiated to review and update the criminal law legislations and to repeal the draconian media laws of this country in line with international best practices.

8.6 Compliance with International Treaty Body Reporting Obligations

As part of its obligation under the international Treaty Bodies to which it is a party, The Gambia is expected to file periodic reports on the state of implementation of these treaties.

Unfortunately, in the past two decades The Gambia had failed to fulfill its reporting obligations, leading to a backlog of State Reports to Regional and International treaty bodies. In order to clear the backlog, a Multi- Stakeholder Task Force has been set up by the Ministry of Justice comprising of Government and Civil Society Organisations to coordinate, prepare and submit reports on the implementation of treaties.

Consequently, in July 2018, The Gambia appeared before the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in fulfillment of its reporting obligation for the first report in 33 years.

In the same vein, in November 2018, The Gambia is scheduled to submit its combined report on the African Charter on Human & People’s Rights to the African Commission for the first time since 1994.

9. Fisheries And Water Resources

Madam Speaker,

9.1 I am confident that Members of this August Assembly will be pleased to learn that, through support from the Saudi Development Fund, a twenty-five solar-powered piped-water supply system will be constructed and installed this year in twenty-five communities to serve seventy thousand (70, 000) people in rural communities. In collaboration with UNICEF also, my Government will continue to provide safe drinking water and basic sanitary facilities for 34 lower basic schools and health centres across the country.

9.2 Meanwhile, discussions are at an advanced stage between the Governments of The Gambia and Japan for the construction and installation of twenty-five solar-powered piped-water supply systems that will serve eighty thousand (80, 000) rural dwellers.

9.3 Furthermore, it is hoped that, with support of the Africa Development Bank Group, we will install one hundred and forty-four solar-powered piped-water supply systems to serve two hundred and twenty thousand (220, 000) persons in the rural area. Given the hardship encountered in some rural communities, these projects should bring welcome relief to all those affected.

9.4 Aside from these plans, two Bills will be tabled during the course of the year: a Bill for an up-to-date and comprehensive Water Act and another to establish a new National Water Resources Management Authority.

These two Bills expressly indicate Government’s conviction to safeguard, protect and manage our water resources.

9.5 Finally for this sector, the Government will present, for consideration, a Bill to establish The Gambia Meteorological Authority as an independent public enterprise, governed by a board, for the provision of meteorological services.

Madam Speaker,

9.6 The Fisheries sector remains a source of revenue for us, thus activities within the sector attract much attention. With support from the Food and Agriculture Organization, my Government has secured a Technical Cooperation Program on Aquaculture for Women and Youth.

It is currently being implemented with a total budget of four hundred and forty-two thousand Dollars (US$442,000.00), focusing on three key areas; these are:

  • Establishment of four hatcheries at strategic

locations in the country. The capacity per hatchery will range between eight hundred thousand (800, 000) and one Million (1, 000, 000) fry or small fish annually;

(B) Establishment of three feed mill plants at strategic locations in the country. The capacity per mill will be about 500 kilograms per day to produce different types of feeds for different categories of fish.

(C) Capacity development for the production of quality seeds and feeds. Particular preference will be given to youth and women associations.

9.7 On further legislative work, Government is in the process of effecting amendments to the Fisheries Regulations, 2008 to include the upward revision of fishing licenses by 50%; observation of closed seasons; and, enforcement of marine protected areas.

9.8 Since the commencement of industrial fishing operations in June 2017 to date, total revenue of over GMD 57 Million Dalasi has been generated by the Government through license fees, 10% fish landings and fines from arrested vessels. During the same period, a total of six hundred and eighty-three (683) Gambians gained employment as fisheries observers and deck hands.

9.9 At the bilateral level, The Gambia and the Republic of Senegal are implementing a cooperation agreement in the field of fisheries and aquaculture development.

9.10 I would like to reassure Gambians that the agreement presents a win-win situation for both countries, particularly for The Gambia.

10.     Interior

Madam Speaker,

10.1 Government is fully committed to guaranteeing security and maintaining law and order throughout the country. In the wake of the random attacks across the globe, the Counter Terrorism Unit will be re-organized and given new mandates for more effective preventive and counter operations.

10.2 To promote transparency and meritocracy, an independent police council will be set up, and efforts to attract recruits with skills and competencies will be intensified to maintain a force of personnel with integrity and substantial potential.

10.3 To ascertain justice and fair play, Government intends to establish an independent Police Complaints Commission, preferably to be presided over by an experienced former Judge of the Courts, to ensure that the fundamental human rights of residents of the country are respected. These reforms will extend to the Prison Department, where the design for the construction of a new modern prison is near completion. Noting the involvement of our vulnerable youth in crime, a new legal framework will be developed for the detention and management of juveniles in custody.

10.4 As migration is a source of much concern and grief, my Government has formulated a new migration policy to reinforce the Immigration Act, especially as regards cross-border movement

11.     Health And Social Welfare

Madam Speaker,

11.1 There is an ongoing expansion of our health care services, with the overall objective of attaining Universal Health Coverage. To this end, the World Bank has agreed to support the country to develop a Health Financing Strategic Plan for the establishment of a functional and reliable health care system.

11.2 Despite all the challenges we inherited, significant gains have been registered in the health sector in the areas of Malaria elimination, immunization, Reproductive Maternal Neonatal Child and Adolescent Health. In fact, total skill delivery now stands at 82% in the country.

11.3 To augment these achievements, the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare is working closely with the West Africa College of Surgeons and Physicians to start post-graduate programs for young Doctors in the country.

11.4 This will offer us an opportunity to have specialists in various areas so as to reduce the burden on overseas treatment and provide quality health care for everyone in The Gambia.

11.5 On medical supplies, the Government has successfully negotiated a grant with the Global Fund to fight Malaria, Tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS, as well as to support the general strengthening of the entire health care system. This will boost the system and prevent shortages of health commodities, especially medicines.

12.     Youth And Sports

Madam Speaker,

12.1 The youth make up the largest proportion of the Gambian population. 36.7% of the 1.8 Million Gambian population are aged 13-30 years; yet, youth unemployment has risen to 38%.

12.2 I made reference to this earlier, and it is cause for concern for all of us. You will agree with me that my Government inherited extremely wide-ranging socio-economic challenges. These include acute frustrations and lack of opportunities for the youth. The result is that thousands of youths undertake risky journeys, often with tragic consequences, in search of greener pastures elsewhere.

12.3 To address these challenges, the Ministry of Youth and Sports is focusing on three key activities: a terminal evaluation and formulation of the Fourth National Youth Policy; evaluation of the National Sports Policy to inform the formulation of the Youth and Sports Strategic Plan; and, a Mid-Term review of the Strategic Plan, 2015 – 2019.

12.4 Through inter-Ministerial collaboration and coordination, especially with the Ministry of Trade and the Education sub-sectors, various educational, training and entrepreneurial opportunities will continue to be opened for the youth. Public and Private sector partnership will also be strategically strengthened for this purpose.

13.     Tourism And Culture

Madam Speaker,

13.1 The year 2017-2018 marked an increase in the number of tourist arrivals in The Gambia. In all, arrivals for 2018 are projected at over two hundred thousand, representing a moderate growth of 30%. This is in contrast to the sharp reduction in the previous year, which resulted from the past political crisis. Encouraged by these positive developments, Government targets to increase and facilitate tourism arrivals to three hundred and fifty thousand (350, 000) tourists by 2021 through product diversification offerings and reaching out to new markets.

13.2 It is projected that close to One Billion Dalasi will be invested in the Tourism sector within the next three years, to be matched by the creation of at least four thousand (4000) jobs.

All these investments seek to enable a year-round Tourism sector.

13.3 The Movinpick Gambia promoters have renewed their commitment to construct a five-star hotel valued at USD 55,000,000. Linked to this, the Ministry of Tourism and Culture has revised the guidelines for classification and reclassification of hotels in conformity with international standards, to ensure higher level service delivery.

13.4 In the area of culture, UNESCO has provided financial support for the National Council for Arts and Culture to review and update the country’s 1986 Cultural Policy. This policy will be operational in the current year, 2018, to guide activities in this sector.

13.5 To protect Intellectual Property, Government will ensure that an effective copyright procedure exists through a functioning office. To complement this, an operational Collecting Society will be established for collection and distribution of royalties to creators and artists.

  1. Agriculture

Madam Speaker,

14.1 My Government recognizes Agriculture as the backbone of the Gambian economy. In fact, our survival as human beings depends, to a large extent, on agricultural activities and produce. In view of this, the Agriculture sector continues to feature prominently in our national agenda, and it is encouraging that it is on the path for revitalization to contribute realistically to national development.

14.2 In broad terms, the sector’s key achievements envelop production of agricultural and natural resources, construction of water retention facilities and enhancing tidal access and feeder roads. The Agriculture sector has also been active in market infrastructure development, diversification and commercialization.

14.3 To boost national food and nutrition security, in partnership with the World Food Program, FASDEP has been implementing the School Feeding Program to benefit eighty-seven (87) targeted schools, with a total of twenty-two thousand, nine hundred and twenty-four (22,924) pupils in the West Coast and Lower River Regions. Also, thirty (30) schools now have half-hectare vegetable gardens each.

14.4 On regulatory frameworks, the Seed Quality Control and Marketing Regulation and a Seed Quality Control and Certification Manual have been developed. The National Seed Policy, which was in operation since 2008, has now been updated to match with the ECOWAS Harmonized Seed Regulation.

14.5 Because of the crucial role played by our farmers, both male and female, Government will continue to support them to the extent that our capacity allows. Such support will be in the form of inputs, facilitating access to market outlets and technical advice from competent personnel.

14.6 Of special interest to my Government are the women that are engaged in various agricultural activities.

We will continue to support and encourage them not only to contribute their quota to national development, but also to improve their social and economic conditions.

Government will continue to request the Ministry of Agriculture to scale up such support, to help substantially in diversifying and maximizing production, making use of existing technology and adding real value to whatever they do or produce.

14.7 Finally, we look forward to a very good farming season, with expected improvements on the last season. Nonetheless, in view of the much lamented effects of climate change, we cannot depend wholly and solely on the rains for agricultural activities. The solution to the current challenges lies in exploring all options available to undertake all-year-round farming activities.

The Government is working with the French on the feasibility of such projects in the Upper River Region.  Therefore, I call upon all farmers and Government officials to think and work along these lines.

15.      Lands And Regional Government

Madam Speaker,

15.1 For the information of this August Body, The Gambia is among countries participating in the Participatory Slum Upgrading Program, and has qualified for the implementation stage. This program was launched at the last World Urban Forum held in Malaysia.

15.2 The emergence of estate agencies in the past years has significantly accelerated the use of land mainly for residential purpose in the Greater Banjul Area.

As a result, it has significantly changed how land is used for development at the expense of other uses. To address this, the Government is working with estate agencies to regulate the industry.

15.3 Very importantly, sites have been identified for the creation of residential, institutional and industrial layouts. Thus, Residential Layouts have been earmarked for Makumbaya, Jamburr and Brikama and an Institutional Layout mapped out in Camalo and Old Jeshwang. In addition, both Camalo and Old Jeshwang will accommodate an Industrial Layout.

15.4 Government has now reviewed and amended Section 13(2) of the Local Government Act 2002 in order to provide for direct election of Chairpersons of Councils through universal adult suffrage.

Relatedly, all Executive powers vested on the President to remove elected officials of Councils have been revoked, and plans are underway for a general review and amendment of the Local Government Act, 2002 in order to align it with present day realities.

15.5 To pursue Government’s decentralization agenda, plans are in the pipeline to review and update the existing Gambia National Policy on Decentralization and Local Development (2015-2024), together with its implementation strategy.

16.      Women’s Affairs

Madam Speaker,

16.1 The National Nutrition Policy (2010-2020) has been reviewed, and a revised policy for 2018-2025 validated.

Accordingly, development of a new Strategic Plan for 2018-2025, with a Common Result Framework, is in progress to accompany the implementation process.

16.2 The US$21.18 Million Maternal and Child Nutrition and Health Results Project is progressing significantly in thirty-seven (37) health facilities within the four regions upcountry to serve three hundred and forty-five (345) communities. It is being implemented jointly by the National Nutrition Agency and the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare.

16.3 In the area of education, the former Population Family Life Education (POP/FLE) has been revised by MoBSE and replaced by the Comprehensive Sexuality Education curriculum.

This curriculum captures details on sexual and reproductive health issues for delivery to schoolchildren in order to increase their understanding of family, health and physical well-being. 

16.4 Other achievements within the sector include the drafting of regulations on fats and oils, packaging and labelling of food and feed, the groundnut, sesame and cashew regulation towards aflatoxin mitigation and amendments to the Food safety and Quality Act, 2011. Importantly too, the Food Safety and Quality Authority has also created an internal crisis response plan to respond better to possible food safety crises.

Madam Speaker,

16.5 My Government is committed not only to the promotion of gender equity and women empowerment, but also resolved that such commitment translates into concrete action and positive results. In consequence, the National Gender and Women Empowerment Policy, 2010-2020 has been reviewed and updated, in line with the new orientation of democracy and respect for human rights.

Additionally, the existing legal frameworks will be reviewed and tabled in order to enact a more comprehensive legislation on Female Genital Mutilation and Child Marriage.

17.      Finance And Economic Affairs

Madam Speaker,

17.1 With the support of the international community, the Gambian macroeconomic situation has improved remarkably since the inception of my Government. We have seen strong tourism activities and a continued recovery within the agriculture sector.

17.2 Quite heartily, the economy started showing signs of recovery in 2017, from the economic growth of 2.2 per cent to 3.5 per cent.

17.3 Our fiscal position continues to improve, owing to the tight expenditure limits, fiscal consolidation and reforms. Net domestic borrowing has been dramatically reduced from more than ten (10) percent of GDP to well below one (1) percent, leading to the desired decline in interest rates, with average Treasury Bill rates dropping from 17.4 percent in October 2016 to 5.5 percent most recently.   International reserves have increased from 1.6 months of import cover at end-2016 to 2.9 months at end-2017.

17.4 Finalized in December 2017, the National Development Plan (2018-2021) guides our development endeavor. Its overall goal is the delivery of “good governance and accountability, social cohesion, national reconciliation and a revitalized and transformed economy.”

17.5 Pegged to this goal, Government strategies remain stabilizing the economy, stimulating growth, and transforming the economy for sustainable inclusive growth and poverty reduction.

17.6 On income generation, the Government has strengthened tax collection, and for the first time, the Gambia Revenue Authority collected over Eight Hundred (800) Million Dalasi  in a single month; that is, in January of this year. The staff audits of the civil and uniformed services identified and removed from the payroll over 3,000 ghost workers, resulting in annual savings of 0.3 percent of GDP.

17.7 A new policy has been instituted restricting overseas travel to economy class for some senior government officials. This is expected to deliver additional savings of 0.1 percent of GDP.

Madam Speaker,

17.8 Previously diverted fees and revenue sources have been channeled back to the budget. These include fees from the international voice gateway, mining and use of the container scanner in the port, with expected annual revenue of 1.2 percent of GDP in 2017-18.

17.9 On structural reforms, my Government has established a floor on direct poverty related expenditures to be at least D1.3 Billion annually. This excludes all indirect expenditures towards poverty alleviation.

17.10 There was a Zero Central Bank financing of fiscal deficit in 2017. This poses a favourable environment for the conduct and implementation of sound monetary policy. To realize the greater degree of autonomy needed for the conduct of monetary policy, the Central Bank Act will be amended appropriately. This is in the final stage, and will be submitted to the National Assembly for review.

17.11 Quite significantly, with the help of our development partners, most notably the EU, The Gambia recently mobilized US$1.7 Billion Donor Support at the Brussels International Donor Conference held in March, this year, in the form of grants and highly concessional loans.

18.     Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation And Gambians Abroad

Madam Speaker,

18.1 Through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation and Gambians Abroad, Government continues to work towards safeguarding the interest of the Gambian people and to ensure that we regain our rightful position in the comity of nations. In this pursuit, we have resumed diplomatic relations with countries around the world, after two decades of isolation. Many friends and partners are now coming back to work with us.

18.2 The Gambia is once again a fully-fledged member of the Commonwealth of Nations, following its withdrawal by the former President in 2013.  As a member of the Commonwealth, the country can now tap into the support and technical expertise the Commonwealth offers to its Membership.

18.3 Earlier in March, 2018, The Gambia hosted the First Presidential Council meeting with the Government of Senegal. Attended by over 100 experts from the two countries, including Ministers and the two Heads of State, the event provided an opportunity to review the current status of implementation, aside from establishing new bilateral relations in various sectors.

18.4 Significantly, plans are underway to host the 14th Organization for Islamic Conference (OIC) Summit in 2019. This is the first of its kind in the history of The Gambia.

18.5 With 57 member states, the OIC is the second largest International Organization after the United Nations. Obviously, this is an important development for all Gambians.

18.6 Bilateral relations with the People’s Republic of China have been strengthened. It is not surprising, therefore, that China is now assisting in various sectors, ranging from infrastructure development to agriculture and health interventions.

18.7 It is pleasing to state, for example, that in August 2017, the Government of the People’s Republic of China waived a U$D12 Million loan to The Gambia, following the signing of a debt relief protocol in China by the Honorable Minister of Foreign Affairs.

18.8 Further to this, the two countries have signed an agreement for the construction of an International Conference Centre. The proposed Centre is meant to host the forthcoming OIC Summit. Construction work is in progress.

18.9 Government, through the Foreign Ministry, also signed an agreement with the kingdom of Morocco to construct a new Foreign Affairs edifice. The construction works have been sub-contracted to a Chinese company, and the Government of the People’s Republic of China has made a pledge to furnish the entire outfit upon completion later this year.

Madam Speaker,

18.10 During the year under review, my Government broadened its diplomatic missions around the world. We reopened Embassies in Qatar and Dubai, whilst new Embassies have been opened in Switzerland and Algeria.

18.11 In fact, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has started the process for the return of The Gambia to the International Criminal Court in The Hague. This came on the heels of the country’s withdrawal from the body in 2016 by the previous administration.

18.12 Last, but not least, the signing and ratification of mutual visa exemptions with the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China will improve our level of engagement with them. Above all, our relations with such bodies as the EU, the World Bank and IMF are going exceptionally well.

19.      Conclusion

Madam Speaker, Honorable Members, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

19.1 It is clear that Government has made significant achievements and progress over the past year. It is evident too that, working together, a lot more can be achieved; and there is nothing to suggest that we cannot realize any of our development goals and objectives.

19.2 The responsibility rests on us collectively; therefore, let us step up the momentum to do better as each moment passes.

19.3 The Faraba Banta saga makes it imperative for me to re-echo the call for restraint, unity, civility in our actions and living as law-abiding citizens.

As Muslims and Christians, guided by the strict spiritual values we preach and live by, we cannot trample on one another’s rights, not to mention vandalizing property, or taking innocent lives illegally. Our common cultural values of loving one another, sharing and providing support to family and neighbours are enough to stop us from harbouring any form of anger or hostility towards any human being. Indeed, there could have been a national uprising or civil war during the notorious twenty-two repressive years of dictatorship; but, we lived in peace until the situation changed through peaceful means. This has bewildered the world. Therefore, let us not change for the worse. Ethnic differences, inter-community disputes and differences over worldly gains should be issues of the past.

19.4 Whatever land or wealth is accumulated leads to nothing but the grave. In consequence, nothing should matter more to us than how well we live, what good we do in this world, and what legacy we leave behind. As always, I call upon all Gambians to unite, work together and develop the country as “one people, one nation.” This is not about party politics. It is about national pride and our national identity, as it is about our future, our destiny, our children and the generations that will come after us.

19.5 I commend every citizen and all friends of The Gambia, especially our development partners, for standing by us through thick and thin. My Government appreciates all of you, together with your efforts, sacrifices, sense of responsibility and contributions to peace and to our development and wellbeing. I pray that the Almighty Allah continues to bless us, guide us to everlasting success and grant us peace and tranquility at all times.

Madam Speaker, Honorable Members of the National Assembly,

19.6 I thank you all for your deliberations and achievements during the past year, especially for all the legislative instruments you enacted collectively. I congratulate you, and entreat you to continue to work together in the best interest of the nation.

19.7 While wishing all of you success and fruitful sittings in the year ahead, I thank you all for your attention.

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