End of Poverty in the Gambia Part I: Maximizing Wealth Creation

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‘Every generation recognizes its mission and either fulfills it or betrays it’. FRANZ FANON

PART 1: MAXIMISING WEALTH CREATION

It is possible to do away with poverty in the Gambia in less than a generation. To this end three things need to be achieved – maximization of wealth creation, equitable distribution of that wealth and elimination of waste.

In this first part of this write-up I wish to share my opinion on how to maximize wealth creation in the Gambia. Undoubtedly this would involve facilitating every Gambian resident to maximize their economic output thereby contributing optimally to the growth of the economy. This in turn calls for an appropriate system of acquisition of the means of production by residents. I concern myself here more with capital and labour as the most critical means of production in the Gambian circumstances.

I agree with Franz Fanon when he wrote in his “The Wretched of the Earth” that the government of an underdeveloped country must take responsibility for the totality of the nation which means that as well as providing for the education, health and basic infrastructure needs of the people it must also provide for accessibility to the means of production by the people. Universal accessibility to the means of production is the surest way to economic independence.

I must also confess my fascination with Adam Smith’s concept of invisible hand which states that individuals pursuing self-interest end up benefiting the whole of society. This concept has passed the test of time more than any social science concept I am aware of. All the big companies that form the pillars of developed modern economies were founded by individuals pursuing personal ambition of wealth accumulation whose actions led to spiraling economic activities inevitably contributing to economic growth and creating employment for thousands of people who are then either saved from or lifted out of poverty. And the same goes for the myriad of small and medium sized enterprises that form the flesh to the skeleton of developed economies.

Ours is a dependent economy. Centuries of the slave trade and decades of colonialism have ensured that our economy functions as an appendage of foreign manufacturing economies. We produce by and large not to meet any specific need of ours but to provide for the raw material needs of others who set the prices for these raw materials. After processing them into finished goods these are sold back to us again at prices set by them. The resulting trade deficits are made up for with loans with strings attached from the manufacturing nations thus entrenching further the stranglehold of our economy by them. We need to free our economy from this domination. To do so we must heed Walter Rodney stating in his “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa” that for a dominated economy to break out of such domination it must resort to an economic system superior to the dominating economy. What then could be such an economic system?

Whatever name is given to it, such an economic system has to be a hybrid of Smith’s concept of invisible hand and stimulation and coordination by what I call smart government which concept I will explain in the part in which I will discuss the elimination of waste in the economy.

The starting point is for government to set up a vibrant department for employment and entrepreneurship and in addition to its functional cost allocate to it at least 10% of the forecasted domestic revenue annually purposely to set up a revolving fund to provide capital for business start-ups of individuals and partnerships. This would have amounted to 1.7 billion dalasi in 2019 which would seem too large to many for government to raise but is actually easily achievable by simply reducing the allocations to institutions currently spending public funds by 10 to 11%. This will have the additional positive effect of forcing these institutions to restrict their expenses to only the essentials as well as enable government to raise the necessary amount annually to help create entrepreneurship and employment that will not only improve living standards of individuals but increase exponentially economic growth and government revenue to fund social services and infrastructure. There can be no better purpose for government to exist than this! Noteworthy is that government intends to spend 5 billion dalasi on debt servicing this year.

The conditions for proposals to succeed would include:
1. Provide permanent employment for at least one person with at least a living wage for every half a million received.
2. Be an exporter of goods or services
3. Produce goods and services currently imported into the country – import substitution
4. Contribute to food security and/or self-sufficiency
5. De-concentration into the regions and districts will be prioritized
6. Demonstrated feasibility and sustainability
7. Demonstrated total commitment to their proposed enterprise by proposers by being unemployed or willingness to give up current employment from date of approval of proposal and agreeing to be solely engaged with proposed business for at least five years from date of approval.
Deliberate lying in any part of a proposal or reneging on any terms of the agreement will be treated as an act of corruption, i.e. obtaining public funds by false pretense.

Funding for proposals of up to 3 million dalasi should be made available to individuals and up to 5 million dalasi per partner for partnerships, up to a maximum of 100 million dalasi. It is not intended that cheques or bank transfers of approved amounts are made to successful proposers. Rather the department will procure for proposers fixed capital items and make transfer to their bank accounts relevant working capital funds according to predetermined cash flows.

Funded enterprises will be granted tax and duty waiver concessions for the first three years of existence and a grace period of five years after which it will be required to pay back to the revolving fund such amounts as will enable it to complete repayment in five to fifteen years depending on the liquidity of the enterprise. The government will reserve the right to monitor the performance of funded enterprises and impose corrective action as may be necessary until the completion of the refund.

The government can and should protect domestic producers, not necessarily by means of trade barriers, but by simply making it a legal requirement for public procurement to be discriminatory in favor of home-made products and services. Government can for instance insist that all food and drinks purchased by government for its relevant institutions and for public functions must consist of local products, all furniture to be purchased with public funds to be products of local carpenters, and similarly all uniforms, curtains and other clothing required by government to be locally produced, etc. If encouraged Gambian entrepreneurs can revive cotton production and set up a textile factory in the Upper River Region creating jobs and promoting economic growth.

All existing State Owned Enterprises will be turned into Employee Owned and Managed enterprises through detailed guidelines to be passed into law by the government. These guidelines will include ownership structures, personnel emoluments, corporate governance and profit sharing.

The government will create new State Owned Enterprises in key productive areas of the economy to be run solely by the security forces who would be reorganized for this purpose into at least four corps: Core Security, Engineering, Agriculture and Community Health. Each corps will have a minimal number of specialists permanent members while the rest of the forces will be rotated say every two years between them. I can foresee the engineering corps building and maintaining the roads in every neighborhood and village in the country, the Agriculture corps filling in some of the gaps in national food self-sufficiency and security and the community health corps taking care of disaster management, etc. These corps will be managed like divisions of big business and their earnings will go to build homes for the security forces, provide them additional allowances as well as relevant security related equipment. Henceforth only in times of emergencies will the bulk of the time of the bulk of the security forces be spent on security matters. Recruitment into security forces will now only include graduates of tertiary education – both academic and vocational – with bias towards vocational training in diverse fields.

The education system will need reform to meet the needs of an economy in transition and growth. Financial discipline, appreciation of self-worth and entrepreneurship should be reflected in the curriculum from nursery to secondary education. Tested and proven programs such as the Dutch Aflatoun and American Junior Achievement, already exist to address these needs which are easily adaptable to any culture in collaboration with their proponents. At tertiary level, vocational training should be both diversified and made most readily accessible to the population by both making it free as much as possible and opening centers at every region if not district of the Gambia.

A combination of government induced, supported and moderated individual and group private initiatives, worker collectives, and state owned enterprises run by our disciplined men and women in the security forces accompanied by an education system producing confident and skilled people in diverse areas of human endeavor relevant to our development needs will unlock Gambia’s productivity potential. This in turn will accelerate economic growth in ways never known before resulting in massive wealth creation which will make Gambia poised to see to the end of poverty in a very short time. All that would be left is to ensure this new found wealth is not wasted and is duly distributed among the population to raise living standards for people in all walks of life. It is to these issues of waste and equitable distribution that I turn my attention in parts 2 and 3 of this write-up. Stay tuned.

By Habib Bah

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