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,
1. INTRODUCTORY REMARKS
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.
2. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. 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.
Madam Speaker, 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.
8. DEFENCE Mad
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.
9. 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.
10. 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. The 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.
11. 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.
12. 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.
13. 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.
14. 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.
15. THE AGRICULTURE SECTOR
Madam Speaker, Honourable Members,
The Agriculture sector represents a major area of economic activity and employment in The Gambia. It contributes about twenty-two percent to GDP and constitutes major economic activity in the country.
Of late, the sector has been pursuing its transformation agenda, with the support of development partners, to implement vital projects and activities. Examples of the projects in progress include the Rice Value Chain Project in Sapu and the Small Ruminant Improvement Project in Yoro Berri Kunda.
Aside from drafting and validating the National Strategy for the Control and Eradication of Small Ruminant Pests, to protect our animal stock, two hundred and fifty thousand (250,000) heads of cattle and fifty thousand (50,000) birds have been vaccinated. Besides this, eight hundred and eighty-eight (888) small ruminants’ schemes have now been established.
Government, through the Ministry of Agriculture, has stepped up support to farmers countrywide. This has been in the form of supply of tractors, transplanters, combined harvesters, power tillers, threshers, rice planters and milling machines to improve agricultural activities.
For the 2019-20 farming season, the National Seed Secretariat has planned to cultivate sixteen thousand (16,000) hectares of foundation seeds. In the past, a total of three hundred and sixty-five thousand, two hundred and eighty-six (365,286) people were reached for one type of support or another.
Women have been the major target in most of these interventions. With strong determination, Government will continue to prioritise women issues across the broad spectrum of our development agenda and priorities.
For better productivity, the Ministry is pursuing its goal of mechanisation, and is arranging to secure machinery and expertise to establish a fully functional Agricultural mechanisation unit.
On policy matters, the Ministry of Agriculture has revised and updated the new Agriculture and Natural Resources (ANR) Policy (2017-2026) to replace the former 2009-2015 Policy. Also reviewed is the first Gambia National Investment Programme. The successor programme will be validated shortly.
Madam Speaker, on the issue of feeding the nation or food self-sufficiency, let me explain that all the initiatives devised within the Agriculture sector and the support provided or solicited are part of the overall policy of Government to attain food self-sufficiency in the country.
It must be emphasised, however, that the realisation of this goal rests on all sectors, public and private, and on all citizens. This noble goal cannot be accomplished through the formulation of a single policy framework or plan for Government alone to implement. On the contrary, it is contained in the overall development of the nation.
16. FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Madam Speaker, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,
The Gambia maintains a policy of friendship and non-alignment with all countries, as well as strong partnerships with regional and international bodies.
Internationally, The Gambia is enjoying, once again, full membership status within the Commonwealth, while maintaining an observer status in the International Organization of the Francophonie, as endorsed by this august body.
You will recall too that at the 2018 EU-supported Conference for The Gambia held in Brussels last year, the sum of 1.45 Million Euros was pledged. Significant EU follow-ups have ensued. One of these is support for Gambians returning from the “back way” to integrate better and find new opportunities at home.
The EU is also providing support to the security sector reform, and helping to establish a Local Democratic Control of Armed Forces Local office in The Gambia to promote international cooperation in civil-military relations. The Agreement was signed in March, 2019.
To support the country’s sustainable and inclusive growth programme, in November, 2018, the EU validated a new two-year budget support programme, with a three-year technical assistance component, summing up to Fifty-Five Million Euros (€55 Million). At the bilateral level, the French Government is providing massive assistance to The Gambia. In particular, they are investing heavily in a rice project in the URR to contribute to food sufficiency.
Following Government’s declaration of the Diaspora as our Eighth (8th) Region, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation and Gambians Abroad is devising mechanisms to establish close links with Gambians in the Diaspora. This development will enable them to contribute more effectively to national development.
Madam Speaker, the year under review was a positive year in which we had a lots of diplomatic engagements.
There were high-level visits, and a good number of Ambassadors presented their Letters of Credence to me. Bilateral ties of friendship and cooperation were either established or renewed with countries near and far.
It was a year marked by substantial support from friends and partners. Among the most notable is the Republic of China. Their support has been remarkable in quantitative terms, and cuts across various sectors and areas of development. As indicated earlier, the EU has proven to be very supportive in various ways. We are grateful to all partners, friends, regional and other international organisations, and will continue to cherish and deepen the ties that exist between us.
17. TOURISM AND CULTURE
Madam Speaker, the Tourism Sector is clearly a key contributor to the Gambian economy.
We proudly continue to make tremendous success in Tourism and Culture. Arrival statistics, for instance, show that for the 2017-2018 season, there was a record breaking increase of 28%; that is, from one hundred and sixty-two thousand and seventy-five (162,075) to two hundred and nine thousand (209,000) visitors. The first quarter of 2019 registered a remarkable increase of 97%.
To match the increase in visitors, the sector is registering a significant increase in the construction and refurbishment of high quality hotels. This is linked to the desire to develop new products that include culture and heritage tourism, wellness and sports tourism. Tapping the huge potential of the River Gambia is another area to exploit to expand the sector.
On the issue of culture, I am proud to say, as a Gambian, that my government has also prioritised culture. In the 2018 budget, the National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC) was granted a huge increase in its operating budget. This is an indication of how seriously Government takes the issue of culture and artistic development. In fact, for the first time in its history, the NCAC was allocated a substantial capital budget to revitalise all national museums and historical sites.
I am aware that culture contributes to youth employment and sustainable living. The reality is that a good number of Gambian youths are engaged in music, fine arts, literature, film making, theatre, and so on. In consequence, we will continue to support them.
18. LANDS, REGIONAL GOVERNMENT AND RELIGIOUS AFFAIRS
Working with the Ministry of Lands, Regional Government and Religious Affairs, Government has initiated a national land registration system. The purpose is to establish a Land Information System for easy access to information on land and land resources in the country.
On governance, a unified Local Government Service Commission has been inaugurated. The objective for this is to apply the sector’s scheme of service and to establish standards, efficiency and effectiveness in the Local Government Authorities.
Also appointed and inaugurated is the Lands Commission. Among other things, this independent body is to investigate issues on land ownership and occupation throughout the country, and be responsible for all land matters on our national boundaries.
19. THE JUSTICE AND JUDICIARY SECTOR
Let me seize this opportunity to emphasise my government’s commitment to justice, democracy, rule of law and good governance, as evidenced by the reforms, developments and achievements within the sector.
To begin with the operating structures, all the Commissions set up by Government are now fully engaged in pursuing their mandates and are making remarkable progress. The Constitutional Review Commissioners are conducting intensive consultations with Gambians at home and abroad, and are expected to table a draft constitution in this august Assembly prior to the referendum that will usher in the Third Republic.
The Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission have made significant inroads through important witnesses. We will allow them to complete their work and submit a report with recommendations. The ultimate outcome of their work is to heal the wounds of the past, help the victims and their families to find closure for their troubles, and to set the stage for national reconciliation.
Madam Speaker, in accordance with the 2017 National Human Rights Commission Act, members of the first ever independent National Human Rights Commission have now been sworn in. This Commission, which is now fully operational, is to address human rights violations in the country.
I am happy to report that the Janneh Commission of Inquiry completed its work in March of this year, and submitted a comprehensive report to me. The report is currently available to the public. Meanwhile, acting on the Commission’s recommendations, Government has forfeited to the State all of the assets of the former President, Yaya Jammeh, and Mr. Mohamed Bazzi, one of his close associates.
In line with my government’s promise to sanitise our criminal justice system, and to ensure a conducive environment to exercise the right to freedom of expression, we have commenced the review and re-drafting of the criminal code, the criminal procedure code and all associated penal legislations. It is hope that, before long, a progressive criminal justice legislation anchored on the rule of law and respect for fundamental human rights will be ready for review.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, earlier this year, the Ministry of Justice initiated a review of the Elections Act in order to enact an inclusive and progressive electoral framework. In this light, it is expected that a draft Elections Bill will be ready for review and enactment shortly.
Honourable members, I promised that Government would table an Anti-Corruption Bill before the end of 2018. The Bill was ready for submission. However, it was subjected to further review, and fresh recommendations were raised for consideration. We expect to table the Bill here by December, 2019.
Finally, I am happy to share that we have honoured compensation payments decided by the ECOWAS Court against the State in respect of a number of human rights violations perpetrated by the previous administration against certain individuals. Our compliance with these court judgments demonstrates our commitment to good governance and respect for the rule of law.
The JUDICIARY: My government recognises and will persist in maintaining an independent and efficient Judiciary that delivers justice without undue delay based on the rule of law and good governance. In this direction, our Judiciary enjoys all rights and independence it is provided for in the Constitution. They can recruit all categories of staff without recourse to the Public Service Commission or the Personnel Management Office, as practised in the past. Their annual estimates of expenditures are presented to the National Assembly without any amendment, and all their 2019 budget proposals on personnel were approved by the National Assembly.
The Membership of the Supreme Court has been increased by three additional Gambian Justices (including the Chief Justice) bringing the total to five Gambians at the apex court, and as opposed to holding irregular sittings as before, the Supreme Court now holds regular sessions in every quarter of the year.
Furthermore, all the seven Judges, including the President, of the Court of Appeal are Gambians. The High Court recruited four additional Gambian judges, bringing the total to five Gambians. Unfortunately, one passed way in December, 2018.
At this juncture, it is appropriate to record our deep appreciation to the Federal Republic of Nigeria for providing us with three Judges of High Court on technical assistance who are currently rendering invaluable service to the nation.
Happily, 99% of our Magistrates are Gambians trained at The University of The Gambia and The Gambia Law School.
The Judiciary is now working to ensure speedy trials and disposal of cases and to decongest the overcrowded remand prisons. Infrastructural works are also in progress to facilitate and expand the court sittings at all levels – cadi, magistrates and high court and in various areas of the country.
As a new development, plans are at an advanced stage to construct a court complex at Mile 7 Bakau to accommodate a Commercial and Lands Dispute Court.
20. ENVIRONMENT, CLIMATE CHANGE AND NATURAL RESOURCES
Madam Speaker, the Ministry of Environment, Climate Change and Natural Resources and its line institutions continue to manage our precious environment and natural resources in accordance with the relevant legislative frameworks.
The Ministry recently launched the Inter-Ministerial Council on Climate Change, as well as other technical bodies to implement The Gambia Environment Action Plan and the National Climate Change Policy. All these are meant to address the effect of climate change, and respond to the adaptation needs of the country.
On the environment and forest cover, Government will remain vigilant, and will strengthen the necessary frameworks, as well as raise public awareness on environmental issues.
To safeguard the species of trees in the country, there are ongoing efforts to collect and preserve indigenous trees.
At the institutional level, efforts are progressing to place the Kafuta Forestry Training School under The University of The Gambia with a view to upgrading it to offer graduate programmes. Meanwhile, Government is exploring the policy of private sector involvement in wildlife management. It is hoped that private sector involvement will generate major investments into the sector to make wildlife Protected Areas more appealing, leading to a more enriching tourism experience. Alongside these developments is a proposal to re-introduce large mammals that once existed in The Gambia.
I am confident that many Gambians, especially those within the Greater Banjul Area, will welcome the plan to table the draft Waste Bill in the coming months. Waste is a major issue to tackle. As a result, it is most urgent to lay the legal basis for waste management, paying attention to emerging issues.
E-waste and the prospect of importing or dumping waste into the country make this issue a real danger to all of us.
In the area of chemical management, the agency and its partners recently validated the draft Hazardous Chemicals Management Bill. Hopefully, this will be tabled before this august body shortly.
The Government of The Gambia recognises the fact that Health is a basic right for all human beings and that good health plays an important role in socio-economic growth and development. Thus, to have productive citizens, the health sector must be given top priority.
Access to health services in The Gambia has been marked by a tremendous increase and expansion of public hospitals, health centres and Primary Health Care services. To build on these, plans are afoot to construct modern specialist hospitals.
Overall, the Government’s target is to achieve Universal Health Coverage by 2030, in accordance with the Sustainable Development Goals. In this respect, key among the frameworks developed is the Health Financing Policy 2017-2030.
A good amount of recent investments was used to target specific diseases (such as, HIV/AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis) and immunisation services. For this, we are indebted to our partners for their technical and financial support to the health sector.
It is pleasing to state that The Gambia has improved its indicators on infant and under-five morbidity and mortality rates, and has one of the best immunisation coverages in the sub-region. We maintain over 90% vaccination coverage of children against all vaccine preventable diseases.
It is in order, therefore, that The Gambia was cleared to introduce a second round of the Measles vaccine. At the same time, in collaboration with UNICEF, WHO and UNFPA, HPV vaccination coverage has been scaled up country-wide to protect our young girls, aged 9 to 13 years, from cervical cancer. Also, through the Operation Save the Baby Initiative of H.E. the First Lady of the Republic and other partners, effective strategies have been mapped out to roll back HIV/AIDS and various types of cancers.
Madam Speaker, The Gambia’s Primary Eye Care service is recognised globally as a model in terms of both structure and outcomes. No wonder, the incidence of blindness in The Gambia has dropped to 0.4%, which is comparable to Western standards. It is a source of relief to note too that Trachoma, a leading cause of infectious eye disease around the world, is now at an elimination stage in The Gambia.
To ease movement, Government continues to work with Riders for Health for transportation needs within the sector. In 2018, the organisation handed over twenty-nine vehicles for use by the sector. This is a partnership we truly value.
On regulation, work is almost complete on the Mental Health Bill and the National Tobacco Control Regulation for implementation of the National Tobacco Control Act.
To sum up, health care in The Gambia is almost free, especially for maternal and child health services. The indication is that the key sector targets will be realised eventually.
22. YOUTH AND SPORTS
The youth sub-sector enjoys increased attention from my government for very obvious reasons. Besides comprising about 65% of the Gambian population, the youth are a productive segment of society and represent a critical stakeholder group in the national development process.
Aptly, therefore, the National Youth Service Scheme (NYSS) continues to provide relevant and marketable skills to young people throughout the country. Along these lines, the President’s International Award Scheme is striving to provide opportunities for young Gambians to explore their talents and sharpen their skills to create employment for themselves and participate more effectively in national development.
Madam Speaker, Government is supporting the operations of the National Youth Council and its decentralised structures. During the last fiscal year, the Council was supported to launch the Youth Connekt Gambia and its maiden summit.
The summit revolved around flagship programmes on youth leadership, innovation, volunteerism and job creation. In addition to other useful activities, the Council also facilitated the establishment of the Children National Assembly, and conducted a job fair for rural youths.
In the area of sports, The Gambia is making noticeable progress. We are proud that the current 200 metre female champion in Africa, the junior athletics champion in Africa and the beach volleyball champions in Africa are all Gambians. Besides ranking fourth in wrestling in the ECOWAS region, The Gambia is also doing very well in other activities, such as boxing. My Government will continue to support the development and promotion of sports and recreation in view of all the numerous benefits that accrue from them.
23. STRATEGIC POLICY AND DELIVERY
Madam Speaker, it is noticeable that themes on “reform” and “transformation” run through the sectors discussed, signifying my government’s commitment to change. Change was the main reason for my election to office; thus, we have to pursue a thorough change agenda and this is reflected in the decision to reform our institutions.
As a result, to coordinate the reform process and ensure effectiveness and efficiency within the public service, I have set up the Department of Strategic Policy and Delivery (DSPD).
The DSPD is to assist and enable my Office to develop, implement and monitor Government’s vision, and to provide strategic leadership for cross-sectorial policies and programmes. It is designated also to provide technical advice, support and analysis to improve decision-making and policy coordination at the level of the Executive.
The Department will strive to ascertain that information reaching the Executive is appropriate, valid, reliable and provided after due consultations. In particular, they will prepare regular briefs on the economy and the performance of Ministries, Departments and Agencies, including State Owned Enterprises.
Madam Speaker, this body has the designated function of explicitly articulating Government’s agenda for implementation, and working closely, while coordinating, with Ministries and partner agencies on agreed timelines and key milestones to deliver on Presidential priority projects and reforms.
Finally, the DSPD will serve as a tactical link between Government and development partners by defining long-term strategic objectives for these partnerships and helping to cultivate a working relationship between the Executive and Heads of partner agencies. This will enable the Government to communicate with a unified voice to partners regarding its high-level priorities, while retaining the relevant functions of MoFEA and other Ministries in public sector project implementation processes.
Madam Speaker, Honourable Members of this Assembly, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Earlier, I indicated that national development must be all-inclusive; that is, it should filter down to all citizens. Confident that this would happen, I proclaimed 2019 as a turning point in The Gambia’s development process. Even though 2019 has not ended yet, the catalogue of events, the projects, development initiatives, results and proposed interventions mentioned in my address justify the proclamation.
A review of 2019 shows unprecedented developments across the country. The multi-million projects, especially in very deprived areas from Banjul to the URR, attest to this. The economic support, including the budget support from the International community; the 50% salary increase for workers across all cadres of the Public Service; the 100% pay increase for pensioners; the cash support to needy families, and the availability and affordability of food throughout the country have reached, directly or indirectly, all citizens in the country.
The provision of social amenities, with increased and steady supply of electricity and water, has made social life amicable for all. The appearance of old and new political parties to partake in the very cordial political climate reflects “The New Gambia” in progress.
Through the TRRC, victims and bereaved families are coming to terms with their plight or the loss of their loved ones, and offenders are reconciling with their victims and themselves. The effect of democracy, good governance and the economic situation brought about by my government has penetrated the entire Gambian society, and has reached every community, every institution, every organisation, every citizen and every resident in the country. The reforms, plans and achievements mean that things will get brighter and better.
To sum it up, we have redefined the economics of development in The Gambia; we have altered the narrative on Gambian history; we have changed the conversation around social life; we have moderated the discourse on Gambian politics, and we have brought back life, hope and a future for all.
Madam Speaker, Honourable Members,
I cannot conclude this address without bringing the nation’s attention to certain developments that are of concern to the Government and the people of The Gambia.
Recently, some people have been taking the law into their own hands to commit violent acts of destruction and attacks on property and individuals. Aside from the Faraba Banta disorder, violent incidents, including arson and murder, have been recorded in Kombo Berending, Gunjur, Koina, Garawol and, most recently, in the Kanifing Municipality. Personal attacks on government officials fighting crime in the country, such as the Assistant Police Commissioner and Head of the Police Anti-Crime, and arson attacks on his family home, the Bakoteh Police Station and within the Serekunda market area are not part of our values.
We are aware of the important role of the media in society, particularly the social media and its influence on our lives.
Let us maximize the benefits that social media forums can avail us to educate and keep the people informed. As citizens, we must not create hatred amongst ourselves.
Madam Speaker, Honourable Members, saying “Never Again” comes with a big responsibility for both citizens and government. At present, it is the citizens saying “Never Again” to State violence and abuse who engage in various forms of violence against their fellow citizens, State institutions and officials. Therefore, let us guard the peace we have, as peace is priceless, and stability is the bedrock of development and progress. We are One people, One Gambia for peace, progress and national development.
Therefore, I call on all Gambians to join us in the healing, reconciliation and reconstruction process that is in progress. Let us unite as a nation, and work together as a people; primarily, as brothers and sisters in a family. We must not allow politics or any worldly affair to separate us. We are all human beings and Gambians first, before anything else. As we look forward to the Third Republic, my government has sown the seeds of success for the rebirth of The Gambia. I pray that Allah helps us all the way to achieve our noble goals.
I thank the entire Gambian nation most sincerely for having come this far together, and I also thank all our partners and friends. Their support has been excellent. To all of them, we express deep gratitude.
Turning to the Assembly, on behalf of every Gambian, I thank the Honourable Speaker and all the Honourable Members of the National Assembly most sincerely for all the sittings and decisions of the last legislative year. We appreciate your work, and will never stop inviting you to work with us. In a democracy, we cannot expect agreement in every debate; nevertheless, I urge you to engage more in dialogue than in confrontation. I pray that we have more peaceful and successful sessions this year.
I now have the singular honour and pleasure to declare the 2019 Legislative Year officially open.
May Allah bless us all.