President Barrow’s National Development Plan (NDP) is well outlined. It detailed some of the major issues the country is confronted with. The plan describes the main issues and summarized how the country was mismanaged and power abused during Jammeh’s twenty years rule. The plan also clearly identifies what it called the major economic and national development challenges that the new government must address to turn things around. It called it “where the country is coming from”. This touches on key areas of the economic sector that must be reformed for the new government to pave a new way forward. It essentially captures the most critical areas that have for half a century been a failure for the past governments to pay attention or implement effectively. Once the government has a grasp of these issues and take urgent steps, put in the right people with the right funding mechanisms, Gambia will begin to experience a new phase of economic development… below is a breakdown of the major areas.
a). A stalled economy arising from several shocks: these include a poor 2016/17 agricultural season, which drastically reduced the groundnut crop; a severe contraction of tourism receipts during the traditional high season, and volatile oil and commodity prices. Estimates put the combined losses from these shocks at $ US 31 million or 3 per cent of GDP. Furthermore, gross international reserves also declined to $ US 60 million or 1.6 months worth of import cover (2016).
b) Economic mismanagement and massive theft by the previous regime: this has resulted in further fiscal shocks. Theft from state – owned enterprises (SOEs) has been estimated at 4 per cent of GDP per year since mid-2014
c) The country is in external debt distress: it has an unsustainable public debt, which stands at D 48 billion ($ US 1 billion) or 120 per cent of GDP. Because of this, debt servicing consumes a huge amount of government revenue, leaving very limited fiscal space for financing critical infrastructure and human capital development needs. This is also denying our private sector access to finance and credit, vital for its growth and expansion.
d) An acute electricity crisis: this arises from the inability of the sector to meet domestic demand or for economic activities.
e) Agriculture: the sector has not significantly contributed to poverty reduction as 91 per cent of the rural poor work as farmers while the sector continues to be relatively undiversified, mainly smallholder-based and characterized by rain-fed subsistence farming
f) Tourism: this industry is challenged by poor destination recognition/attractiveness; dwindling product quality; undiversified products; limited air access and reliance on tour operators; security; and environmental degradation.
g) Trade: the trading landscape is marked by declining and stagnant domestic exports and an increasing growth in imports, which has led to a 30-year continuous current account deficit (except 2003 and 2007).
h) Education: while advances have been made with regards to enrollment rates and girls’ education at the primary level, the issue of quality and relevance of the curriculum and learning materials continues to be a source of serious concern.
i) Health care: The Gambia’s strong primary healthcare (PHC), which was a model for other countries has deteriorated over the past years and is no longer able to serve the population adequately.
j) Women’s empowerment: gender equality and women’s empowerment are still major challenges in Gambian society.
k) Youth: poor and inadequate education continues to limit the youth’s productivity and the acquisition of skills. Meanwhile, insufficient access to knowledge and information (including business development services for the entrepreneurial youth) is hindering their gainful engagement.
The next major issue the plan addressed is the issue of chronic and growing poverty that has dilapidated the one-time vibrant rural Gambia. Urban migration due mainly to lack of services and access to basic facilities across rural Gambia forced inhabitants to reluctantly move to the growing congested urban areas. The plan pledge to decisively address the issue of poverty nationally with emphasis in rural poverty. The government outlined plans and or steps it claimed to have taken to address these issues through its commitment to “serious economic reforms”.
While government outlined steps below are commendable, many questions still linger on the whereabouts of the projects discussed in the outline. For instance, the 11 Million Euro project for youth employment is yet to be seen anywhere in the country. It is one thing to secure these funding and completely another for the citizens to see the real implementation of these projects. In addition, the budget support of almost $100 Million dollars D4.5 billion dalasis (EU. US, World Bank and others unnamed) should go a long way to reduce the budget deficit that the government is faced with in the next few years. The fact that the remaining budget support from other nations like China are not disclosed may raise some transparency concerns over time. It is safe to say that the NDP has more information on what the Barrow government have been doing than they articulated. these are some of the claims government lay on progress it has made.
- There is a marked reduction in domestic borrowing. This is already bringing down the prime interest rate; from 23 per cent before the elections in December 2016, to 18 per cent in June 2017.
- Government has reviewed the 2017 Budget with a view to lowering the budget deficit down. This has led to a reduction of government expenditure of about 1 per cent of GDP. The budget of the Office of the
- President has been cut by 75 per cent.
- Youth issues are receiving a priority. The first project signed by the new government is focused on youth empowerment through funding from the European Union (EU). The 11 million Euro project focuses on youth employment creation and aims to provide high quality skills training for potential youth entrepreneurs and start-ups.
- Government has also concluded budget support agreements with key development partners such as EU (D 1.25 billion), the World Bank ($ US 56 million), the African Development Bank ($ US 7 million) and others to stabilize government finances.
A critical portion of the National Plan that many people may have missed is the pledge the plan made in prioritizing it’s approach to implementing policies. Readers may recall that the government is being constantly criticized for not clearly articulating its priorities. Well, here is what the government said its priorities are: One wonders why they found it so difficult to articulate these points in numerous speeches the president and government spokesperson made.
“The vision and overall goal of the National Development Plan will be realized through eight strategic priorities, namely:
- Restoring good governance, respect for human rights, the rule of law, and empowering citizens through decentralization and local governance;
- Stabilizing our economy, stimulating growth, and transforming the economy;
- Modernizing our agriculture and fisheries for sustained economic growth, food and nutritional security and poverty reduction;
- Investing in our people through improved education and health services, and building a caring society;
- Building our infrastructure and restoring energy services to power our economy;
- Promoting an inclusive and culture-centered tourism for sustainable growth;
- Reaping the demographic dividend through an empowered youth; and
- Making the private sector the engine of growth, transformation, and job creation.
“Seven crosscutting critical enablers will complement the eight strategic priorities of the plan”:
- A public sector that is efficient and responsive to the citizenry;
- Empowering the Gambian Woman to realize her full potential;
- Enhancing the role of the Gambian Diaspora in national development;
- Promoting environmental sustainability, climate resilient communities and appropriate land use;
- Making The Gambia a Digital Nation and creating a modern information society;
- A civil society that is engaged and is a valued partner in national development
One cannot argue against the clarity of these priorities. They are succinct to the point and if followed will yield great dividends for the country and will leave a strong legacy for President Barrow and the coalition team. The supplemental enabling indicators that followed the eight points further indicates the vision and mission the government set for itself as “a country that upholds the highest standard of governance, accountability and transparency; deliver good governance and accountability, social cohesion, and national reconciliation and a revitalized and transformed economy for the well-being of all Gambians”.
How and why the Barrow government is not able to articulate these clear goals and vision is hard to comprehend. It proves that one of their biggest challenges remain communicating to the Gambian people in clear language they can understand. To be on the same page with the Gambian people and bring them along on this development plan, the government must actively engage in regular communications to the public through mass media. The media print and online are great tools for government to communicate to the people. In a country where more than 60% of the population cannot read and write, the government must find a way to communicate to the people in their natural language. Ironically the president is so fluent in these languages, but he doesn’t seem to have the confident to talk to the people regularly.
Finally, the most intriguing and probably most consequential portion of the National Plan is the section that pledged to create institutions that will strengthen good governance and democratic values. In fact these are institutions that many of us have been calling for to put Gambia on the path to a sovereign democratic state. Creating these institutions are the foundations of any viable democratic society… the government claim to engage in the creation of the following institutions.
“To this end, it will review and adopt a new constitution; amend repressive laws; strengthen the independence and autonomy of and indigenize the judiciary; leverage on ICT to improve and speed up justice delivery; and strengthen the office of the Ombudsman, Alternate Dispute Resolution Secretariat (ADRS) in aid of greater access to justice delivery. Human Rights will be improved using the transitional justice mechanism, the Truth and Reconciliation and Reparations Commission, and by establishing a National Human Rights Commission, as well as an Anti-Corruption Commission. Other measures will include strengthening the National Agency for Legal Aid (NALA), the National Agency Against Trafficking In Persons (NAATIP), the National Assembly, the Independent Electoral Commission
(IEC), and the National Council for Civic Education (NCCE). These institutions will be in a better position to execute their mandates to attain the objective of the strategic priority on the restoration of governance”.
The idea of strengthening the Office of the Ombudsman for transparency and accountability of public officials is an excellent and a breath of fresh air. Establishing a National Human Rights commission, anti-corruption commission and National Council for Civic Education are really the ground breaking transformational ideas the Gambia needs for its next phase in becoming a full fledge democracy and sovereign state. African elites and governments are infested with corruption, nepotism and excessive government inefficiency and waste. Corruption has virtually crippled the state at the expense of the little guy. African states are not as poor as they try to make people believe. While the states claim lack of resources elites often live lavish life styles beyond their means. It is estimated that corruption cost African nations over $100 billion dollars annually (AU Addis Ababa 2018) enough to make African states upper income producing nations.
For an African government to create an independent functioning anti-corruption institution in its true meaning would truly be revolutionary. One of the major challenges of African nations is lack of civic education. A nation and people cannot be sovereign without its citizenry understanding the constitution and civic duties that empowers them to exercise their ownership of power over the state. An active Human Rights Commission is another institution that should sound the bell on rights violations. However, as stated earlier, it is one thing to create these institutions but completely another to have them effectively function as independent oversight bodies. It is noted that the African Center for Human Rights was headquartered in the Gambia during the dictatorship of Yahya Jammeh. The institution never openly condemned the gross violations happening in its watch.
In any case Gambians must see this national blue print as a template to assess the Barrow government in its accomplishments. The people have a check list of promises that are outlined in the National Development Plan. Local opposition parties, Civic Society Groups and the media can hold the government accountable to these specific measures. As a result, raising the bar high for achieving these goals the Barrow government has set itself for great success or failure depending on whether it will follow through on these action items or not. We will continue to put the NDP in the spotlight. Additional analysis of the plan to be Continued…
Analysis compiled by Demba Baldeh Associate Editor. For questions and comments on this article please email editor @email@example.com