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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Trade, Industry, Regional Integration And Employment
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Information And Communication Infrastructure
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. 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. Among other things, this System is expected to include Revenue Assurance, Anti-Fraud Management, IMEI Management, Quality of Service and Mobile Money Monitoring. 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.
The Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education tabled the revised Basic and Secondary Education Bill, 2017 that was approved by Cabinet for enactment. 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.
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. 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. 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. 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. .
Energy And Petroleum Sector
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. 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. 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.
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.
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$22.5 Million.
It is in view of the acute and distressful energy crisis that all these details have been provided to reassure all Gambians of the urgency with which my Government is striving to end the power crisis permanently.
On the issue of mining, Government is investigating the activities of operators engaged in sand and heavy mineral mining.
Members are assured that Government will pursue the best interest of the Gambian people in this endeavour.
In order to address the current major environmental challenges, Government’s attention focuses squarely on reforestation and waste management, as well as coastal and marine resource management, among other interventions.
The ban on manufacturing, importation, retailing and use of plastic bags in The Gambia is in place. Key among its effect is the drastic reduction in volumes of generated and accumulated waste.
The National Environmental Agency is currently reviewing and updating the National Implementation Plan linked to the Stockholm Convention and Chemical and Pesticide Management Act, 1994. The new Bill will incorporate emerging environmental issues that were not anticipated in the Act.
It is encouraging that the country concluded a US$ 2 Million agreement from Global Environment Facility to assist in redressing some of our waste issues.
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.
Transport, Works And Infrastructure
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
The much-talked about Trans-Gambia Bridge, the Laminkoto-Passimas Road and the Sukuta – Janbanjelly Road Project are all progressing satisfactorily.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.