By Momodou Jarju
The national assembly has on Friday approved two financing agreements between the Government of The Gambia and its development partners with amendment.
Lawmakers ratified the financing agreement between the Government of the Gambia and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) for the Resilience of Organizations for Transformational Fund for Agriculture Project (ROOTS), amounting to USD 21,275,000.00 (Twenty-one million, two hundred and seventy-five thousand United States Dollars) as opposed to USD 47,770,000.00 (Forty-seven million, seven hundred and seventy thousand United States Dollars) which was brought before the lawmakers.
The remaining amount to add up to over 47 million dollars is, according to the Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs, a grant component which was not included in the document circulated to lawmakers. Minister Njie said as far as he knows, they have never taken grants to the national assembly for ratification.
This was said to be wrong by the speaker of the assembly Hon. Jack-Denton as well as Serrekunda lawmaker Halifa Sallah. Njie then said they would bring the grants to the assembly for ratification thereafter.
“Grants are equality agreements between the Government and international partners,” Madam Jack-Denton said.
Nonetheless, Minister Njie revealed that the total loan of the IFAD financing agreement which was ratified by the national assembly is over four million dollars ($4,255,000.00) whereas the grant amount is over seventeen million dollars ($17,020,000).
The grant element is 89.64%, while the service charged is 1.46%, interest on overdue sums 2%, with a grace period of 10 years, and tenure of 40 years.
Equally, the lawmakers have ratified the financing agreements between the Government of the Gambia and the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB), and the Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa (BADEA) for the Regional Rice Value Chain Development Program amounting to USD 17,300,000.00 (Seventeen million, three hundred thousand United States Dollars) respectively.
Tabling the motion, Minister Njie said ROOTS project aims to contribute to the development and improvement of food security and nutrition in The Gambia which is in line with the blueprint of the 2018 to 2021 National Development Plan. He said the project is also aimed at creating resilience of family farms and farm organisations to climate change and support the provision of financial services to farmers.
“It will allow farmer cooperatives to enter into sustainable commercial partnership with input dealers and facilitate the production of variety of rice to create sufficient and adequate supply of rice within the country,” he said.
Speaking further, Minister Njie said the project will as well focus on creating accessible markets, improving the participation of women and rural youth in farming activities by establishing and strengthening 40 women “Kafos,” six new cooperative societies and 240 youth-led small businesses and also train female entrepreneurs in vegetables, rice production, records keeping and business management to enable them operate their businesses in a sustainable manner.
ROOTS will be implemented within five regions across the country, including Central River Region, North Bank Region, Lower River Region, West Coast Region, and Upper River Region.
“It will focus primarily on smallholders’ micro entrepreneurs and poor rural youth and women. The project will tend to involve people with disabilities in the most appropriate segment of the selected value chain as they make up more than 10% of the Gambian population,” Minister Njie indicated.
Meanwhile, the over 12 hours session produced several interventions with almost all members consenting that the documents were comprehensive and the projects’ objectives sound and good, however, many of them raised their concerns on the management and implementation of the projects, plus the timing proffered for ratification.
These lawmakers argued that many projects have been brought into the country, but their success stories leave much to be desired.
Banjul North lawmaker, Hon. Ousman Sillah said the time given to them to go through the documents is short and as such, his conscience does not permit him to support the agreement.
He argued that time was needed for them to do the necessary consultation and research to either support the project in its totality or support and make some suggestions for amendments.
Sillah said he fully supports the objectives which aim to uplift farmers, women, and youth but the management of these projects is a real challenge, adding that in terms of investments, the beneficiaries of the projects get less than half of the amount.
“So these are issues that we can engage the executive to adjust, so that ultimately if we are contracting loans, if we are receiving grants the ultimate beneficiaries get the lion’s share. But that is not always the case,” he said.
Serrekunda lawmaker Hon. Sallah said as lawmakers they are charged with the responsibility to execute any matter before them on the basis of conscience and the national interests.
Sallah reminded the lawmakers of section 75 of the constitution which states that whatever agreement they enter into should not be derogatory to the sovereignty of the country and should promote the national interests.
“We must look at the context of the agreements that are before us. And I would agree with the member for Banjul North that the documents are provided to us, but we do not have the time to take all the information that we are given so that we can discharge our responsibility with the maturity that the constitution dictates. Honorable speaker it is not enough just to consider an agreement, appropriate it and then approve it. We are here to inform our citizenry for them to know what we agreeing to and what would be achieved by agreeing to it. That is what is going to make it possible to have the social audit because we (ourselves) must be accountable. And without the population knowing what we supported, they cannot hold us accountable,” he said.
Hon. Sallah further said they should not block any process of development, adding that people should stop saying pro-development and against-development because they (members of the national assembly) are there to help Gambians understand what the executive is doing.
Sallah then moved a motion for the sitting to be adjourned which was seconded. The Speaker asked those in support of the motion to say ‘Aye’ and those who opposed it to say ‘Nay’. There was no counting of votes and from what the speaker heard those who said ‘Nay’ constituted the majority. The sitting thus continued.
Hon. Sidia Jatta, Wuli West lawmaker indicated that there were two schools of thought on the financing agreements, the first school wanting the agreements to be approved just like that, while the second school wanted time to thoroughly scrutinize the agreements.
He said projects are not meant to die but to last and serve, saying all the projects that the country has had since independence have died after they phased out.
Brikama North lawmaker, Alagie S. Darboe, said they have to take a more rational approach because clearly, none of the members had time to go through the documents.
He said he cannot rely on the summary brought forth by the agriculture ministry but he can rely on the submission of the agriculture select committee of the national assembly whose work, he argued, wasn’t complete.
“The ministry simply summarized what is believed to be the agreement. But should they only rely on that, they should go beyond that and do their own findings,” he said.
Minority leader, Hon. Samba Jallow, urged members to approve the project to help the farmers. He said after the project is approved, it is then their mandate as members of parliament to hold the executive accountable through their oversight function.
Hon. Fatoumatta Jawara, Tallinding lawmaker as well as Hon. Saikou Marong, Latrikunda Sabiji lawmaker fully supported the agreements.
Hon. Marong said he does not care whether the project is a loan or grant or even 100% loan, as far as it is going to address the plight of farmers, women and youth, he is fine with it.
Sandu lawmaker, Muhammed Mahanera, also gave his full support, saying the elements in the agreement is something farmers need.
Several other members made similar remarks, some totally agreeing with the agreements, while many others wanted more time to properly scrutinize the agreements.