By: Kebba AF Touray
Suwaibou Touray, the National Assembly Member (NAM) for Wuli East has tasked President Adama Barrow to clearly and specifically state which sector of the economy the money (D8.4 billion) that would be saved from the debt repayment deferral granted by the country’s creditors would be invested.
Touray said this at the national assembly while reacting to Barrow’s state of the nation address.
President Barrow, during his address, said: “We have engaged most of our external creditors for debt deferral for at least five years. Most of them granted us principal repayment deferral, which is estimated to yield four billion, eight hundred million dalasi (D4.8). The savings made will be invested in the economy to create growth.”
Reacting to the statement, Touray said: “It would be fruitful if the President informs us which sector of the economy this 4.8 billion would be invested so that we would know if it would yield dividend for the country, to prepare us to settle the principal and the interest on the loan during these 5 years.”
Touray said the President mentioned in page 5 ‘the G20 Debt Service Suspension Initiative, seeking relief and that lenders provided GMD 287.24 million for the fiscal year 2020’.
“What conditions have the IMF and World Bank committed the Gambia to access this debt relief. We all know that there are conditions for DSSI (Debt Service Suspension Initiative) and that is to increase spending in response to crisis. If you take loans to increase your spending, you should be prepared to pay it when the time comes five years later and that would be painful,” he said
Touray said a country has to commit itself to limit its non-concessional borrowing to levels agreed under IMF programs and World Bank’s non-concessional borrowing policies by disclosing all public sector financial commitments, involving debt and debt-like instruments. He said they are also informed by the President that revenue collection fell due to COVID-19, but grants have increased significantly due to budget support from the European Union.
The lawmaker said the country’s problem is that it is used to receiving loans and grants from donors to the extent that she is now totally addicted to the policy, believing that it is a system that can address Gambia’s economic growth. That belief is a fallacy as long we can only solve the short-term and not the long-term, he said.
“For the past 56 years, we are being fed with loans and grants and charity that we are now so dependent on to the extent that we cannot imagine existing or surviving without loans. But we can definitely exist without aid if we put our minds to it,” he said.
Touray also argued that tax collection of D13.4 billion, out of which 11.8 billion is non-tax revenue, is not incredible as described by the President. He said the government is relying on the private sector as the engine of growth- a sector that is expected to pay tax to meet government’s expenditures.
“This amount cannot even meet half the expectation of government. How could one call that incredible because that private sector even appears to be non-existent,” he said.
Deliberating further, Touray said they are informed by the President that the government has provided relief support of food items at a cost of 850 million dalasi to the most vulnerable in society.
He applauded the government for the gesture, but said the relief must address things in a holistic manner rather than a sectoral manner otherwise it would simply increase inequality.
Touray said there are 48.8% of Gambians that are below the poverty line and the number is growing, thus, he said if the government provided a small number of people as seen in the report, it would simply increase inequality.
On the issue of setting up a stock exchange market at the Central Bank, Touray said the initiative would make it easier for government to borrow money, but warned again that loans are meant to be paid and that the Capital Markets Bill must protect the interest of the investors to encourage them to invest in the long-term, otherwise they would shy away.
Touray joined the President to congratulate the MRC Holland Foundation for renovating 1,389 classrooms and building 2,505 toilets.
Nonetheless, he said the government could have emulated this gesture by also building more classrooms instead of leaving the terrain entirely to the NGOs. To him, it should be the NGOs who should complement the efforts of the government and not the other way round.
“But if the government leaves the field entirely, then the process would be very slow. How many classrooms did the government build,” he said.
Touray on the other hand thanked MRC Holland Foundation for building a high school, upper basic school and lower basic schools in Wuli East, a college in his region, at Basse, and hundreds of classrooms across the country. (This evoked laughter in the chambers.)
He went on to ask for the policy direction of the Government regarding higher education and education in general.
“If we want to build a productive workforce, we must prepare our education system to be more relevant for what will enhance productivity. There are countries with lower literacy rates that develop faster than others with high literacy rates. We must not neglect technical knowledge that helps us to build our industries. Our knowledge must be related to production and this has for many been lacking in this country,” he said.
Touray went further and gave an example of a canteen operator or shopkeeper who has not even sat in a classroom, but because he/she learned the numeracy, he/she uses a calculator and becomes even more effective and enterprising than those who supposedly went to university to acquire knowledge meant for the higher level. He said one can have a PHD, but because the job market is not suited to his/her knowledge, that person could become jobless or become a square peg in a round hole.
“So, we should not neglect skills development which is more relevant to our situation than education for white collar jobs that may not be readily available at the stage of our economy,” he said.
“Hon. Speaker, the President informed us that the police are engaged in infrastructural development without providing any figures of how many structures that are being built and where. Can the Interior Minister now update us on how many police stations and quarters are being built and where they are constructed because we need to see the buildings” Touray asked.
“Also, that Immigration collected D91, 980, 370 in 2020, but my question is, how much was collected from January 2021 to August 2021 because that is the year under review? He earlier suggested that the immigration expanded their operations to communities by reaching out to them instead of asking them to come to regional headquarters.”
He said if one leaves Foday Kunda to come to Basse, he/she would pay fares of about D320 including food and ferry crossing and if that person comes the second time to collect his/her ID Card, it would cost him/her D640; that if that is added to the D450 cost of the ID card, one is talking of more than D1000 for one ID card.
Touray said he was told that they are expanding ID card issuance centers and therefore collection should have increased for the year 2021 under review.
LANDS, REGIONAL GOVT’S & RELIGIOUS AFFAIRS
“At Point 5 of page 14, it is reported by the President that the Department of Community Development is working amicably with the department of Water Resources and the National Assembly, to implement the Climate Smart Rural Water Supply and Sanitation development project,” cited Touray.
He said this information requires some clarification because he wondered how the National Assembly could be involved in the implementation of a project to the extent that they are given credit.
FISHERIES, WATER RESOURCES
Touray said they are also informed by the President that the Japanese Government has pledged to construct 20 boreholes by 2021.
“Who is implementing the construction of these 20 boreholes? Is it the Water Resources and if not, who is responsible for it?”
He said this is a sector that concerns almost all members of the august body, while saying that it’s about time they hold the bull by the horns and allocate sufficient resources to the sector to ensure that everyone enjoys pipe borne water, irrespective of where one lives in the country. Otherwise, he said, they would be failing to safeguard the social and economic rights of the people.
TRADE, INDUSTRY AND EMPLOYMENT
Touray said the President stated that 18 Special Investment Certificates (SIC) have been issued in 2020, which have a combined investment portfolio of US$ 93,615, 493 million dollars and a combined employment capacity of 824 staff members.
However, he said they are not told which area of the economy these investments would be- whether they are shops, supermarkets or in the productive sector of the economy?
The lawmaker said they cannot be interested in increasing domestic and international trade and expect growth without having to increase their products to boost exports.
“The Dollar is always appreciating against the Dalasi and importers are using the Dollar to buy their goods and that is the reason why prices of basic and essential commodities are continually on the rise and will continue to be on the rise,” he said.
Touray said the President is showing grandiose projects and claiming credit such as a road here and a bridge there because he wants to be re-elected. But he said despite the rhetoric, they should all claim credit because they (NAMs) approved the allocations. He said they want to be re-elected and people are always telling them that the prices of commodities- that ‘challo’ and ‘yai boyi’ are expensive as well as cooking oil and meat, etc.
He thus called on the government to invest in the productive sector to create employment.
He added: “Despite the fact that Gambia is endowed with numerous commodities, we still remain irrelevant in terms of trade with other countries. What is the Trade Ministry doing to search for markets for our mangoes, groundnuts, cashew and what have you? What has happened to our diversification drive to ensure we are not dependent on a few commodities because as long as we continue to do that we will never be able to reduce our trade deficits.”
GENDER, CHILDREN AND SOCIAL WELFARE
“Hon. Speaker, it is my contention that if the Women’s Enterprise Fund is going to be effective, it should take a ‘step by step’ approach so that its support can be impactful on the beneficiaries since the objective is to strengthen the capacity of women to engage in micro, small and medium enterprises,” he said.
Touray then made some calculations on the figures advanced by the President in its social safety net program and said if one gives D8 million to 15,000 groups, it means each group only receives D533.00. He also argued that if you provide D8, 315,000 million to 103 women groups, each would receive 77, 000 only and he is wondering what gainful venture a group could engage in to make impact on their objectives and be able to pay principal and interest.
He said he has always argued against allocating small amounts that cannot make any meaningful impact because women would just borrow money to each other and use it to do “‘genteh’ or ‘manyootaa” (naming and marriage ceremonies) and then sell their sheep or goats to repay their loans. This would not have any sustainable solution on their lives as alluded to by the President, he said.
TRANSPORT, WORKS AND INFRASTRUCTURE
Touray asked for permission to read page 41, bullet point 1 which stated that: “Despite the COVID 19 pandemic, the transport, works and infrastructure sector registered impressive results. By the end of 2020, the Government had achieved (100%) percent completion of the (818km) Primary Road Network set in the NDP. This covers the north and south banks of the country.”
Touray said if the south and north bank roads are the primary road networks, then Lamin-koto/Passamas road is included.
Citing point2. “In addition to a paved distance of six hundred and fifty kilometres, also completed are one hundred and twenty kilometres (120km) road of the Lamin Koto/ Passamas road and the forty-eight kilometre road from Basse to Koina”. Touray asked whether Lamin Koto/ Passamas road and Basse-Koina road is also part of the 818 kms road network; that if that is the case then it should not be included in the 650 km road networks as well.”