By Kebba AF Touray
The National Assembly member for Wulli west constituency, Hon. Sidia S. Jatta, posited that sentiments are not tools with which nations are built. He contended that nations are built through critical thinking and strategic planning. He indicated that it was such critical thinking which had motivated the revision of the 2017 budget.
The National Assembly for Wuli West said it was significant to throw light on our recent history for members to comprehend the genesis of the economic malaise of the country. He said throughout 1970 to 1985, Denton Bridge was flourishing with oil production, where groundnut was processed into oil, producing hundreds of barrels of oil a day and had employees of over 400 workers. By 1985, the debt burden of the country rose to only three billion dalasis and the president at the time said that the debt could not be paid until the evil day. He said that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank conceived an economic recovery program for The Gambia called the ERP, which he described as economic destruction program for the country. He said that before the institution of the ERP, consultation fee at the hospitals was only D5; but when ERP was implemented, it went up to D25 thereby making it impossible for a huge sector of the population to go to the hospitals for treatment because they could not afford it. He said when the ERP was instituted, a day 374 workers were laid off at the mill at Denton Bridge and subsequently others were laid off and the mill divested putting an end to oil production there.
The member for Wulli west said prior to the ERP, there was a sawmill at Nyambai Forest and when the program was instituted the mill was divested; that prior to the ERP, there was a fishing company in Banjul, when the ERP came, it was divested; that Atlantic Hotel was a public asset before ERP but that it was divested under the ERP program. He said that all the productive sectors of the economy which were generating revenue for the country were divested. “The country was economically dilapidated and could not generate revenue since the sources of generating revenue were divested.” That was the genesis of the economic problem,” he outlined.
So what they had before them (the Appropriation Bill) was a recurrent problem. ERP with all its successor programs such as the SDP could not solve the economic malaise, he added. He said the fundamental question was what were they to do with the revised budget 2017 budget to make it different from the previous one. He said it intrigued him when some members called for salary increment. He asked, “But how can one call for increase of salaries when one has a budget with a deficit?” He said the important question was how they were to inject into the budget so as to make it generate revenue, employment and thus possibilities of increasing salaries.” ”We have to have sources of generating revenue to be able to increase salaries”, Hon. Jatta hammered home. For instance, the Revised Budget makes provision for deputy ministers when there is no legal basis for it. To be in tune with the Constitution that provision has to be deleted.
He said under colonialism in 1901, The Gambia produced 90.000(Ninety thousand) tonnes of groundnuts, but today five decades after the country gained independence it can market only three thousand (3000) tonnes. And since the price offered is not attractive enough, farmers have now developed alternative outlets for their produce. They now either decorticate their nuts and sell them at the weekly markets (luumoo), or sell them to Senegalese, attracting a price of about two thousand Dalasis per bag, he noted. This is usually at the beginning of the rainy season, he stated.