President Barrow addresses National Assembly

By Kebba Jeffang & Muhammed S. Bah

Gambian President, Adama Barrow, on Monday July 24th 2017, addressed the National Assembly on achievements, plans and challenges of his administration particularly on areas of security, education, agriculture etc. The address was his maiden one following his election in December, 2016.

One of the key achievements according to him, is the peaceful transition that followed the elections, after his predecessor, Yahya Jammeh, rejected the elections results.

President Barrow expressed pride that his government has restored some of the key democratic institutions while the pursuit of justice remains a high priority.

“Indeed, we still have a lot to do despite the progress made so far.  Over 500 prisoners have been pardoned and we have delivered on our promise to decongest the prisons, by releasing political and other deserving reformed prisoners,” he said.

He talked about the establishment of the Criminal Case and Detention Review Panel, to enquire into all criminal proceedings against current and former public officers. According to him, the panel has uncovered cases linked to political activity and persons remanded and awaiting trial.

“We have recently and carefully concluded the work on the setting up of a Commission of Inquiry to look into the financial and business-related activities of the former President and his associates,” he said.

The 52 year old President also said the Judiciary has been ‘Gambianised’ with the appointment of a Gambian Chief Justice and six Superior Court justices.

“We also held a successful National Stakeholders’ Conference on Justice and Human Rights in May and the forum provided a unique opportunity for inclusive dialogue and consultations on key justice sector reforms, including plans for the setting up of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission,” he added.

The president thanked ECOWAS for providing ECOMIG forces to protect and defend the country’s security and said government is working on reforming the security sector which is closely linked to the delivery of justice and the restoration of free and fair democracy.

“The Gambian Armed Forces are now confined to their military barracks. Members of the former State Guard Battalion have been redeployed to other units, and the armed forces are now disengaged from civilian matters. It is also important to note that arms and ammunitions have been stored in safe locations,” assured the president.

He however applauded GAF members for been receptive to the normalisation of their roles in the state and for conducting themselves with maximum professionalism. He said the former National Intelligence Agency, now the State Intelligence Service, has been restructured to focus on its core activity of intelligence gathering and analysis to ensure the safety and security of the state.

Meanwhile, in the area of information and communications, the President said they have taken concrete steps to review oppressive media laws, to ensure freedom of the press and freedom of expression. He said his government sees the importance of the media which was why they reopened three private radio stations, that were illegally shut down.

“In one of my recent cabinet meetings, we agreed, as an immediate priority, on the need to put in place a communications strategy that will facilitate regular communication and engagements with the public,” he said.

The president has also expressed concern on the energy sector and expressed commitment to resolving power supply issues across the nation. “Electricity is power. The power to support education and learning, the power to run life-saving health facilities, and the power for businesses to create jobs and grow the economy,” he said.

He informed the assembly that government has recently signed an agreement for a new 60-megawatt power plant, which will more than double the current generation capacity in the country. “It will deliver adequate and stable electricity supply in the whole of the Greater Banjul Area. I am also happy to report that the proposal to acquire electricity from our sister Republic of Senegal, is well advanced,” he said.

On the issue of finance, President Barrow indicated thatgovernment has inherited a virtually empty treasury and domestic and foreign debts at an all-time high. “The foreign reserve at the Central Bank was less than one month of import cover, and the economic and governance situation had become so bad that our international development partners had deserted us,” he said.

He however said in January 2017, his government developed the Accelerated National Response Plan which seeks technical and financial support from development partners to help mitigate the economic and fiscal crisis in the short-term.

On the issue of agriculture, he said the Ministry of Agriculture has begun a programme to support farmers and farming businesses to improve seed input, modernise cropping and ploughing techniques, and enhance planning in the face of climate change and other hazards to agriculture.

“Already, vegetable seeds have been distributed to 11,200 farmers as well as 22,500 kilogrammes of rice seeds to intensify rice production.  High quality fertilizer and groundnut seeds have also been made available to farmers at subsidised prices,” the president said.

On health, the president informed thatgovernment has obtained additional assets to support primary health care provision in the country, including 800 pedal bicycles and 29 motorbikes for Village Health Workers and Community Health Nurses across the country’s seven health regions. “I am pleased to report that the World Bank has approved US$7 million in additional funding for the Maternal and Child Health sectors as well as the Nutrition Result Project. My government has also submitted a proposal to the EU to enhance food security.  We would welcome their support to help us treat acute malnutrition and prevent all forms of under-nutrition,” he said.

He said they are also getting support from the Global Alliance for Vaccine Initiative (GAVI) to help consolidate the strong track record on child immunisations.

According to him, this project is estimated at US$4.6 million, and will help strengthen and enhance theimmunisation systems.

Meanwhile, on education at the level of basic and secondary, President Barrow said they have reached an agreement with development partners for over US$50 million worth of investment to expand and improve education for the next generation.

“With the help of the Kuwaiti Fund, we are upgrading 39 upper basic and senior secondary schools. This will see the building of additional classrooms, the rehabilitation of existing ones, as well as information technology and solar power solutions. We will install new furniture and educational facilities in our schools, including science laboratories, and there will be a new teaching curriculum,” Barrow said.

On the area of administration and civil service, President Barrow said his government has inherited a highly politicised regional administrative system that was presided over by governors who owed allegiance to the APRC.

“To improve governance and stop wasting resources, my government appointed five new governors, whose terms of reference clearly exclude them from engaging in partisan politics,” he said.

He added that government has established a panel to review the wrongful dismissal of civil servants and other government officials between September 1997 and December 2016.

According to him, the panel has cleared over 100 employees, allowing them to be reinstated.  He said the civil service has expanded rapidly by over 40 percent since 2007. Consequently, he said almost half of the government budget is spent on civil service wages and benefits.

“My government has tasked the Personnel Management Office to conduct a comprehensive nationwide staff audit for the entire civil service with the objective of identification and elimination of ghost workers, the recovery of wrongful salaries and the updating of personnel records.

Among other issues as priority focus of his government include the sectors of youth, fisheries, environment and climate change, water etc.

For detail on this report, see tomorrow’s edition for the full statement of the president.