President lays Foundation Stone for $50 million International Conference Centre

By Kebba Jeffang

President giving statement at the foundation stone laying ceremony in Bijilo

President Adama Barrow has laid the foundation stone to mark the official commencement of the construction of the Chinese funded International Conference Center (ICC), in Bijilo, on September 14th 2017. The cost of the project is 5o million US dollars. The construction will last for two years according to the contractors.

During his statement at the site, President Barrow harped on the bond of friendship and cooperation between The Gambia and the People’s Republic of China (PRC); that this is not only growing stronger within the framework of South -South cooperation, but it is a strategic partnership based on mutual respect and common interest. He said the support of the People’s Republic of China is evident in various sectors of our national economy such as agriculture, health, education and energy just to name a few.

“The construction of the Center comes at the right time, to showcase the new Gambia, as a viable and peaceful destination and as a place of democracy, good governance, rule of law and freedom of speech”.

The president said the country is looking forward to hosting the next summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in 2019 and expressed the hope that the conference Centre will be ready in time to host the event.

“The Gambia is committed to provide a conducive environment for our Chinese guests, to operate with adequate safety and security. We will waive taxes and duties and accord priority to ensure that the construction works go unhindered,” he concluded.

The Chinese Ambassador to the Gambia, Zhang Zeming, said The Gambia International Conference Center is the very first major bilateral cooperation project between China and The Gambia since the resumption of diplomatic ties; that it is so far the biggest grant project in terms of finance in the history of bilateral relations between the two nations.

“The ICC Project demonstrates China’s resolve to closely combine its own development with assisting the development of The Gambia and Africa as a whole, so as to realize a win-win cooperation for common development,” he said.

The Chinese ambassador said the prompt decision and launch of the ICC project demonstrates clearly the firm commitment of the Government of the People’s Republic of China to a strong relationship with The Gambia.

Chinese officials at the ceremony

Mr. Bai Lamin Jobe, Minister for Transport, Works and Infrastructure, said his Ministry is finalizing the National Public Buildings and Facilities Policy to address the provisions and maintenance of public buildings and facilities in the country. He said they have already finished the inventory on all government buildings including offices, social buildings and residences.

“As for this center, it is going to be a land mark building with a footprint of about seven hectares including a vehicle parking area, all within a total allocated property area of about thirteen hectares. The building will have a conference hall which will have a capacity of 1021 persons. It will have four thematic rooms, each of two hundred persons’ capacity. It will have fourteen bilateral meeting rooms, four press rooms, banquet halls and offices.

He said the center is a grant from the People’s Republic of China, worth about fifty million dollars. He said the construction has started on the 30thAugust 2017 and is expected to be completed by the 30th of August 2019; that the contractor is China Jiangsu Provincial Construction Company Ltd. and the project management team will comprise China South-West Architectural Institute Corporation and the Ministry of Transport, Works and Infrastructure.

“According to our agreements and given the intricacies of the size of the complex, a team from China will remain on site up to a period of three years to work with us and to train the facility management team, to be in charged of operations and up-keep of the complex,” he said.

He said there will be a continuous replanting of trees in the area to enhance the flora and fauna of the site.

Mr. Ousainou Darboe, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, International Corporation and Gambians Abroad, said the aid has been given to the Gambia through the cordial diplomatic ties between the two countries which he said, was in place since 1974. He said although the ties had been severed in 1994 by the previous regime, both countries reinstated them 2016.

“Strong and stable diplomatic relations with our partners will inevitably bring about economic growth and development for the Gambia and it is very important for the government under the leadership of His Excellency President Adama Barrow, that we are not only here to renew and strengthen all diplomatic ties but also to serve in office for those that elected us,” he said.

He said his Chinese counterpart told him that China’s diplomatic ties with the Gambia has no connection with politics but is aimed at Gambia’s development. He recalled China’s previous interventions in building the court house, the Independence stadium and police stations as well as its recent effort to cancel out unpaid debts.

Yu Ziyong, the Director General of the Ministry of Commerce, People’s Republic of China, said the International Conference Center will not only help the country to promote tourism, but also banquets, accommodation, catering and businesses. He said his department is responsible for implementing and supervising China’s foreign aid projects.