Monday, March 30, 2009
Professor Alhaji Dr Yahya Jammeh, president of the Republic, GMRG and commander-in-chief of the Gambia Armed Forces, last Friday, March 27, declared the 2009 legislative year open, at a colourful ceremony held at the Assembly Chambers in Banjul.

The State Opening of the National Assembly, described as the biggest event on its calendar, provided the chief executive of the Gambian constitution the opportunity to outline his government’s development plans for the year and the achievements of his administration.

Attended by the former president of the Republic, Alhaji Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara; the vice president and secretary of state for Women’s Affairs; and other members of Cabinet; National Assembly members; members of the diplomatic and consular community; service chiefs; regional governors; district chiefs, members of the judiciary; parliamentarians from Nigeria; other top government officials  and a cross section of the Gambian community; the occasion formally opened the way for bills and motions to be presented to the National Assembly for enactment, and treaties and agreements for ratification.
In a twenty-six page cross-cutting marathon speech, President Jammeh acknowledged that 2009 is a difficult year, with prospects of global recession triggered by the current financial crisis. He called on all arms of government as well as all collaborating partners to work together in a more coordinated and efficient manner to implement the development priorities for 2009 and beyond. He also called on all Gambians and friends of The Gambia to re-dedicate themselves to achieving the vision of transforming The Gambia into a high income Silicon Valley and technology center in Africa even before the year 2020. He expressed optimism that if the same level of dedication and unity demonstrated in previous years, particularly in the 2008 food and fuel crises, are demonstrated now, The Gambia will again succeed in weathering the storm of the financial crisis.

On the state of the economy, President Jammeh pointed out that it is particularly worrying that the world is going through a deepening economic and financial crisis that has brought about difficulties and adverse effects to both developed and developing nations such as The Gambia. “In light of the crisis, the projected growth rate of our gross domestic products (GDP) in subsequent years is likely to drop from the 6.1 per cent achieved in 2008. Notwithstanding, our economic fundamentals continue to be intact and are directed at maintaining sustained levels of positive economic growth and price stability. Over the next three years (2009-2011), the rate of inflation is expected to average 5.5 per cent. Another indication of economic stability is currency stability. The exchange rate of the Dalasi, vis-a-vis other foreign currencies, whilst indicating mixed outcomes in the recent past, shows the dalasi appreciating against the CFA Franc, the British Pound and the Swedish Kroner, but depreciating against the US Dollar, the Swiss Franc and the Euro,” he said.

He assured the gathering that government, through the Central Bank, will not relent in the use of appropriate monetary instruments that will lead to the sustained stability of the Dalasi.

On Trade, Industry and Employment, the Gambian leader said his government continues to pursue the vision of making The Gambia an active trading partner with the rest of the world, and tapping its comparative advantages to become a net exporter rather than an overly dependent importer of goods and services. He reiterated the effective role of the private sector in achieving this objective which explains the untiring efforts of government to continually evolve private sector friendly policies and to create the enabling environment for the private sector to operate.

On agriculture, President Jammeh reiterated that the sector continues to be the backbone of the economy, whose potentials for food security, employment and income generation will require renewed and concerted efforts to realise in the coming years. He maintained that the government will continue to explore effective collaboration with existing and new partners, both bilateral and multi-lateral, in the implementation of programmes geared towards developing the sector. “In 2009, government would commence the implementation of an expanded rice development programme which involves the long-term exploitation of 250,000 hectares of land, with the assistance of the Taiwanese government,” he said.

Regarding fisheries, Professor Jammeh maintained that the government policy continues to be focused on ensuring the optimal development and utilisation of the fisheries and marine resources potential. He announced that in the next 18 months, the Banjul Fisheries Jetty, whose design takes into account the need to increase the landing capacity of fish tonnage, will be completed. “So too is the Brikama Fish Market, the first of its kind in the country, in addition to a similar facility in Bakoteh, to commence in a few months’ time,” he stated.

On Tourism, Arts and Culture, the Gambian leader stated that the country continues to maintain its attraction as a highly competitive tourist destination. According to him, despite the challenges facing the sector as a result of the global economic and financial crises, the sector has registered impressive developments in all forms.

On petroleum development and mining, President Jammeh stated that The Gambia continues to be on track in pursuit of petroleum exploitation and development. According to him, it is anticipated that the first drilling will commence in 2010.

In the area of mining, Professor Jammeh said the government is desirous of creating a National Mining Company, guided by its desire to nationalise the mineral sector with the view to ensure that Gambians derive maximum returns from mining.

Infrastructure and enabling environment
On roads, President Jammeh stated that during the course of 2008, a series of road maintenance works were carried out in Serrekunda, on the Banjul-Serrekunda Highway, the Denton Bridge and the Gambisara culvert, among others. He said that the National Road Authority has just signed contracts on the government’s behalf for similar maintenance works on the Essau-Kerewan, Kombo Coastal, Latrikunda-Serrekunda, Bundung Highway and Sinchu road stretches.

Seaports, he said, continue to require priority attention, and work is expected to commence this year on the Banjul Port Development Project which was successfully negotiated with the African Development Bank, to increase the container yard capacity.

In the airport transportation, he said, emphasis continues to focus on transforming the Banjul International Airport into a well connected airport within the region.

On telecommunications and e-governance strategies, President Jammeh pointed out a major development in the sector, the approval granted by cabinet to the National Information and Communication Initiative (NICI) Policy and Implementation Plan and the ICT Bill, which will be presented shortly to the National Assembly for enactment.

On energy, he noted that despite registering significant improvements in the electricity sub-sector and in the overall energy sector, the government continues to work relentlessly to ensure that the improvements are sustained and the capacity for generation, transmission and distribution is further expanded throughout the country.

On urban water, he noted that the government’s desire to increase access to clean, reliably supplied potable water is demonstrated by the ongoing improvements and expansion of the water network and infrastructure under the Greater Banjul Water Supply, the Kotu Ring Water and the Gunjur Water Supply Projects.

On housing infrastructure, President Jammeh assured the gathering that the creation of affordable housing for all Gambians continues to receive priority consideration and action by the government, adding that a number of housing projects will commence soon across the country in addition to new sites for future housing.

Social sectors
On basic and secondary education, President Jammeh stated that his government remains committed to providing good quality education in line with the recently developed and validated Education Sector Medium Term Plan 2009-2011. He said support in the sector is being further assured by the recent allocation of US$28 million to The Gambia by the Education for All Fast Track Initiative for the second round of catalytic funding support covering the period 2009-2011. “My government will also see to it that girls in the basic and secondary education levels continue to receive free education under PEGEP,”  he said.

Turning to higher education, he said with negotiations now concluded with the Kuwaiti Fund for a US$14 million loan financing, the first phase of works on the University of The Gambia campus is expected to commence in the second half of 2009.

On Health, the president said his government continues to be guided by the overall policy of bringing quality and affordable health service delivery to the doorsteps of every Gambian household as enshrined in the PRSP II and the MDGs and in a four-year Health Master Plan that has been finalised.

On Rural Water Resources supply, President Jammeh stated that in terms of the population with access to potable clean water, The Gambia has met the MDG target of 75 per cent coverage and that in 2009, government hopes to achieve greater national recognition in the water sector with special emphasis on improving water quality and the sustainability of the water system.

Cross-cutting areas
On the civil service, the Gambian leader announced that cabinet has already approved a comprehensive Civil Service Reform Strategy to look into ways of making the civil service more efficient and effective.

On local governance and decentralisation, Professor Jammeh stated that despite setbacks hindering progress in the implementation of the decentralisation programme, vital steps are being taken to accelerate the programme. He then announced that his government will review all aspects of municipal and area councils especially as relates to their size, budget, demand for social services and management of resources. According to him, arrangements are underway to divide the Kanifing Municipal Council (KMC) into two independent municipalities, Central River Region into CRR North and South, and to transfer the regional headquarters of North Bank Region from Kerewan to Farafenni. He added that sites have already been identified in both Farafenni and Kaur for offices and residences to accommodate these changes.

On youth, President Jammeh maintained that no development is sustainable without the active participation of the youths. He therefore assured the gathering that his government will continue to focus  serious attention on the plight of the youths.

On population and gender, the Gambian leader said in the area of women affairs, the government has achieved a lot by promoting gender mainstreaming and empowerment of women.

On forestry and the environment, he said a major review of the forest policy and Act is on course for the implementation of various programmes in the sector over the next ten years.

On disaster management, President Jammeh said the National Disaster Management Agency, inaugurated recently, has been established with clear authority to coordinate disaster response and risk reduction strategies.

On nutrition, he said that significant achievements have been registered by the National Nutrition Agency in the past year in the areas of maternal and child nutrition through the Baby Friendly Community Initiative (BFCI), being implemented in 293 communities across the country.

Defence, security, law and order
Here, the Gambian leader stated, mindful of the security risk associated with loose borders, government has succeeded in establishing a Biometric Visa System at the Banjul International Airport, perhaps the best of its kind in Africa and the 4th best in the world. He said that a specialised unit has also been created at the Department of Immigration to monitor the movement of migrants, particularly illegal migrants using the sea.

On defence, the Gambian leader stated that national defence and security are vital to the maintenance of peace and tranquility. To this end, he said, The Gambia’s commitment in sub-regional and international peace keeping and humanitarian support operation has been unwavering, noting that from Liberia, Cote d’Voire to Sudan, The Gambia’s gallant soldiers are being deployed and they are satisfactorily excelling in these missions.

He added that internal policing also continues to register success with the cooperation of the general public in detecting, reporting and prosecuting crimes.

On justice, President Jammeh expressed delight at the inauguration of the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Secretariat in July 2008, leading to an appreciable decongestion of cases in the courts system. He called on Gambians to relate to the ADR as a robust forum for dispute settlement. He also lamented the acute shortage of Gambian lawyers, commending the Federal Republic of Nigeria for their support.

Foreign policy
According to President Jammeh, the Gambia continues to pursue open and active foreign policy based on the principles of friendship and cooperation with all peace loving countries, the respect of territorial integrity and non-interference in the internal matters of other countries. He stated that in 2008, his government opened diplomatic missions in Venezuela, Spain and recently in India.

President Jammeh then wrapped-up by saluting Speaker Fatoumatta Jahumpa-Ceesay for her personal efforts and contribution to the promotion of transparent democratic governance and members of the cabinet through the secretary general and head of the Civil Service, for their dedication, discipline and team spirit over the years.

Shortly after the presidential address, Speaker Jahumpa-Ceesay thanked President Jammeh for yet another wonderful speech. She adjourned the session to today, Monday 30th March for members to debate on the president’s address.

Author: by Alhagie Jobe