Presidential state opening address

Monday, March 30, 2009
Madam Speaker,
It is with joy that  I once again address this august assembly on the occasion of the State opening of the National Assembly for the 2009 legislative year. One year has passed since the last address, and for this, we cannot but give thanks and praises to Allah Subhana Wattallah for preserving our lives to again witness this important State Opening of the National Assembly. We must also be grateful to Allah for the continued gift of peace and stability in this country, and for the prosperity achieved in our development effort despite the serious constraints and challenges.

Madam Speaker,
Before I proceed, I would like to also take this opportunity to extend profound gratitude to you and the Honourable Members of the National Assembly for your efforts and contribution to the promotion of transparent democratic governance. The Question and Answer sessions conducted by the Assembly, and the continuous committee as well general meetings and debates have helped immensely in the scrutiny of issues as they relate to, or affect the manner and speed with which Government conducts its business.

I also wish to commend Her Excellency the Vice President, and all the Secretaries of State and their Permanent Secretaries under the leadership of the Secretary General and Head of the Civil Service, for the dedication, discipline, and team spirit that has enabled us to achieve positive and progressive developments in 2008. It is my hope that the same momentum, with renewed vigour, would be manifested by all of us as we brace up for the developmental challenges of 2009 and beyond.

Madam Speaker,
1) On the State of the Economy,
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 the developed and developing nations such as The Gambia. In light of the crisis, the projected growth rate of our gross domestic product (GDP) in subsequent years is likely to drop from the 6.1% achieved in 2008.

Notwithstanding this, our economic fundamentals continue to be intact and are directed at maintaining sustained levels of positive economic growth and price stability. Over the next years (2009-2011), the rate of inflation is expected to average 5.5%. Another indication of economic stability is currency stability. The exchange rate of Dalasi vis-à-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. Government, through the Central Bank will not relent in the use of appropriate monetary instruments that would lead to the sustained stability of the Dalasi.

Furthermore, with the recent influx of new Banks and the general increase in the salaries of civil servants, consumer spending would be boosted. A vibrant financial sector will not cushion and dampen the negative effects of the global financial crisis, but also prepare the economy for sustained growth and development. I therefore enjoin all commercial banks to provide better and more favourable banking service so as to positively influence investments in the real sector. In addition, my Government is at an advanced stage of consultation with the donor agencies, including the World Bank Group and the African Development Bank (ADB) for the introduction of common Budget support. This is an added opportunity indeed to place the economy on a solid path to resist the shocks from the crisis as well as stimulate the growth enhancing sectors of Trade and Industry, Agriculture, Fisheries, and Tourism in line with PRSP-II, the MDGs and Vision 2020.

An assessment of progress on the PRSP and MDGs carried out by the National Planning Commission indicates that there is some progress, although more effort is needed to stimulate the income related poverty targets. In the countdown to the 2015 deadline for the MDGs, I can only but emphasize the need to tighten our belts to do more in coordinating resource aid mobilisation and national planning processes under the Planning Commission, the apex body responsible for national planning stewardship.  

Trade, Industry and Employment
In the area of Trade, my government continues to pursue the vision of making The Gambia an active trading partner with the rest of the world, and tapping our comparative advantages to become a net exporter rather than an overly dependent importer of goods and services.

The role of the private sector in achieving this objective cannot be over-emphasized, which explains the untiring effort of Government to continually evolve private sector friendly policies and the enabling environment. The National Trade Policy, which is being reviewed and nearing finalisation, the Competition Policy and Law, whose implementation has started in October 2008, and the launch of the West Africa Quality Programme in The Gambia are examples of the sorts of trade enhancing private sector led policies and programmes in advancing the trade sector, and expanding the country’s industrial development and widen employment opportunities.

Madam Speaker,
Agriculture continues to be the backbone of the economy, whose full potentials for food security, exports, employment and income general would require renewed and concerted effort to realise in this and coming years.

Government would continue to explore effective collaboration with existing and new partners, both bilateral and multi-lateral, in the implementation of programmes towards developing the sector. Special attention would continue to be given to the timely provision of fertilizers, as well we the development of the agricultural infrastructure in the areas of water management technologies, and related systems.

In 20-09, Government would commence the implementation of an expanded rice development, with the assistance of the Taiwanese Government. The programme involves the long-term exploitation of 250,000-hectares of land.

Efforts would also be concretised in support of the sustainable development of our livestock and horticultural sectors. To support the vision for the sector, Government has decided to restructure DOSA which is already underway.

The process takes into account the need to effectively decentralise services across the country. To this end, 6 decentralise Regional Agricultural Directorates and specialized technical services units are being created to be supported by a Central Coordinating Unit at DOSA.

Madam Speaker,
Government’s policy continues to be focused on ensuring the optimal development and utilisation of our fisheries and marine resource potentials.
In the next 18 months, the Banjul Fisheries Jetty, whose design takes into account the need to increase the landing capacity of fish tonnage, would be completed. So too is the new Brikama Fish Market, the first of its kind in The Gambia in addition to a similar facility in Bakoteh to commence in a few months’ time.

Government would also in 2009, commence implementation of an expanded aquaculture programme to promote aquaculture research and the gradual exploitation of other avenues besides the river Gambia to harness fish.  Efforts to also increase monitoring and surveillance of our territorial waters for the detection of illegal fishing and poaching, would be scaled up for fish, like any other resource, face depletion with time unless appropriate measures are taken.

Tourism art and culture
Madam Speaker,
The Gambia continues to maintain its attraction as a highly competitive tourist destination.  Despite the challenges facing the sector as a result of the global economic and financial crisis, the sector has registered impressive developments in all fronts.

Efforts would continue to be directed not only at enhancing and consolidating the traditional source markets but also penetrating new markets in Central and Eastern Europe. Efforts would also continue to attract highly superior hotels and eco tourism facilities, as well as top-end tourists and visitors.  In the course of 2009, work will start on the transformation of the hotel school into a world class Tourism and Hospitality Development Institute as a regional centre of excellence.

Given the inextricable link between tourism, art and culture, government with the collaboration of stakeholders, will continue to support artistes both in the performing and creative domains. This will include the creation of a copyright bureau that will secure intellectual property rights over the works of artistes. Resources will also be mobilised in the course of the year for the construction of a multi-purpose cultural centre which will house a national theatre complex.

Petroleum development & mining
Madam Speaker
We continue to be on track in pursuit of petroleum exploration and development. It is anticipated that the first test drilling would commence in 2010. The drilling has been deferred from 2009 as previously intended due mainly to the problem of securing a drilling rig on the time for the program. Interests in the other blocks are being expressed, and negotiations are on-going for the issuance of licenses and the development of work programmes and budgets. In the downstream petroleum sector, The Gambia National Petroleum Company would this year build its first service station for petroleum products.

In the area of mining, Madam Speaker, government is desirous of creating a national mining company. The setting up of this company is guided by the desire of my government to nationalise the minerals sectors with the view to ensure that Gambians more than anyone else derive maximal returns from mining.

Infrastructure & the enabling environment
The necessity for quality and expanded road and road servicing for the socio-economic development of The Gambia need not be over-emphasised, which explains why the road sector has been, and continues to be given the due and serious attention of government.

During the course of 2008, series of road maintenance works have been carried out in Serrekunda, on the Banjul-Serrekunda highway, the Denton Bridge, and the Gambissara culvert amongst others. The National Roads Authority has just signed contracts on government’s behalf for similar maintenance works on the Essau-Kerewan, Kombo Coastal, Latrikunda-Serrekunda, Bundung highway and Sinchu road stretches.  Tenders for the rehabilitation of both carriages of the Banjul-Serrekunda highway have been launched.

Work on the Barra-Amdalaye; Mandinaba- Soma; Mandinaba-Seleti; Trans-Gambia-Soma- Basse; and Westfield-Sukuta road projects are progressing steadily, although it must be lamented that preliminary delays have regrettably been encountered which are now being addressed to ensure the timely completion of the projects.

The seaport and the airport also constitute priority attention. Work is expected to commence this year on the Banjul Port Development project which was successfully negotiated with the African Development Bank.  This project, when completed, would increase the container yard capacity at the port as a response to projected increase in vessel traffic. Other aspects of the project include works on the Half-Die area, container terminals, the jetty, dredging of the access channel and procurement of a new tug boat.

In the area of air transportation, emphasis continues to focus on transforming the Banjul International Airport into a well connected airport within the region. Already, bilateral air service agreements have been signed with several countries in furtherance of this vision.  Phase two of the Banjul International Airport Improvement Project is expected to be launched this year for the execution of vital infrastructural upgrading of the facilities at the airport, including the apron, the passenger terminal and navigation equipment.

Telecommunications and E- Government strategies
It is obvious that one of the fastest growing sectors of the economy is telecommunications. A major development in the sector is the approval granted by cabinet to the National Information and Communication Initiative (NIC) Policy and implementation plan, and the ICT  Bill which would be presented shortly to this August Assembly for enactment.

Through the policy and programmes that are being actively pursued in support of ICT development in The Gambia, government would foster growth of the sector in meeting the expectations and standards of both ICT consumers and operators. Plans in the ICT sector include notably the Pan-African Network. This network will for the first time, introduce and expose us to the use of teleconferencing, e-learning and e-health facilities in administering quality health and educational services. The installation works at the three sites identified for the purpose have been completed, and it is expected that the network would be fully operational soon.

Although we have registered significant improvements in the electricity sub-sector and in the overall energy sector, government continues to work relentlessly to ensure that the improvement are sustained, and the capacity for generation, transmission and distribution further expanded throughout the country. Government would also continue to pursue renewable energy opportunities as alternatives to the conventional oil-dependent energy sources. A Renewable Energy Bill, with sufficient legal and regularly provisions for the sector is being developed. A petroleum products bill is also being developed to cater for the needs of downstream petroleum activities.

As work on the G9 progresses at an advanced stage, new projects in electricity include the installation and commissioning of two additional generating sets for the Kotu and Brikama power plants. These sets will allow for the electrification of the entire Western Region from Kartong to Kalagi.

The Greater Banjul Street Lighting project, which is already underway, is expected to be completed by July this year. This project will provide street lighting for the Banjul-Serrekunda Highway from Arch 22 all the way to the West Field Junction, in addition to selected streets within Serrekunda, Bundung, Kanifing, and Bakau. The project will also cover streets leading to the hotel areas in Fajara and Cape Point.

Urban water
Government’s desire to increase access to clean, reliably supplied potable water is demonstrated by on-going improvements and expansion of the water network and infrastructure under the Greater Banjul Water Supply Project, the Kotu Ring Water Project, and the Gunjur Water Supply Project.

Housing Infrastructure
The creation of affordable housing to all Gambians, continues to receive priority consideration and action by Government. A number of housing projects will commence soon across the country in addition to new sites for future housing. Government’s pursuance of accelerated housing schemes constitutes a response to the city-state vision of transforming The Gambia by Year 2020.

iii) Social Sectors.
Basic and Secondary Education
Madam Speaker, in the area of Basic and Secondary Education, my Government remains committed to providing good quality education in line with the recently developed and validated Education Sector Medium Term Plan 2009 – 2011. Under the Plan, pillars have been developed to address the issues of access; quality; teacher education training, development and utlization, and sector management.

Priority is also given to areas such as school intake rates, staff quarters, Early Childhood Education (ECD), ICT education, Open and distance Leaning (ODL) strategies and educational broadcasting, adult and non-formal education, out-of-school youth, special needs education, HIV/AIDS prevention and gender violence related life skills education, tolerance, patriotism, and the environment. 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 a second round of catalytic funding support covering the period 2009-2011.

My government will see to it that girls in the basic and secondary education levels continue to receive free education, under PEGEP. It is important to mention here that PEGEP is involving in its outreach by providing scholarship for needy students in local as well as overseas tertiary institutions.

Higher Education
Government’s continuous emphasis on the promotion of higher education is being captured not only through policy development but also through the award of scholarships and placement of Gambians in reputable higher institutions of learning within The Gambia and across the globe. This drive will continue without fail, for education is a key factor to achieving sustainable development and prosperity.

Madam Speaker,
With negotiations now included with Kuwaiti Fund a US$14 million loan financing, the first phase of works of the University campus is expected to commence in the second half of 2009. I wish to reassure you all that the Campus is a top priority given the space constraints and inadequacy of facilities for students and lectures at the current site in Kanifing.

The civil works at the Kanilai Academy for Science & Technology is continuing. The first phase consisting of classrooms, auditorium, and administrative buildings has been completed. Work on the design of the student dormitories and staff housing is underway.

Health Sector
Madam Speaker,
Turning to the Health Sector, we continue to be guided by the overall policy of bringing quality, and affordable health service to the doorsteps of every Gambian household as enshrined in the PRSP II and MDGs and in a four-year Health Master Plan that has been finalized.

The fight against diseases such as Malaria, Tuberculosis, Leprosy, and Poliomyelitis continues to be intensified and with assistance under the Global Fund, coupled with the on-going indoor spraying of mosquitoes in reducing the incidence of Malaria, we are gradually improving the detection, treatment, cure and elimination rates for diseases in general.

Rural Water Resources Supply
 I am happy to inform this august Assembly that in terms of the populations with access potable water, The Gambia has met the MDG target of 75% coverage. In 2009 and beyond, my Government hopes to achieve greater national recognition in the water sector with special emphasis on improving water quality and the sustainability of water systems. With on-going project notably including the Saudi and EC-funded Rural Water Supply and Support System Projects, the Regional Solar Programme Phase II, the IDB supported project, and those by UNICEF and OMVG, we are on track to achieving our water goals.

iv) Cross-Cutting Areas
Civil Service
Madam Speaker,
In order to support and sustain all these developments as outlined, my Government recognizes the need and urgency to accelerate the pace of reforming the civil service. I am pleased to inform the Assembly that Cabinet has already approved a comprehensive Civil Service Reform Strategy to look into ways of making the Civil Service efficient and effective. As part of the Reform agenda, we have this year approved and are implementing a special allowance package for civil servants. Plans are underway also to further provide personnel training and strengthen the capacity of MDI.

Local Governance and Decentralisation
Despite set backs hindering progress in the implementation of the decentralisation programme, vital steps are being taken to accelerate the programme. The over-riding objective of the programme is to enhance local participation through empowerment and devolution of central-level programs to the responsibility of the Regions and Local government.

My Government will review all aspects of Municipal and Area Councils especially as they relate to their size, budget, demand for social services and management of resources. The importance of this review is to further prepare the Councils for the ardent responsibilities associated with decentralisation. Arrangements are well underway to divide the Kanifing Municipal Council (KMC) into two independent Municipalities and the Central River Region (CRR) into CRR-North and CRR-South. Similarly, the regional Headquarters of North Bank Region will be transferred from Kerewan to Farafenni. Already sites have been identified in both Farafenni and Kaur for offices and residence to accommodate these changes, and in the course of the year, Government will present the relevant amendments to the Local Government Act 2002 for the consideration of the National Assembly.

Madam Speaker, the State Lands Act 1991 has been amended in 2008 to respond to the problems of land and housing in the Greater Banjul Area and the immediate environs caused by increased urbanization. The Rent Decree (DECREE 67) of 1996 is being subject to review and would be laid before this august Assembly during the course of the year. The review is necessary in the light of growing concerns about skyrocketing rents imposed by greedy and unscrupulous landlords that the average Gambian cannot afford.

Madam Speaker,
No development is sustainable without the active participation of Youth. For The Gambia, youth form the majority of the population, and as such therefore, my Government would continue to attach serious attention to the plight of youths. We will, in partnership with all the stakeholders, pursue programmes at central and decentralised levels to help youths acquire, enhance and employ their skills and talents in the area of sports, art, enterpreneurship and leadership. The recently concluded 8th National Youth Conference and Festival (NAYCONF) has come up with important resolutions that already provide the framework for understanding and dealing with the immediate, medium and long term needs of the youth sector.

Population & Gender
Madam Speaker,
Madam Speaker, in the area of Women’s Affairs, my Government has achieved a lot by way of promoting gender mainstreaming and the empowerment of women. To further demonstrate our resolve in gender advancement, which covers aspects of the rights and freedom of women, Government has come up with Women’s Bill that would be laid later this year before this Assembly for enactment.

Forestry & the Environment
In line with the PRSP and the Medium Term Plan developed for the judicious utilisation and development of our forest resources, 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. So too are efforts to strengthen the management of the forest, under the Community Forestry agenda that emphasizes community participation in the management of forests. At the end of 2008, a total of 235 village communities have been fully empowerment for forest resources management and utilization.

Similar collaborative ventures would be consolidated in the area of national Parks and Wildlife Management, and the environment whose cleanliness is now being full assisted by the Anti-Litter Regulations that are in place.

Disaster Management
The National Disaster Management Agency which I inaugurated recently has been established with clear authority to coordinate disaster response and risk reduction strategies. It is fitting at this junction to emphasize that disaster knows no bounds, and as such therefore, it is our collective responsibility to contribute to the prevention of disasters.

Madam Speaker, 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. Through the initiative, some of our rural communities have registered up to 80% Breast Feeding rates. Alongside, this is the fact that 83% of all children aged one to five years have been de-wormed and an 86% success rate has been registered in the vitamin A supplementation campaign during 2008. In salt iodination, thanks to the support of WFP and UNICEF, The Gambia is likely to meet the Universal Salt Laudation (USI) target of 90% of all households.

v) Defence, Security, Law and Order
Madam Speaker,
Mindful of the security risk associated with loose borders, Government has succeeded in establishing a Biometric Visa System at the Banjul International Airport, the system is perhaps the best of its kind in Africa and the 4th best in the World. A specialised Unit has also been created at the Department of Immigration to monitor migrant movement, particularly illegal migrants using the sea. Over the recent past, the practice his greatly reduced.

National defence and security are vital to the maintenance of peace and tranquillity, and therefore vital ingredients in any meaningful development.

The Gambia’s commitment in sub-regional and international peace keeping and humanitarian support operations has been unwavering, and the spirit would continue. From Liberia, Cote d’Ivorie and Sudan (DARFUR), our gallant soldiers are being deployed and satisfactorily excelling in these mission.

The Police
Internal policing also continues to register successes, with the cooperation of the general public in detecting, reporting, and prosecuting crime. I wish to urge that it is the duty of every Gambian to help in crime prevention and reporting for the good of all. This year, plans are that new police stations would be opened in six locations. Plans are also underway this year to transform the Police Training School to a fully fledged  Police academy

Drug Enforcement
Madam Speaker,
Other areas that would continue to receive support include drug enforcement not only to curb trafficking in illegal drugs, but also eliminating drug abuse to make The Gambia a drug free and safe country to live in.

In so far as the dispensation of justice is concerned, I am happy that with the inauguration of the Alternative Dispute Resolution Secretariat (ADR) in July 2008, there is a gradual but appreciable decongestion of cases in the Courts System. I commend the system and wish to urge all Gambians to relate to the ADR as a robust forum for dispute settlement. Our justice system continues to be affected seriously by the acute shortage of Gambian lawyers. With the help of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, support has been received in the form of trained lawyers assigned to the legal sector to help alleviate the acute shortage of Lawyers.

The Legal Aid Bill was enacted into law in 2008. Government sought support from the DFID, under Legal Capacity Building Project Phase II for the purchase of Law Books to equip the Law Libraries in the Attorney General’s Chambers and the University of The Gambia. With the aid of funding from the UNDP, the Law Library at the Attorney General’s Chambers was upgraded and refurbished in 2008. The revision of the entire collection of the Laws of The Gambia is currently being implemented through an international constancy firm.

With effect from 1st January 2009, Government has introduced a new attractive salary structure for Superior Court Judges as part of its indigenization policy of attracting and retaining Gambians on the bench. Consequently in line with the said policy, the number of Gambians appointed as Judges during the past year has increased by over fifty-five percents. With the newly created Law Department in the University of The Gambia, it is expected that both the current shortage of Lawyers at the Justice Department as well as the indigenisation program would be addressed.

Rules of procedure have been designed for the Cadi Muslim Court to ensure adherence to due process of law in accordance with Sharia Law.
After three years of dormancy, the Supreme Court has held three successful thereby enhancing accesses to justice. Infrastructural facilities are also being upgraded and rehabilitate in Basse as well as Bundung Brikama and Mansokonko.

In the coming year, Madam Speaker,
a Criminal Court will be setup within the Criminal Division of the High Court for the hearing of capital and serious criminal offences to expedite criminal proceedings. A Cadi Muslim Court is being established in  Brikama to serve the Western Region as part of decentralization efforts. Permanent children’s court will also be established.

Six new Bill namely the Magistrate’s Court Bill, the Cadi Court Bill, the Cadi Appeals Panel Bill, the District Tribunal Bill, the Judges’ Supplementary Code (of conduct for judge) Bill, and the Judicial Service Bill would be brought for legislation this year. All these demonstrate my Government’s commitment to see to the early dispensation of standard justice in The Gambia.

vi) Foreign Policy
Madam Speaker,
The Gambia continues to pursue open and active foreign policy that is based on the principles of friendship and cooperation with all peace loving countries, the respect of the territorial integrity and non-interference in the internal matters of other countries.

In 2008, my government has opened diplomatic mission Venezuela, Spain, and recently India. We have also participated in the AU and ECOWAS summits, and the General Assembly of the United National amongst others. At bilateral levels, I have personally made state visits to Guinea Bissau and Guinea Conakry, and in return, we have received several high level visits including Heads of State of Sierra Leone, Guinea Bissau, d’Ivoire, Burundi and the Prime ministers of Guinea Bissau, Conakry, Senegal, and most recently the first Vice Prime Minister of Spain.

Our preoccupation with peace and stability continues to be steadfast, and we would not relent in pursing peace-building until the collective survival of the human race is restored.

Madam Speaker,
Honourable Members of the National Assembly, I have indeed summarized to you the Government’s development programmes over the past year and our plans for 2009. I would like to seize this opportunity to thank all our development partners, bilateral and multilateral who have stood by us through thick and thin in support to our development. Notable among these are the Bretton Woods institutions, the UN Agencies, the EU, the ABD, IDB, OPEC Fund, Saudi Fund, Kuwait Fund BADEA, and The Republic of China of Taiwan.

Madam Speaker,
You would all agree with me that 2009 is a difficult year with prospects of a global recession triggered by the current financial crisis. Therefore, we cannot be overly optimistic, but so must we not be complacent. I therefore urge all arms of the government, the legislative, the executive and the judiciary, as well as all the collaborating partners to work together in a more coordinated and efficient number towards implementing our development priorities for 2009 and beyond.

I call on all Gambians and friends of The Gambia to re-dedicate ourselves to achieving the vision of transforming The Gambia into a high income, a Silicon Valley, and technology centre in Africa even before the year 2020. I am, indeed optimistic that if we exhibit the same dedication and unity that had been demonstrated in previous years, in particular, in the 2008 food and fuel crisis, we shall succeed again to weather the storm to financial crisis

Finally, Madam Speaker,
Honourable Members of the National Assembly
It is my honour and pleasure to declare the 2009 Legislative Year officially open; May Allah The Almighty guide and protect you in your legislative business over the next several months.

May Allah The Almighty bless us all and protect our homeland The Gambia.
I thank you all your kind attention.

Author: DO