7UP4 project launched in Gambia

Monday, September 29, 2008
Abdou Colley, the secretary of state for Trade, Industry and Employment, last Friday, presided over the first National Reference Group (NRG) meeting, which marked the formal launching of the Seven Up 4 (7up4) project in The Gambia, at a landmark ceremony held at the Jerma Beach Hotel and Resort in Kololi.

The day’s meeting, which was spearheaded by the Pro-Poor Advocacy Group (Pro-pag) in conjunction with CUTS Centre for Competition, Investment and Economic Regulation (CUTS C-CIER) brought together key players in competition, investments, consumer welfare, as well as regulatory agencies.

The 7up4 project, which is being executed simultaneously in seven countries in West Africa, The Gambia, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal and Togo, has the objectives of evaluating obstacles evolving from national competition regimes, to develop capacity of national stakeholders to appreciate competition concerns, as well as to promote a healthy competition culture, amongst others.

In his keynote speech, SoS Colley said that The Gambia was privileged to have benefited from the fourth phase of an ambitious project that aims at "strengthening constituencies for effective competition regimes in selected African countries."

According to the Trade, Industry and Employment secretary of state, the Gambian economy thrives on free market policies. He noted that his government believes in private sector-led growth and development as spelt out in the Vision 2020 blue print and the country’s PRSP 11.

Thus, he posited, it is imperative to make sure businesses operate on a level playing field, indicating that the government’s role is to reduce poverty and provide the enabling environment for a private sector led-growth. He noted that competition policy and law is no doubt part and parcel of the right microeconomic environment that the government endeavours to sustain.

"Competition policy is a relatively new area for most countries in the sub-region, The Gambia being no exception. However, cognizant of the importance of competition policy in overall economic management, The Gambia, with assistance from the Commonwealth Secretariat, formulated a competition policy and subsequently a Competition Act, in 2007.

The Act mainly seeks to foster fast competition which would not only increase the efficiency of business but also safeguard the wellbeing of the general consumers," SoS Colley said.

He went on to inform the meeting that his department of state is currently in the process of establishing The Gambia Competition Commission (GCC). He expressed confidence that when this commission is up and running, it will avail the Gambian business community and citizens a place to channel their grievances at unfair business practices for the first time.

While commending Consumer Utility Trust Society (CUTS-International) and other donors for making the project possible in The Gambia, the Trade, Industry and Employment secretary of state expressed hope that, the project will achieve its desired goals in The Gambia, bearing in mind the wealth of experience accumulated by CUTS.
Deputising for his chairperson, Mr Omar Badjie, the vice chairperson of the Pro-Poor Advocacy Group (Pro-pag) board, described the occasion as auspicious, noting that this was the first time that the Pro-pag and CUTS were holding the first meeting to formally launch the 7up4 project in The Gambia.

According to Mr Badjie, the 7up4 project in The Gambia will go through three main stages - a research to establish the state of competition in The Gambia; capacity building for country stakeholders; and advocacy for a viable competition culture and the promotion of consumer welfare. This, he said, involves the constitution of a national reference group (NRG) which includes relevant stakeholders - institutions and individuals knowledgeable in competition issues.

The Pro-pag board vice chairperson explained that the Consumer Utility and Trust Society (CUTS-International), is a civil society organisation based in Jaipur, India, with many years of experience in competition law, policy and sectoral regulation. He said that CUTS is in business to create both economic and social value in keeping with its mission to "promote fair markets and to promote consumer welfare and economic development." He stated that the institution was at the forefront of the campaign to support efforts in putting in place good competition policy regimes and law-efficient institutions throughout the world.

"After Eastern and Southern Africa, CUTS has now come to West Africa and executed the project simultaneously in the aforementioned seven West African countries. The project is supported by the Department for International Development (DFID), UK; the International Research Centre (IDRC), Canada; and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sweden," he stated.

Mr Badjie hailed CUTS for partnering with Pro-pag in implementing a project that benefits The Gambia, and he maintained that it will engage Gambian institutions that deal with competition policy and consumer protection issues.

For his part, Bai Matarr Drammeh, president of the Gambia Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI), hailed the supporting institutions of this project. He noted that the Chamber of Commerce was delighted to be associated with such a project. Mr Drammeh indicated that the issue of free and fair market competition is of paramount importance to the GCCI, as an apex private sector organisation, since it is more of an issue to the private sector operators than it is to the consumers.
Mr Lahcen Achy, CUTS consultant, gave a PowerPoint presentation on the overview of the project.

Author: by Hatab Fadera