The Gambia is at the cusp of a historic transition brought on by a groundbreaking development on 2nd December 2016, when the Gambian people voted out of office the former President Yaya Jammeh who ruled the country for 22 years.
During that period, The Gambia’s governance landscape was characterized by a system of arbitrary one-person rule, which subjugated the population to gross human rights violations, terror and serious abuses of office. Similarly, on the security front, the armed services did not play their part in upholding the constitution and defending the sovereign will of Gambians. Consequently, the government with the support of partners (United Nations, European Union and Economic Community of West African States) has embarked upon a security sector reform aimed at bringing the security services under full democratic civilian control.
There is a direct correlation between the denial of fundamental freedoms and the bad governance that existed under the previous regime on the one hand, and the dire economic and social situation inherited by the new government on the other.
Thankfully, with the help of Providence, the determination of the country’s citizens, the efforts of the new government, as well as the assistance of the international community that dark chapter in Gambia’s history is now a thing of the past.
However, despite the new democratic dispensation, the country is faced with a difficult economic and social situation:
these include a poor 2016/17 agricultural season, which drastically reduced the groundnut crop; a severe contraction of tourism receipts during the traditional high season, and volatile oil and commodity prices. Estimates put the combined losses from these shocks at $US 31 million or 3 per cent of GDP. Furthermore, gross international reserves also declined to $ US 60 million or 1.6 months worth of import cover (2016).
this has resulted in further fiscal shocks. Theft from state-owned enterprises (SOEs) has been estimated at 4 percent of GDP per year since mid-2014.
it has an unsustainable public debt, which stands at D 48 billion ($ US 1 billion) or 120 percent of GDP. Because of this, debt servicing consumes a huge amount of government revenue, leaving very limited fiscal space for financing critical infrastructure and human capital development needs. This is also denying our private sector access to finance and credit, vital for its growth and expansion.
this arises from the inability of the sector to meet domestic demand or for economic activities.
the sector has not significantly contributed to poverty reduction as 91 percent of the rural poor work as farmers while the sector continues to be relatively undiversified, mainly smallholder-based and characterized by rain-fed subsistence farming.
this industry is challenged by poor destination recognition/attractiveness; dwindling product quality; undiversified products; limited air access and reliance on tour operators; security; and environmental degradation.
the trading landscape is marked by declining and stagnant domestic exports and an increasing growth in imports, which has led to a 30-year continuous current account deficit (except 2003 and 2007).
while advances have been made with regards to enrollment rates and girls’ education at the primary level, the issue of quality and relevance of the curriculum and learning materials continues to be a source of serious concern.
The Gambia’s strong primary healthcare (PHC), which was a model for other countries has deteriorated over the past years and is no longer able to serve the population adequately.
gender equality and women’s empowerment are still major challenges in Gambian society.
poor and inadequate education continues to limit the youth’s productivity and the acquisition of skills. Meanwhile, insufficient access to knowledge and information (including business development services for the entrepreneurial youth) is hindering their gainful engagement.
Efforts to fight poverty have also proven ineffective with poverty levels remaining unchanged in the past decade (the percentage of households living below the poverty line of 1.25 $/day was 48.4 percent 2010 and 48.65 percent in 2015). The average GDP growth of 3 percent per annum has barely kept up with the population growth of 3.1 percent.
There is a rising rural poverty and a growing gap between rural and urban Gambia with regards to access to health, education, and basic services. While the proportion of the households living below the poverty line is 31.6 percent in urban areas, the proportion rises to 69.5 percent for rural Gambia. The rural areas account for 42.2 percent of the country’s population, but they hold 60 percent of its poor.
Through this National Development Plan, Government will act decisively to address poverty, particularly rural poverty, and close the growing gap in access to basic services between the predominantly urban western part of the country, and the rural poor predominantly found in the east of the country.
Government is committed to serious economic reforms. The historic transition to democracy opens up many possibilities that could spur growth and restore the country’s economic stability.
There is a marked reduction in domestic borrowing. This is already bringing down the prime interest rate; from 23 percent before the elections in December 2016, to 18 percent in June 2017.
The government has reviewed the 2017 Budget with a view to lowering the budget deficit down. This has led to a reduction of government expenditure of about 1 percent of GDP. The budget of the Office of the President has been cut by 75 percent.
Youth issues are receiving a priority. The first project signed by the new government is focussed on youth empowerment through funding from the European Union (EU). The 11million Euro project focuses on youth employment creation and aims to provide high-quality skills training for potential youth entrepreneurs and start-ups.
The government has also concluded budget support agreements with key development partners such as EU (D 1.25 billion), the World Bank ($ US 56 million), the African Development Bank ($ US 7 million) and others to stabilize government finances.
The government’s goal is to “deliver good governance, accountability, social cohesion, national reconciliation, a revitalized and transformed economy for the wellbeing of all Gambians”.
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