The Council of Elders of the West Coast Region, led by Dembo Santang Bojang paid a courtesy call on President Barrow over the weekend at State House. They held frank discussions with the President on matters of pertinent national interests such as peaceful transition and the President’s development agenda.
In a closed door meeting, President Barrow reminded the audience that in some countries, their head of transitional governments are appointed but in the case of The Gambia, he was an elected leader, thus the circumstances are different. . The President said he has options to either serve three years and resign or serve five, and told the Elders that he has made up his mind to serve his full mandate.
However, he recalled that the coalition agreed to institute reform programmes within three years: to review the Constitution before elections are held. His dilated on the transitional programme his government has undertaken including establishment of a Constitutional Review Commission currently engaged in consultations to produce a draft, which will be subjected to approval by the Cabinet, the National Assembly and most importantly a referendum.
The President told the elders that there are important works that have begun and they require completion. “I am going to see them through so that those will become my legacy – institutional building and strengthening; economic and civil service reforms and a comprehensive security sector reform… I am the first president to do a comprehensive security sector audit as soon as I took office,” he maintained.
Stabilisng the Economy
When he took office, The Gambia’s national reserves were less than a month’s import cover, and a 120 per cent national debt-to-GDP ratio. Treasury bills went as high as 23 percent due to non-liquidity of the reserves. Commercial banks were lending between 28 and 30 per cent to enable them make easy money from such trades.
President Barrow was upbeat with the growth in the economy and stated “Today, those narratives have changed. The interest rates are down to 9 percent, compelling commercial banks to lend at 15 per cent interest rates. The government is no longer relying on borrowing money from them as the coffers remain liquid enough.”
Foreign currency reserves at the Central Bank stood at $35million. “We have paid up those loans and accumulated a reserve of over $200 million. The government held multiple accounts across the banking sector. We integrated all of them into a single consolidated account for government,” he explained to the elders, arguing that the $35million was in fact a loan to government at the time.
The revenue base of The Gambia was only D500million per month in January 2017. The President further recalled how the new government struggled to pay salaries of workers. Today, government has opened up the economy to investors and other activities to enable it raise the revenue by 100% to D1billion each month.
However, 60 per cent of this revenue is paid to loans, equivalent to D600million. Out of this D400million, up to D300million is spent on salaries of civil servants alone, which were raised by 50 percent in 2019. The remaining D100million is not sufficient to operationalise government projects, build roads, and provide electricity and water supplies among other development needs of the country.
“Hence the government is compelled to bring forth some innovative ideas to engage bilateral partners. The development projects being undertaken today are not coming as a result of funds from government coffers. Rather, they are as a result of strategies we employ to deliver on those projects,” he explained.
The Gambia had only 750 kilometres of tarred roads when the Barrow government came into office in 2017. These include those constructed by the former two governments since independence. Currently, the country has over 300 kilometres of road construction works ongoing.
“It means, my government is constructing in three years 50per cent of what had been constructed in 52 years by the former governments,” he added.
Rule of law
The Barrow government values rule of law, which is why it emphasises the due process in all maters it conducts. The President therefore calls on all to respect the rule of law. As Head of State, he said he is obliged to respect the law.
On the diaspora, President Barrow explained his government’s expectations. ”We believe that being in the UK, France or the USA will put you in position to appreciate respect for the rule of law in those countries.” He called for commitment to the development of the country and for citizens to take the lead while others give their support.
In the same vein, he argued that no one should also accept that all the works done in five years to be destroyed in just three days. That should not be acceptable, and it is not for President Barrow; rather, that is for The Gambia, he said.
“Our first achievement as government is the freedom for all to express themselves. In fact, that is our biggest achievement… we respect the right of all politicians to conduct their campaigns and activities within the law. Hence security is provided to the opposition parties when they go about their political activities,” The Gambian leader said.
He further maintained that democracy needs to be tempered with responsibility and mutual respect. Otherwise, it will set a precedent that will have negative consequences in this country. “Personally, I am of the belief that my term in office will end someday and someone will take over from me. It is my sincere prayer that I will peacefully hand-over power to my successor here, just as it happened in Mauritania and Nigeria. There is nothing more beautiful than that. We should be prepared to emulate and even do better in setting those example,” the President added.
He also does not want his successor to go through some of the difficulties that he experienced when he came to office. For example, his government has already ensured a five month-reserve at the Central Bank, considering that they inherited less than a month’s reserve.
“I wish to bequeath a year’s reserve for my successor. When we took office in 2017, the economy was projected to grow by 2 percent, in 2018 by 5 percent. This year, we are estimating a 6.6per cent growth. This is indication that we are progressing,” he emphasised.
Director of Press & Public Relations
Office of the President, State House, Banjul