Michael Scales

(JollofNews) – The coalition government of the Gambia appears to be going through an identity crisis. Perhaps this is to be expected considering the diverse composition of its make up.

I was of the opinion that any situation is going to be much better than Mr Jammeh’s but of course, leadership was never in any question during Mr Jammeh’s 22 year-rule. When I first became involved with ministers of the APRC in July 2000, all was well-organised and those government officials I had dealings with were well motivated and in pursuit of the a common cause of nation building.

Those outside this competition were eager to join in a paid occupation under the APRC umbrella. The competition was fierce.  The problems appeared to me to be the franchising with international organisations, which were economically and socially essential. As the years rolled by, the historical, economical and logistical ties with western countries were placed very low in the “New horizon.” To be replaced with Chinese, Cuban Libyan, Venezuelan, Taiwanese, Iranian, Turks and other Middle Eastern countries.

Apart that is from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund and the Commonwealth of Nations. The common denominator was of course aid and finance. Most were jettisoned in a very unconvincing manner to a point where near the end of Jammeh’s leadership the economy was in total disarray and external debt spiralled.

The Dalasis was pegged and even oversea remittances were subject to tax. Farmers  were complaining of having no tools or money to buy seed or fertiliser. Tourists were in sharp decline and the weather was at times devastating. Mr Jammeh’s slogan for the last three years was “eat what you grow”. Most of the growing rice production was earmarked for export as the traditional crop of groundnuts sank from 100,000 metric tons in 1998 to 25 metric tons in recent years. Tourism from the main provider Britain declined from 65,000 in 1998 to 23,000. The only growth market was remittances home bolstered by the mass migration of youths to Europe and America from 6 per cent of GDP to 14 per cent. There are many reversible aspects of policy that can reverse this dire situation.
The cornerstone of the APRC economic policy was to resell/re-export foreign-made goods the Gambia imports twice as much as it exports and as a consequence, created a significant negative balance of trade deficit. It could be reasonably argued that Gambia survives by foreign aid. An economy based upon subsistence.

To rectify this adverse situation will require sound policies with strong leadership. It is not just a question of finding donors or finance or foreign investors, but these are essential. It is more a question of how the next raft of finance/loans is to be used to address the present dire situation. The Gambia cannot afford to borrow forever, it must produce. I read somewhere that Gambia has only three weeks of cover from its required cover traditionally of at least three months.

The steps that the coalition government takes and what it says must be coherent, decisive and positive and with one voice. So far and from what I am hearing online and reading, this is not the case. The other significant situation is how the National Assembly works when scrutinising government policy. The coming National Assembly elections would hopefully restore a balance that will be helpful to holding government to account.

Agriculture can be made to work profitably again. Tourism requires an atmosphere, conducive to human rights and a free and responsible press. The Gambia’s tourism facilities are world-class. Business needs correct and competitive rates of taxation which assists inward investment from Gambians and entrepreneurs from Africa and abroad. The fishing industry, is crying out for modernisation including processing and creating higher valued finished products for export.

We await word from those involved to introduce their roadmaps and policies to get Gambia working again and make opportunity and wealth unfettered. Hopefully, the president can address these issues so Gambians can see the ship has left the port. The average food bill for Gambian families is beyond a joke. Action on pricing basic foods is urgently required. Talking is over time for action.