Finance Minister begs to disagreeNational Assembly Member for Wuli West, Sidia Jatta, has said poverty is increasing in The Gambia but Finance Minister Abdou Kolley begs to disagree, saying poverty is in fact decreasing.
Pic: Hon. Sidia Jatta, Member for Wuli West
“What we would acknowledge is may be the rate at which poverty is declining is not as fast as we would want it to be,” Hon. Kolley said.
In his argument while putting the point across that the situation of poverty is increasing, Hon. Jatta said the transport situation in the country “is disastrous”, that one only needs to stand on the way, particularly at the Banjul Serrekunda Highway, “to see how disastrous” the transport situation has become.
“So all those factors have compounded the situation; rather than decreasing poverty, they are increasing poverty,” he said. “So I cannot be convinced that poverty is in any way decreasing, because what is happening can only add to the worsening of poverty in the country.”
Hon. Kolley, who is often praised by parliamentarians for always being at the National Assembly as and when necessary to answer questions related to his ministry, responded: “I want to assure him [Sidia Jatta] that poverty is not on the increase, it’s on the decline.
“What we would acknowledge is may be the rate at which poverty is declining is not as fast as we would want it to be. All poverty indicators indicate that poverty is declining but at a slower pace than what was expected. So when he [Sidia Jatta] said poverty is increasing, I don’t know where he got the figures from.”
Many experts believe that until poverty is defined or a functional definition of what constitutes poverty is at least agreed upon, solutions to the problem of poverty will continue to remain elusive, and people, particularly politicians, will continue to disagree as to the level of poverty in the country. That was what really took place between the finance minister and the National Assembly member as regards poverty in The Gambia.
Poverty could be defined as the state or condition of not having the means to afford the basic human needs necessary for the maintenance of a tolerable standard of living such as clean water, nutrition, health care, education, clothing, and shelter.
The 2009 Human Development Report of the United Nations Development Programme ranked The Gambia 168th of a total of 182 low-income countries. In The Gambia, several poverty studies have been conducted with each study adopting a different methodology but in all the studies, overall poverty and food poverty were used to estimate the head count index.
The first poverty study conducted in 1992 revealed that in terms of overall poverty, 31 per cent of the population were poor; 33.1 per cent of the population in the urban areas were food poor compared to 54 per cent in the rural areas.
The second poverty study conducted in 1998 showed that overall poverty was significantly increasing from 31 per cent in 1992 to 69 per cent by 1998. The study also showed huge differences between the populations living in different localities, as 60 per cent of the population in the rural areas were poor compared to only 13 per cent of those living in the urban areas.
The third poverty study was carried out in 2003. In this study, the poverty head count index was 58 per cent with the likelihood of ‘being poor’ higher in households located in rural areas; the proportion ranging from 34% for Banjul and Kanifing combined, 56 per cent in other urban areas and 67.8 per cent for predominantly rural areas.
Like in 1992 and 1998, overall levels in 2003 were also higher in local government areas that are predominantly rural compared to the urban settlements in the Greater Banjul Area. The head count index reduced to 58 per cent in 2003 and overall poverty levels decreased in all regions except CRR North and South. In 2003, CRR had the highest poverty rates compared to NBR, LRR and URR, which had the highest rates in 1998.
However, poverty levels have been on the rise since 1992, from 30 per cent of households living below the poverty level to 58 per cent in 2003.
The MDG Status Report for 2007 indicates that “the country is far from achieving MDG target of 15 per cent”, which is to halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people whose income is less than one dollar a day.
The PRSP report of 2006 placed the national poverty level at 74 per cent of the population. Relative to the 2002 estimates of 54 per cent, the 2006 level represents a 20 per cent rise in poverty level in just four years. These estimates invoke an alarming phenomenon that seems to militate against efforts at national economic development.
Poverty distribution among the different segments of the population is far from symmetric, and that various studies have shown that gender and age distribution as well as location within the country have a bearing on the level of poverty, says the Gambia Competition Commission chairman Alieu Njie.
Mr Njie says women and youth have a higher level of poverty than male adults in the 39-50 age brackets. “Poverty levels also tend to be higher in rural than urban and peri-urban areas of the country,” he added. “Thus, age, gender and geographic location tend to influence both the degree and intensity of poverty.”
Breaking out of poverty requires strategies that would enable the poor to free themselves from the vicious circle either through education or through access to the means by which the poor can raise their level of production, productivity and consequently income and living standard.
The country’s Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper II (PRSP II) indicates also that 68 per cent of rural population and 40 per cent of urban population live in poverty.
Despite government efforts to eradicate poverty in the country, it seems the menace is escalating, according to the Core Welfare Indicator Survey (a countrywide survey) that was jointly conducted by The Gambia Bureau of Statistics (GBoS), the National Planning Commission and PRO-PAG in 2009, facilitated by the United Nations Development Programme.
About 63 per cent of the 3000 households surveyed classified themselves as poor of whom the proportion was highest in Kuntaur with 68.8 per cent, and lowest in Basse with 59.3 per cent.
For households that regarded themselves as very poor, Janjanbureh tops the list with an account of 31.1 per cent, and Kanifing had the lowest with 17.1 per cent, while 15 per cent of households regarded themselves as non-poor and the proportion was highest in Brikama with 19.6 per cent and lowest in Kuntaur with 3.5 per cent.
On household economic situation, 22 per cent of the population reported that the situations of their communities were little better compared to the year 2008; in addition, 22 per cent of the households reported that their situation remain the same while 15 per cent noted that theirs is little worse now, and 10.2 indicated that their situation is much worse and it was higher in the urban than in the rural areas.