Friday, September 7, 2012

Gambia: Vast investment opportunities but inaccessible by private sector

Economic operators in The Gambia have noted that the country has vast opportunities for investment but government stance of not opening up for intervention into some strategic areas by the private sector has hindered the ability to make more investments in such areas.

Some of the vital sectors for investment have been tried in vain by members of the private sector due to government’s protectionism, which makes it difficult for investor capital to find their way into them.

Mr Touray
For instance, the major infrastructural sectors are really not open to private sector participation, the president of the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham), Abdoulie Baks Touray, has said in an interview with this paper.

Mr Touray observed that one of the key areas the government has refused to open up for private sector participation is the ferry services. 

Some time ago, he noted, some members of the private sector including himself did a feasibility study for possible investment in sea transport, such as ferry services, and found out that there are untapped potentials in this area the private sector can explore.

But, according to the business and financial analyst, they were later made to understand that ferry services is a no-go area for the private sector. “It is reserved for the public sector intervention,” Mr Touray said.

The government needs to open up more for private sector intervention in such areas, the AmCham president added: “The government should open up for the private sector to come on board in the ferry services and operate either in collaboration with the Gambia Ports Authority, or independently – independent of the ports just like the airport, which is owned by the government but being used by private airlines. The same thing should be done in the ferry services and along the River Gambia.” 

Mr Touray also cited the electricity sector, where there is an independent power producer, as another good example of private sector intervention the government can emulate.

Public-Private Partnership

The current state of the country’s ferries is nothing but getting from bad to worse as ferries that usually ply between Banjul and Barra for 30 to 45 minutes now sometimes spend two to three hours or more on the same crossing points. It is understood that the engines of all the three ferries are not in good state and often encounter problems while in transit.

For Mr Touray, crossing from Banjul to Barra, which is just about 8km, is now a nightmare, which is why some people even prefer using the trans-Gambia highway to going through the Banjul route. 
“If you travel to areas like Turkey and Egypt you see a lot of ferries going back and forth within the same place. Why can’t we have such in The Gambia?” Mr Touray queried, saying:  “The government has to come up with a framework that will allow private sector participation in the ferry services and other sectors.”

If the private sector is to invest in the ferry services and other sectors, there should be a Public Private Partnership framework guiding their operations, Mr Touray, who serves as chair for many corporate institutions’ boards, said. 

A starting point

Although there is need for Public Private Partnership framework, finance and economic affairs minister Abdou Kolley also believes both the government and the private sector can still have bilateral discussions and engagements and forge ahead with development.

Hon. Kolley said further that the World Bank is supporting the government to put in place a legal framework that will guide all Public Private Partnership interventions in the country.


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