Friday, December 14, 2012

GIABA calls for re-examining of laws against money laundering, financing terrorism in W/Africa

There is a need to re-examine the anti-money laundering and counter-financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) measures in West African countries to ensure they do not induce superficial compliance by countries, said the director general of the Inter-Governmental Action Group against Money Laundering in West Africa (GIABA), Dr Abdullahi Shehu.

Dr Abdullahi Shehu
Dr Shehu observed that the current AML/CFT framework may force money launderers and extremist groups to make frequent tactical changes and thus produces more grievances or fertile grounds for the recruitment of new set of criminals. 

Most parts of the AML/CFT framework of countries in the sub-region are products of imperfect and incomplete information, hence the need to establish and address the root causes of terrorism to ensure the successes recorded by the AML/CFT framework are enduring, Dr Shehu said while presenting a paper on the challenges of implementing  counter-financing of terrorism regimes in West Africa at the training workshop on AML/CFT for North and West African states organised by the Swiss Confederation and the Federal Republic of Nigeria in collaboration with Giaba held in Abuja, Nigeria, from December 11 to 13, 2012.  

“The benefits of implementing effective AML/CFT regimes are enormous,” the Giaba DG said. “Giaba will continue to support its members to implement effective AML/CFT measures that facilitate optimal deployment of resources and proper sequencing of intervention activities.”

For him, the adoption of international AML/CFT standards is not the magic wand towards eradicating money laundering and financing terrorism, but they are milestones towards building enabling framework that would provide the roadmap for achieving the ultimate goal of a crime-free society.

He said Giaba, an arm of ECOWAS established to fight money laundering and terrorist financing in West Africa, is mandated to develop strategies and mechanisms for the prevention and control of the twin crimes in the sub-region.

Low capacity hinders implementation of FATF Recommendations

All the West African countries which constitute GIABA Member States are facing daunting challenges of low technical know-how and the financial resources to implement the global standards set by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), global pacesetters in the fight against money laundering and terrorism financing. 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Gambia internet speed to be 50 times faster as ACE goes live

Internet speed in The Gambia and more than 20 countries in Africa and Europe is projected to increase more than 50 times, with the cost expected to reduce.  And also the cost of telephone calls is also projected to significantly reduce as the Africa Coast to Europe (ACE) submarine cable goes live on 15th December 2012.

Gambia ACE stakeholders, who briefed journalists on the new development on Thursday at the GRTS building on MDI Road, said the ACE submarine cable will allow cheap, fast and reliable international calls, access to the internet at unprecedented and revolutionary speeds, all at a lesser cost. 

This access to huge bandwidth at a cheaper rate that ACE is expected to bring to The Gambia will empower every sector of the country including, but not limited to, telecommunications, banking, education, health, and agriculture.

“The speed of internet is going to be like a superhighway.  It’s going to be 100 times faster when the ACE reaches its capacity, although the initial speed is going to be 50 to 60 times faster than the current speed.  It’s going to be ‘Fat fat’; as you click, it responses,” said Jay Karthik, Chief Technician of QCell, which is part of the Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV), a joint venture of public-private sector members established by the government for the purpose of Gambia’s participation in the ACE project. 

The conference was meant to announce to Gambians the launching of ACE in The Gambia on 19 December 2012 and the benefits of the submarine cable to almost all the sectors of the economy.
The ACE submarine cable has a design capacity of 5.12 Tbps and is supported by the new 40 Gbps wavelength division multiplexing (WDM) technology.

Mr Karthik again: “If I am to translate this to the understanding of a layman, I will give this analogy:  It’s like if you have one lane for a major highway with too many vehicles then obviously there will be traffic jam but if you have eight lanes at the same place then the vehicles will be running at a faster rate.  With the ACE submarine cable, we are going to have a superhighway with a broadband speed.”

Hussein Diab, Information Systems director at Africell, a member of the SPV, explained that currently The Gambia is buying its bandwidth from Sonatel in Senegal, which is buying through a middleman.  “So the prices of internet and calls are a little bit high but with the ACE submarine cable, The Gambia will not be going to buy from any middleman,” he said.

“We used to buy from Sonatel so by the time we sell it to the final consumers, the prices are a little bit high.  But with ACE, there will not be issue of buying from a third party, so the prices will come down and the speed will faster.”

Finance Minister apologises to lawmakers for understating national budget

Hon. Abdou Kolley

Hon. Abdou Kolley, Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs, has apologised to the country’s lawmakers for understating the national budget while recently tabling the 2013 Annual Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure of the Government of The Gambia for the Fiscal year January to December 2013 at the National Assembly in Banjul.

“The Gambia government's 2013 expenditure and net-lending is projected at D8,301.5 billion and not D6,719.3 billion as stated while presenting the draft budget estimates before the House on Monday [3 December 2012],” Minister Kolley said on Wednesday at the National Assembly.

He added that the total revenue and grants for 2013 is D7,608.8 billion and not D6,528 billion.
Meanwhile, the National Assembly Members approved the 2013 Draft Budget Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure of The Gambia for the Fiscal Year January to December 2013, with amendments.

Speaking during the debate preceding the approval of the draft budget estimates, Hon. Fatou Mbye, the deputy speaker of the National Assembly, noted that the draft estimates are “very reasonable and realistic”, considering the economic situation of The Gambia and the anticipated expenditure and revenue.

She said the key social sectors, among them the education sector, continue to receive the attention they deserve, which she said is a tool to the attainment of the development objective. 

“It is an open secret that parents still pay for their children’s school fees and we look forward to a day when free and compulsory education will be a reality, particularly at the basic level,” she said.

Over 40,000 people with hypertension in Gambia

About 40,627 people in the country are living with hypertension, high blood pressure, according to data provided by the director of Health Promotion and Education Directorate of the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare. 

Hypertension is one of the several risk factors that can increase one’s chance of developing heart disease, stroke, and other serious conditions.

The figure, though high, is lower than the 55,563 people with hypertension in 2011. 

World Health Organization has ranked hypertension as 12 among the top 20 causes of death in the Gambia.

The data from the Directorate of Health Promotion and Education was made available during a daylong sensitization workshop on Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) prevention and control for journalists held at the conference room of the Royal Victoria Teaching Hospital in Banjul on 30 November 2012.

For diabetes, the data indicate that 3,337 people have the disease in 2011 and it has increased to 4,734 in 2012. 

According to the WHO, diabetes is the 7 among top 20 causes of death in The Gambia.

The rate of diabetes in The Gambia is said to be alarming.

The Director of Health Promotion and Education, Modou Njai, said non-communicable diseases are of real concern to The Gambia government and the Ministry of Health and should be a concern to the general public as well. 

The NCDs are becoming a problem in both developed and developing countries, he said, adding that NCDs now top the agenda of any health meeting both nationally and internationally.

Dr Jagne of the Royal Victoria Teaching Hospital said hypertension and diabetes, like other non-communicable diseases, are not only problems in terms of deaths but they also impose huge economic burden on both individuals and governments.

He said they put more burden on people than infectious diseases do.

Gambia government to start giving development loan to civil servants in 2013

Civil servants in The Gambia now have all the reasons to smile as the government has budgeted D25 million to be given out as development loan to civil servants starting from January 2013.  

The Civil Service Loan Scheme will help civil servants to supplement their meagre salaries and empower themselves economically.
Hon. Kolley

However, the Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs, who disclosed the scheme, has said the loan will only be provided to qualified civil servants, though he is yet to publicly establish the criteria that will be used to know who is qualified. 

He has not also said whether the loan will be interest-free or not.

Finance Minister Abdou Kolley disclosed this escape-poverty loan scheme on 3 December 2012 at the National Assembly in Banjul while presenting the 2013 Annual Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure of the Government of The Gambia for the fiscal year January to December 2013.

However, some people have doubted the scheme’s sustainability and also raised fear that it might be politicised.

Nevertheless, if properly done, the plan could work as a deterrent to brain drain from the civil service that has for a long time seen government employees seek greener pastures in the private sector or abroad.

Gambia National Assembly Members capacitised to scrutinize national budget

National Assembly Members in The Gambia have undergone some rigorous training to equip them with the skills to critically analyse and scrutinize the annual budget estimates of the government as well as on how to examine the core policy strategies and development objectives of the government vis-à-vis the budget.

The training was recently organised by the Pro-Poor Advocacy Group with the financial support of the United Nations Development Programme in collaboration with the African Development Bank (AfDB) under the Institutional Support for Economic and Financial Governance project.

Speaker Abdoulie Bojang
The two-day workshop was held to ensure the country’s lawmakers make informed decisions on the allocation of resources for the social priority sectors; to enable them to assess the adequacy or otherwise of the levels of funding provided for the social priority sectors to meet the Millennium Development Goals and Programme for Accelerated Growth and Employment (PAGE) - the Gambia government’s development blueprint; to identify the funding shortfalls thereto; and to discuss strategies and sector proposals for resource mobilisation.

Speaking on the occasion, Speaker of the National Assembly Abdoulie Bojang said the training was necessary to equip parliamentarians to put due emphasis on the rationale behind the policy strategies and goals of government.

“As elective representatives of the people, we are inclined to put emphasis into the social priority sectors of health, education and agriculture without necessarily limiting ourselves to only these sectors, as all other sectors and cross-cutting issues are equally important,” he said.

GIABA collaborates with partners to fight money laundering, terrorism financing

The Inter-Governmental Action Group Against Money Laundering in West Africa (GIABA), in collaboration with the Government of Switzerland and Global Counter Terrorism Forum (GCTF), with the assistance of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, will hold a 3-day training workshop on Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) from December 11 to 13, 2012 in Abuja, Nigeria.

The objectives of the workshop are to sensitize and raise the awareness of legal, financial and law enforcement officers from ECOWAS member states and some Maghreb states  on the fight against the scourges of money laundering (ML) and terrorist financing (TF) in the two regions.

The 3-day training will focus on the cooperation among border management agencies and relevant authorities in the combating of ML/TF, AML/CFT responsibilities of non-bank financial institutions, and AML/CFT measures targeting cash-based economies and informal routes for money transfer.

The training is expected to enable participants gain practical understanding of the complexities of AML/CFT and the implementation of international AML/CFT standards in order to tackle these threats effectively.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

COMMENTARY: Gambia security officers seek fare on the street

Life in The Gambia is growing difficult by the day as economic hardship in the country continues to take its toll on almost everyone in the country.

The hardship in the country has driven many people to adopt various means of battling the harsh economic status quo, no less the national security officers some of whom have resorted to begging for transport fare, against their will.

Most of the security officers, like majority of Gambians, are finding it very difficult to even keep their heads above water as prices of basic commodities continue to skyrocket, the Dalasi continues to lose its value and people’s earning power remains stagnant, with less and less to purchase essentials of life with.

Twice, on different occasions, I have met with a security officer begging transport fare to go home after work.  One of them is an officer of the Police Intervention Unit, and the other a Fire and Rescue Services officer, both are part of the national security apparatus. 

‘Jerre jef bro, nakam, nga def’ (literally meaning thank you my brother, how you doing), the PIU officer told me one morning on my way to work. 

After I have responded to him, the officer begged for a fare to go to his house in Tabokoto. 
Few days after, on my way to work I met again with an officer of Fire and Rescue Services also begging for transport to Brikama.

“My brother, can you please help me with fare to Brikama, I just closed from work but I do not have fare to go back?” the officer appealed.

“Even if you don’t have the full fare to Brikama if I can have any amount, even D10 is good,” he added.

Even though it seemed these officers were asking for fare, the actual fact is that they were looking for some cash to help themselves.

Apart from students, security officers are keener in begging for lift when going and coming from work. Early in the morning and in the evening, security officers usually form line-ups on the roadside seeking lift to their home or going to work.  

A fire service officer has said a full fledge fire fighter – after six months of training at the training school – earns a basic salary of just D1,300.  Though there are some allowances – transport allowance (but those in the provinces get bush allowance instead of transport allowance) and house rent; all these cumulatively are not more than D800.  All the allowances and basic salary put together is just about D2,100.

“From this amount, you have to pay income tax and social security,” the officer said.  “What I am left with is always small, and expectations are high on workers - people expect so much from you - the expectations are higher than the salary you earn.”

Gambia to host launching of Africa Coast to Europe submarine cable system

The Gambia, a small state on the western tip of Africa, will host the launch of one of the most ambitious telecommunications projects in Africa, the Africa Coast to Europe (ACE) submarine cable on 19th December 2012.

Up to 500 international policy-makers, regulators, operators, vendors and service providers from across the world are expected to converge in The Gambia for the historic launch of the Africa Coast to Europe (ACE) submarine cable.

The ACE consortium, which is led by France Telecom-Orange, is made up of 16 members from Africa and Europe. The US$700 million cable will ultimately extend over 17,000 km from Brittany in France to Cape Town in South Africa, at depths close to 6,000 metres below sea level, linking Europe to Africa with high-
capacity broadband connectivity.

In a statement from The Gambia Ministry of Information and Communication Infrastructure, Yves Ruggeri, the Chairman of ACE said: “This (ACE) is a milestone in the transformation and advancement of telecommunication in Africa. The system will use the most advanced high-speed broadband fibre optic technology.”

Moneys sent by Gambians abroad constitutes 10% of country’s GDP, exceed total export

Amadou Kolley

Remittances to The Gambia, moneys sent to The Gambia by Gambians in the Diaspora, has now been increasing more than ever and as of 2011, it constitutes up to 10% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product - more than the total monetary value of the country’s export which constitutes only 8 to 9% of the GDP.

The Central Bank Governor Amadou Colley said in The Gambia, remittances as a percentage of the GDP has grown over time from a mere about 3 – 4% in the 1990s to nearly 10% of the GDP in 2011.  In addition, he said, it has become one of the largest sources of foreign exchange for the country.  

Despite this significant contribution to the national economy, Governor Colley said The Gambia is still at the developmental stage to harness the full potentials of remittances.

In a statement read on his behalf by Ismaila Jarju, director of research at the Central of The Gambia during the launching of the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) report 2012 on Wednesday at the Ocean Bay Hotel in Bakau, Governor Colley noted that most of the remittances flows are channeled into consumption though it also plays a significant role in housing financing and it is also a key driver in other sectors such as the wholesale and retail trade.