Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Long route to uniting Africa through trade

[Aljazeera]  African states should aim for increased continental trade, but more political and economic stability is needed first.
    Many African countries' main exports are raw goods like cocoa and cotton, not manufactured products     [EPA]

Greater African unity has long been a cherished but elusive goal.
The recently completed 19th African Union Summit has again given a renewed impetus to establishing closer economic and political ties among the continent's 54 states, based on a heightened appreciation of the need for more intra-regional trade. Hence the theme for this year's summit: "Boosting Intra-African Trade".

The situation is disappointing: Intra-African trade has remained consistently low compared to its trade with other continents.

According to the United Nations' Economic Commission for Africa, more than 80 per cent of Africa's exports are destined for outside markets, with the European Union and the United States accounting for more than 50 per cent of this amount. Asia and China in particular, are also important export markets for African countries.

At the same time, Africa imports more than 90 per cent of its goods from outside the continent, despite its rich resource endowments, which provide the potential to supply the continent's own import needs.

“Acute shortage” of skilled personnel at Gambia Gov’t health facilities

The Gambia’s health sector is currently handicapped due to acute shortage of skilled health personnel like doctors and nurses as well as laboratory technicians and scientists coupled with staff attrition and redeployment, this paper can reveal.
Fatim Badjie, Gambia's Minister of Health and Social Welfare

In this vein, maternal mortality rate is considered to be still high in the country, and neonatal mortality rate, estimated at 54 per 1000 live birth, is also high. 

A document of the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare says the key challenges hindering the country’s 
health sector also include inadequate budgetary allocation as the annual budget of the ministry is lower than the Abuja target, which states that 15% of the national budget should be allocated to the health sector.

Presented during the resource mobilization and investment forum for the Programme for Accelerated Growth and Employment (PAGE) held in early July, the document also indicates that there is inadequate staff accommodation in hospitals and other health facilities across the country, aggravated by lack of adequate information within the health sector due to weak health management information system. 

“Lack of funds to conduct the annual sentinel surveillance,” is also mentioned in the document as being among the key challenges of the ministry. 

The latest sentinel surveillance in The Gambia was done in 2008.  There is also lack of fund to conduct nationwide survey on HIV, and to do an assessment and refurbishment of pharmaceutical stores of the health facilities across the country. There is also lack of electricity and water supply in health facilities, the document states.

Banks deny claims of difficulty to access loan

The association of banks in The Gambia has denied claims that banks in the country are not giving out loans, making it difficult to finance projects that would create employment and the attendant economic developments.

Mr Mamoud Jagne
“It is not entirely accurate that banks are not giving out loans,” Mamour Jagne, executive secretary of Gambia Bankers Association, said in an exclusive interview with this paper. 

The interview was prompted by comments of some economic operators and private individuals that ‘it is very difficult or impossible to access finance” from any of the 13 banks in the country. 

“It is not true that there is a blanket ban on loan lending,” Mr Jagne emphasised though he noted that the banks are lending to customers on a very selective basis. 

Mr Jagne, himself an erudite banker, stated:  “The purpose of a bank is to mobilize excess fund from those who have it and lend it out to those who don’t have it.  It is in this process that banks make profit that they pay interest to the depositors and dividend to the shareholders.  It is therefore in the interest of the banks to lend out to the customers.” 

According to him, if banks are not lending out to the customers, then they most have a very good reason for doing so.  He said the low level of loan lending is on account of a number of reasons. 

YJAG gets new advisory board

Seated infront is members of the Board, standing behind them is the YJAG executive
The Young Journalists Association of The Gambia (YJAG) has recently inaugurated a new board of advisers that is to provide strategic guidance and a thoughtful advice for the association to help ensure that it remains true to its aims, mission and vision.

Held on 19th July at the new secretariat of the Gambia Press Union in Fajara, the ceremony was graced by various media chiefs in the country, the executive director of the GPU, and a cross section of media practitioners.

The six-member board consists of Njundu Drammeh of Child Protection Alliance as the chairperson, Nguie Mboob-Janneh representative of the Female Lawyers Association, Sam Sarr of Foroyaa newspaper, Emil Touray, president of Gambia Press Union, Momodou Sabally of the Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs, and Mrs Amie Bojang-Sissoho of Gamcotrap former chairperson of the board, and YJAG president, Modou Joof as secretary to the board.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Gambia’s economy shrinks by more than 3%

Latest figures from the Gambia Bureau of Statistics have indicated that the country’s economy shrunk by 3.3 per cent in 2011 due primarily to the contraction in the value-added of agriculture.

This was contained in a July 27 report of the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) of the Central Bank of The Gambia.

Speaking at the MPC meeting held on 27 July at the conference room of the Central Bank in Banjul, Governor Amadou Colley said the country’s economy is expected to grow by 9.7 per cent in 2013 premised on improved agriculture output and continued rebound of the tourism sector.  The growth of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) from one period to another is an indication of how healthy the country's economy is.

In the first quarter of 2012, the economy registered a deficit of D418.6 million, which is a modest improvement compared to the deficit of D469.50 million in the first half of 2011.

The country’s fiscal performance continues to be challenged by higher-than-projected expenditures unmatched by revenue performance of the economy. 

Total revenue and grants amounted to D3.2 billion of which D2.5 billion consist of domestic revenue, comprising tax and non-tax revenue. 
 However, total expenditure and net lending amounted to D3.6 billion.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Gambia Govt’s high debt burden impedes other development endeavours

The Gambia government’s high domestic debt burden, which continues to rise by the day and interest payment of which consumes more than 22% of the public revenues, is crowding out other public expenditures as there is no space to increase funding for employment creation, purchase drug for the hospitals, and other pressing national needs.

Mrs Songwe
“The debt dynamics today are dragging down in the economy and cold undermine growth in the future,” the World Bank regional director for The Gambia, Senegal, Cape Verde, Guinea Bissau, and Mauritania, Vera Songwe, has said.

Speaking at the recently ended (12 – 13 July) resource mobilization and investment for the Programme for Accelerated Growth and Employment (PAGE), Mrs Songwe said The Gambia’s debt has increased from 61.7 per cent in 2009 to 68.4 per cent in 2011.  Interest payments on debt are 22.5 per cent of public revenues. The World Bank director observed that if this trend continues, the government will have to forgo necessary infrastructure investments in energy and road construction.

Apart from reducing government’s power to channels fund to other areas, the high domestic borrowing is also pushing up interest rates and denying the private sector of the much needed fund for investment to generate employment.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

More than 70% of households in Gambia at risk of iodine deficiency disorders

Child with goiter due IDD
About 77% of households in the country do not consume iodized salt hence are at risks of having Iodine Deficiency Disorders (IDDs) like goiter and mental retardation.  Women in this household are at risk of miscarriages and still birth.

Mathew Baldeh of UNICEF, on Monday during a two-seminar for media practitioners on IDDs, said only 23% of households in The Gambia consume iodized salt.  “This is serious,” he remarked, noting it has serious health and social consequences which are detrimental to the country’s development particularly to the attainment of some of the MDGs.

IDD is a real threat to child survival and development and children in The Gambia are amongst the most threatened. The risk of physical deformity, blindness, infections such as severe anemia and measles are greater when children do not have enough iodine in their bodies.  IDDs can be prevented by consuming iodised salt.

Dr John Egbuta, regional director for West and Central Africa at the International Council for the Control of Iodine Deficiency Disorders (ICCIDD), said The Gambia is at risk of iodine deficiency disorders and to remedy the situation “we need to make sure any salt consume in the country to be iodized.”

He said The Gambia’s key focused areas for salt iodization programme should be to improved quality of iodised salt, to have a quality control system, to improved consumer preference and acceptance of iodine salt, and to increase public awareness of important of iodized salt. 

Malang Fofana, programme manager of the Gambia National Nutrition Agency, said iodine is a micronutrient require by the body in small amount but extremely important for the development of the brain particularly in children and in pregnant women.

Gambia to be transformed to middle-income country by 2015

The Gambia government has developed a medium term national development strategy by which it hopes to transform the country into a middle income level by 2015, if the strategy is fully implemented and all objectives met.

With the four-year development strategy dubbed Programme for Accelerate Growth and Employment (PAGE), which runs from 2012 to 2015, the government intends to register equitable growth in the national economy as well as create decent employment for Gambians.

According to President Yahya Jammeh, through the PAGE, the government hopes to significantly improve the rate of investment in the productive sectors, modernize the infrastructural base, and create a vast pool of skilled and healthy populace to manage available resources more effectively and efficiently.

The page project is estimated to cost US$651.52 million 35% of which will be provided by the Gambia government, according to a statement by the Gambia government, who is bent on ensuring that the four-year programme is implemented as planned.

Apart from the government’s 35% funding commitment, there is no funding as of now for the PAGE. 
In this vein, the government through the Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs, with the support of the United Nations Development Programme, and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, organised a two-day conference on resource mobilization and investment for the PAGE at the Kairaba Beach Hotel in Kololi on 12 and13 July this year.

The conference brought together major development partners to discuss the strategic priorities of the PAGE to enable them to pledge resources, financial and technical, for the effective implementation of the Programme.

Banks urged to ‘name and shame’ loan defaulters

Banks have been told to take serious actions against chronically delinquent and non-cooperative borrowers, including naming such borrowers as well as issuing a directive that will bar them from dealing with other banks.

Governor Dr Joseph Mills Jones
The Governor of the Central Bank of Liberia, Dr Joseph Mills Jones, has said the major challenge facing the banking sector in the West African sub-region is the high level of incidence of non-performing loans, which has left commercial banks in the sub-region rocking the boat of bad debts.

Banks in the sub-region are grappling with bad debts more than ever before as their loans and advances portfolio continue to swell while increasing sums of monies given out as loans to customers continue to remain as bad debts, which are debts not likely to be paid, giving rise to banks losing huge amount in profits.

Central Bank of The Gambia reduces cheque maturity days to one

With effect from 1 August this year, the number of days it takes for a cheque to mature and due for payment will reduce from three to one, according to the Central Bank of The Gambia (CBG).
Governor of CBG, Amadou Colley
This development is part of efforts at modernizing and upgrading the country’s payments, clearing and settlement system infrastructure.

“The banks, including the CBG, are required to process cheques deposited/lodged or payment instructions for remittances received the same business day as long as the transaction occurred within the operation hours of the Automated Cheque Processing and Automated Clearing House (ACP/ACH), and Real-Time Gross Settlement System (RTGS) systems,” stated a recent CBG news release sent to the media.

The primary objective of the systems is to achieve same day settlement of value. The initiative also provides an efficient payment system which reduces the time taken to clear inter-bank transactions and eliminates or significantly minimizes settlement risk associated with payments in the banking system.

The Automated Cheque Processing and Automated Cheque Clearing (ACP/ACH) was “successfully” launched in December last year and effectively replaces the Manuel Clearing House operated by the Central Bank of The Gambia for domestic inter-bank clearing.

Gov’t urged to consider bridging Banjul-Barra ferry crossing point

         As ferry services get horrible by the day

The poor, despicable and shameful condition of the Banjul-Barra ferry crossing point, one of the Gambia’s vital economic lifelines, is becoming a matter of great concern to the whole country including the people’s representatives at the National Assembly, who said the government should consider bridging the crossing point.

“The government should consider bridging the Banjul-Barra ferry crossing point,” said Fabakary Tombong Jatta, National Assembly member for Serrekunda East, who is also the majority leader at the National Assembly.

 “It’s not something that is impossible; it’s possible especially with the visionary leader like President Jammeh,” he said.

The current state of the ferries is 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. 

Most of them have only one of the four engines operational and one of them was having a faulty steering, notwithstanding it was still plying the river. In a nutshell, the state of the ferries is extremely bad and dangerous, the parliamentarians noted.

“We are not happy with the current state of the ferries,” the speaker of the National Assembly, Abdoulie Bojang, said.  “I think bridging it is not a bad idea,” he added. 

Gambia widens tax base

Gambia National Assembly members have given their full support to the enactment of a law to broaden the country’s tax base.
The enactment of this law has been done to ensure maximum collection tax to increase tax revenues and reverse the current decline in government’s budgeted revenue.

The ratification of the Income and Value Added Tax Act 2012, by parliamentarians, replacing it with the Income and Sales Tax Act, No. 19 of 2004, means the country’s tax system will be further enlarged to include those that are hitherto untaxed since the bill states that a product will be taxed whenever value is added to it.

Moving the motion for approval by the parliamentarians on 27 June, the Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs, Abdou Kolley said enacting law on VAT and its subsequent introduction in January 2013 is one of the vital public financial management reforms currently being undertaken by the Government of The Gambia.

“The VAT rate is set at 15%, the same rate as that of sales tax, which it is replacing,” he said.
Within the current sales tax system, most items have set a rate of 15% tax, with the exception of the telecommunications industry, where the sales tax is set at 20%.

The finance minister said:  “With the rate to be set at 15%, the introduction of VAT might lead to losses in revenue towards the purchase of telecommunications credits (scratch card credits), whereby government was previously earning 20% sales tax on every scratch card purchased, it will from 2013 only receive 15% VAT on every card purchased.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Ten-year jail term, D10m fine for money launderers, terrorism financiers

National Assembly members have unanimously endorsed a Bill which states that an individual found guilty of committing money laundering offences shall be sentenced to a prison term of not less than 10 years.

For corporate body, a fine of not less than D10 million or an order for the revocation of its license of operations shall be levied against it.

The Anti-Money Laundering and Financing of Terrorism Bill 2012 also stipulates that an individual who directly or indirectly  commits the offence of financing of terrorism, and is liable, shall be imprisoned for a term of not less than 10 years and in case of corporate body to a fine of not less than D10 million.

Tabling the Bill before parliamentarians for approval on Wednesday, Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs Abdou Kolley said the government “remains highly committed” to fighting the twin menaces of money laundering and financing terrorism and has therefore declared zero tolerance for drugs abuse, money laundering and other criminal acts.

However, he noted that The Gambia, like many other countries in the sub-region, is exposed to the risk of money laundering due to porous borders, weak controls, the dominance of cash transactions, as well s drug-related and other criminal flows.

Hon. Kolley said it is in cognizance of this threat that the Inter-Governmental Action Group against Money Laundering in West Africa (GIABA) was established by ECOWAS in 2000. 

“The establishment of GIABA was done to ensure the development of strategies to protect the economies of ECOWAS member states from the laundering of the proceeds of crime, improvement of measures and intensifying efforts to combat the laundering of proceeds of crime in West Africa and strengthening co-operation amongst its members,” he said.

In November 2008 the GIABA Plenary adopted a report identifying deficiencies in The Gambia’s legal and institutional frameworks with regard to combating money laundering and terrorism financing.

According to the finance minister, these deficiencies include inadequate coverage of predicate offences which needed to be broadened in line with the standards set by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the principal international standard body setting on money laundering and terrorist financing.

The Money Laundering Act 2003 of The Gambia designated only 13 predicate offences for money laundering instead of the minimum 20 designated categories as recommended by the FATF.

Furthermore, Hon. Kolley pointed out that the 2003 Act falls short of international standards as it failed to include counter-terrorist financing measures. 

The Act also failed to align thresholds for money laundering offences with international best practices, he said, adding that even the name - the Money Laundering Act 2003 - runs contrary to the intended purposes.

“In an effort to remedy the situation, and bring our legislation in line with international standards, there is need to amend the current anti-money laundering legislation, including changing the name of the Money Laundering Act 2003 to Anti-Money Laundering Act 2012 and also upgrade it to the standard recommended by the FATF,” he explained. 

This is what necessitated the repealing of the Money Laundering Act 2003 and the replacing of it with the Anti-Money Laundering and Financing of Terrorism Bill 2012, Hon. Kolley stated.

The Bill was therefore approved by the country’s lawmakers “in view of its non-controversial nature”.

Laico Atlantic Hotel rated top in customer satisfaction

Wins prestigious 2012 Certificate of Excellence

TripAdvisor, the world's most trusted travel advice establishment, recently awarded Laico Atlantic Hotel in Banjul the prestigious 2012 Certificate of Excellence based on positive feedbacks and reports from tourists who have stayed in the hotel over the year.

According to the citation of the award, tourists “consistently commend” Laico Atlantic’s property with the highest praise, hence rating the hotel 4 out of the 5 stars is an exceptional achievement.

“Only the very best in the business are awarded a Certificate of Excellence,” said TripAdvisor, a body renowned for features reviews and advice on hotels, resorts, flights, packages, travel guides, and lots more. 

Out of 508 reviews of the hotel by the guests, 148 said it is excellent, 222 said the hotel is very good and only 38 said the facilities are poor.

In a recent encounter with this paper, Pascal Demarchi, general manager of Laico Atlantic Hotel, said:  “The main criterion of the award is mainly guest comments.  Guests who stay in the hotel give their feedback of the hotel with regard to their experience. Each hotel has a guest comment website created by TripAdvisor where guests can log in to make their comments – positive or negative - about any hotel in the world.” 

However, he said, the good thing about the website is that it also gives them, as hotel operators, the right to provide answers. 

West Africa real estate sector soiled by money laundering

Real estate activities are increasingly being used for money laundering purposes in West Africa, said the latest report of the Intergovernmental Action Group Against Money Laundering (GIABA).
Director General of GIABA, Dr Abdullahi Shehu

In the sub-region, financial crimes are generating wealth generally derived from the scourge of corruption, smuggling, confidence trick and the use of forgeries and drug trafficking, among others.

“In the West Africa region both the real estate and banking sectors are also used for the purpose of money laundering, which also affects cross-border transfer of funds,” GIABA points out in its 2011 report.

According to the report, other practices serving the purposes of illegal enrichment include, “the illegal use of companies and Designated Non-Financial Businesses and Professions (DNFBPs)”, the excessive utilization of the insurance and micro-finance sectors, stock-exchanges and securities, casinos and other sectors of betting and games of chance.

“Factors facilitating the proceedings of money laundering prove to be the vulnerability of states rather than the extent of threats. This accounts for the lack of capacities to decisively tackle the scourge of money laundering, preventive measures, political commitment and sanctions,” says GIABA.

GIABA further indicates that despite considerable efforts to curb money laundering in the region on the national, regional and international level, there remain major legal and constitutional challenges, aggravated by the lack of autonomy of some institutions, and the absence of effective national strategies to fight against money laundering.

ECOWAS to develop framework for regional tourism development

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is in the process of developing a comprehensive and strategic blueprint for regional tourism development that will look into such diverse issues as cross border tourism, standardization of hospitality facilities and regional branding.

The strategic framework will also address issues such as common and unified tourism statistical and data systems, harmonised immigration policies, joint promotional and marketing strategies, market intelligence sharing and joint product development strategies.

Gambian Leader, Yahya Jammeh
President Yahya Jammeh, whose statement was read on his behalf by The Gambia’s Minister of Basic and Secondary Education on Friday during the maiden ECOWAS Tourism Ministers Summit held in Banjul, said the strategic objectives of the comprehensive framework are to render ECOWAS destinations more interesting and attractive, increase the volume of inbound tourism to and within the ECOWAS zone and at the same time create investment awareness for tourism development in the sub-region.

“I am equally aware of the challenges and hurdles along the way towards the realization of these noble objectives, which among others, include the tenuous and inconsistent international flights availability, often limited internal transport links, cross border access difficulties including cumbersome visa formalities,” the Gambian president said.

However, he noted, these bottlenecks are not insurmountable, and with commitment and dedication of all ECOWAS countries and stakeholders in the sub-region, there can be significant improvements that will facilitate sub-regional tourism, trade and business in general.