President Adama Barrow of The Gambia, in his inaugural address to lawmakers on the occasion of the State Opening of the National Assembly, July 24 announced an agreement “with development partners for over US$50 million worth of investment to expand and improve education for our next generation.”
The funds are for the rehabilitation of schools, building of additional classrooms, and the introduction of a new teaching curriculum. He pledged to build on “existing programmes to enhance access to quality basic education, including early childhood education.”
The President stayed on script and delivered his concise and comprehensive address in just over 30 minutes. This was in stark contrast to the lengthy and offensive State Opening of the National Assembly addresses of the outgoing President, YahyaJammeh who often went off script to interject polemical statements.
Emphasising the need for the “New Gambia” ushered in through the historic defeat of ex-president YahyaJammeh should be “jealously guard(ed) to preserve the freedom and dignity of our people” and to “strengthen our new found democracy,” President Barrow then laid out his government’s priorities, achievements since coming into office and the challenges.
The President highlighted his governments priorities in the fields of education, justice, defence and security, information and communications, fisheries, energy and natural resources, forestry, climate change and water resources. In the over four thousand word statement, women were only mentioned once, and, this was in reference to theMinistry of Health’s scaled up “efforts to improve health delivery systems, especially for women and children.” Reference was also made to the World Bank funded US$7 million Maternal and Child Health Project.
Detailing the significant ongoing reform programmes President Barrow mentioned the de-congestion of the presidency from a huge number of public enterprises and other state agencies ‘which were previously under the direct coordination and supervision of the former president’ by streamlining those institutions with their line ministries; the formulation of a National Development Plan and security sector reform supported by the UN system in The Gambia; the establishment of a panel to review the wrongful dismissal of public officials between September 1997 and December 2016 and a comprehensive nationwide staff audit for the entire civil service including the security forces as well as key justice sector reforms.
Outlining achievements of his government since his inauguration, the President said that in a bid to decongest prisons he has pardoned and released over 500 political and other deserving reformed prisoners; established a Criminal Case and Detention Review Panel to enquire into all criminal proceedings against current and former public officers; set up a Commission of Inquiry to look into the financial and business-related activities of former President Jammeh and his associates and “Gambianised” the judiciary with the appointment of a Gambian Chief Justice and six Gambian Superior Court justices. Plans to set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission were also announced.
To ensure freedom of the press and freedom of expression, the “founding pillars of any strong democracy,” the President described ongoing actions to review oppressive media laws and reinstate three private radio shows that were illegally shut down. Resulting in the emergence of the free expression of divergent views on the print and electronic media.
Acknowledging the major deficits in the energy sector which were hampering development the President indicated the efforts made by his government which “has made it a priority from day one” to work with international partners, investors and developers to attract investments in this sector, culminating in the signing of an agreement to “double the current generation capacity in the country,” A cross-border electricity connection arrangement has been made with Senegal as “a short-term measure to boost the energy supply, especially in the rural areas.”
Reaffirming his government’s commitment to regional and global institutions such as the membership of the International Criminal Court he informed the august body that The Gambia has begun the process of re-joining the Commonwealth. Closer strategic relations were being formed with Senegal “partners who recognise the mutual benefit of closer cooperation.”
Making reference to the “virtually empty” Treasury which he found when he took over office with domestic and foreign debts at an all-time high President Barrow indicated that the “foreign reserve at the Central Bank was less than one month import cover. ‘The economic and governance situation was so bad that our international development partners had deserted us.’ To mitigate the economic and fiscal crisis in the short-term his government has set up an Accelerated National Response Plan.
With reference to Youth the President said that a new European Union funded Youth Empowerment Project initiative, which seeks to improve the skills of potential youth workers and prepare them, especially returning young migrants for the labour market is in place. He also encouraged Gambian youth to participate in agriculture.
In the agricultural sector President Barrow indicated that the Ministry of Agriculture has started supporting farmers and farming businesses to “improve seed input, modernise cropping and ploughing techniques, and enhance planning in the face of climate change and other hazards to agriculture.” A campaign to distribute, at subsidized prizes vegetable, rice and groundnut seeds and high quality fertilizer to intensify farmers production is currently underway.
President Barrow also announced that he has reversed an “executive order of the previous government to destroy the forest park in Bijilo with the construction of a hotel on the park grounds” and normalised the environmental impact assessment process with clear guidelines.
In declaring the session of the National Assembly open, President Barrow acknowledged the difficulties ahead and committed to pursuing his agenda “with greater transparency and accountability.”