Good afternoon UDP Congress 2020. I am elated and humbled by your show of trust in me to continue as your Party Leader. Thank you for the confidence. Thank you for the support and thank you for the encouragement. I therefore gratefully accept your unanimous nomination and election and promise that I will continue to put the United Democratic Party at the heart of everything I do.
As we forge ahead to the “Road to 2021”, we must remember that the 2021 elections will be a referendum on how a nation that has reposed great hope in a President who turned around and replaced their trust and confidence with greed, incompetence and avarice. This election is also about fundamental choices between contrasting visions of what our people want and deserve on the one hand and an unrelenting effort by a failed president to regenerate the very system , practices and orientation that Gambians rejected in 2016. The choice before us as a nation at a crossroads and our task is to offer a solid ,clear and comprehensive road map that marks a discernible departure from the current lethargy and failure we have been saddled with for the last four years.
To this end , I am very pleased to unveil seven high priority areas from the ambitious agenda that will form the basis of our manifesto in the upcoming elections. These critical areas are essential for the kind of economic and social safety nets that can uplift our people, consolidate democracy and position our country to prepare our very youthful population for a future that is full of opportunities and a nation that is free, democratic and at peace with itself and progressing in the rankings of human development.
First in the Five Point Agenda
We intend to pursue is the vital sector of Agriculture, nutrition and food security. We are proposing a wholesale transformation for this sector in which nearly three quarters of our people depend upon for their livelihoods. We will implement the Maputo Declaration signed in 2003 by African governments including ours, but have never been implemented here in The Gambia. The Declaration obliged signatory governments to dedicate 10% of their annual budgets to agriculture and rural development. The Barrow administration is allocating a paltry 1.8% of the annual budget to this critical sector for 2021; far less than what he proposes to spend on his personal office at the Statehouse with its few dozen employees. Under our proposal, Agriculture will have the largest budget item in the annual allocation. We will totally revamp the structure, management and operations of this sector in ways that will eliminate waste, fraud and direct the increased funding to transformational technology to shift away from reliance on only rain fed monoculture and adopt more diversified approaches.
We will invest substantially in modern horticulture with a view towards strengthening and expanding small holding ventures into viable commercial enterprises especially for our women who have toiled in gardens for generations essentially, on their own . Livestock, fisheries, poultry production as well as rice self sufficiency within five years will all constitute the broad nutrition and food security programs at the heart of our agenda for Agriculture, Nutrition and Food Security.
We also intend to invest in the production and value chain infrastructure facilities and services to maximize returns and reduce harvest loss as well as create inter sectoral linkages between agriculture and the private sector service operators like hotels and restaurants to maximize returns for all actors and beneficiaries. In short our plan for this vital sector is ambitious, transformative and forward looking. The substantial scope of our proposal reflects the urgency of the need, and the high priority we attach to it and mirrors the reality that a sector on which the vast majority of our citizens earn their upkeep, deserves a commensurate resource allocation and a dedicated leadership focused on its success.
The second priority area for a UDP is the establishment of a Youth Employment and Empowerment Scheme (YEES). Cognizant of our demographic reality that a majority of our population are young, the UDP believes investing in preparing our youth to be educated, skilled and equipped with the entrepreneurial spirit is the key to our success as a nation. Our plans call for a multifaceted approach that combines skills training in useful practical trades in ten specialized skill centers spread across the country.
We will also set up Youth Entrepreneurship Funds along with trade and commerce associations to foster networking among business interactions and create trade hubs throughout the country. We will also mandate that 25% of all government contracts be awarded to qualified youth enterprises as an affirmative action initiative to help grow and expand youth participation in our economy. We will propose a mandatory Youth Service Scheme for all high school graduates to help prepare them for the next critical phases of their personal and professional development.
The third priority for a UDP government is a total revamp and reorientation of the education and skills development sector. Our assessment of the education system in this country leaves much to be desired. We are proposing two years early childhood education, 9 years of basic education and 3 years of tertiary education be made free and compulsory for every Gambian Child. This would require substantial and targeted investment in modern school infrastructure properly equipped with learning resources as well as teacher professional education and development. The UDP will work with the Teacher’s Union, Subject Associations and Education Service Providers to formulate decent welfare and benefit systems for staff. In return teachers will be held to high and maximally enforced performance standards. We will revamp the Basic and Secondary Education curricula to reflect modern requirements of content, practice, research and development of innovative pedagogical practices, as well as review the assessment and examination systems. We will undertake a comprehensive review of the management of the education sector both at the national and regional levels to ensure improving learning outcomes, streamlined bureaucracies and increased accountability. We will also strengthen partnership with the private sector, CSOs and faith based organizations and incorporate them as key stakeholders in the development of broad based education development agenda.
We will also bring funding parity and help with curriculum development for the Madarassas to ensure equal opportunities for all students in the acquisition of a quality education. Overall, we are proposing to double education funding in the annual budget from its current 12.7% to 25%. We believe this to be both urgent and necessary if we are to compete in a world that is increasingly functioning on a knowledge based economy. These increased resources and the deep and fundamental reforms of the structure and management of the sector would help transform the entire education system from kindergarten to university.
The fourth priority agenda item for a UDP government is a thorough remaking of our decrepit, underfunded and totally inadequate public healthcare and social welfare sector. We will propose investment in the upgrading of facilities of health centers. Buildings, equipment, reliable power and water supply and medicines will all be brought to levels that would ensure medical personnel are able to function properly in the vital services they deliver. We will revamp the management of healthcare away from the current bureaucratic arrangement and create Regional health teams positioned across different regions of the country premised on an equitable and rational staffing of facilities. This will ensure better outcomes as resources are decentralized and applied directly to patient needs. We will invest in maternal healthcare to reduce neonatal and childhood morbidity and mortality.
We will also revamp the pay and working conditions of healthcare workers, provide ongoing specialized specialist training opportunities to personnel to improve skill sets. We will also promote medical research, estblish partnerships with medical institutions around the world as well as encourage private sector participation in healthcare delivery.
A fifth priority is the area of energy and digital infrastructure both of which constitute the engines of a modern economy. We will propose a comprehensive energy policy that will address the key issues of generation, transmission and distribution of reliable and affordable energy for consumers for both water and electricity. We propose a phasing out of our reliance on fossil fuel driven power plants and pivot to systems based on renewable sources like solar which our year round abundance of sunlight makes it a viable and attractive option. We will invest in the upgrading of transmission lines as well as restructure the management and operations of Nawec to help it recalibrate its focus and mission to provide affordable water and electricity services to all Gambians.
In the ICT sector we will expand the deployment of broadband Internet and work with ISPs and telecom operators to make it affordable and accessible countrywide. We will utilize contactless payment systems such as the ones deployed by money transfer companies to increase commerce and reduce cash related transactions. This will be an effective management tool and promote accountability and transparency in government.
We will construct community information centers with free broadband services throughout the country to among other things facilitate citizen / government interactions as well as implement legal frameworks to regulate the ICT sector and mitigate against cybercrime.
In addition to our Five Point Agenda, we have two additional sectors we will allocate prioritise emphasis on
On Tourism, we recognize our current business model is inadequate and our proposal calls for a comprehensive review and revitalization of the sector to improve this key sector of our economy. We believe the key to attracting more visitors lies in diversifying the tourism products we offer and central to that is developing and delivering customized training programs for sector personnel. Well trained staff, infrastructure and accommodation that meets international standards as well as development and promotion and preservation of our culture and heritages will all be combined to give a rich and rewarding experience for visitors . We also intend to preserve and improve our beautiful flora and fauna, and promote eco tourism as a key attraction for visitors.
The UDP also proposes to invest in attracting tourists beyond the customary European market to include Asia, Africa, the Americas as well as in-country tourism by our own citizens and residents. We believe there is great potential in incentivizing our considerable diaspora population to visit regularly and add in country visit and exploration to their normal family stays. For example a day long visit with friends and family to Kartong with a beachside seafood lunch and a boat ride for a “Semester” would be nice experience as well as help local service providers who earn a living from this type of enterprise.
We will endeavor to provide visitors with the best experience our nation and its friendly people have to offer but we will have a strict policy of zero tolerance for pedophiles and other deviant behaviors against minors and other classes of vulnerable people.
And finally a UDP government will exert maximum effort to have the tourism sector utilize local products especially such as vegetables, poultry and related items as well as use local vendors for source materials. This will require helping farmers produce sourced items that meet the quality and supply chain requirements of the hospitality industry. We believe our tourism sector can grow significantly and employ a lot more of our people if we implement these changes
A UDP government will also pursue a science based environmental and resource management policy. We recognize the devastation that has been brought upon our environment and the increasing consequences of global warming. We are proposing urgent mitigation strategies in the areas of reforestation, fragile ecosystem protection, improvements in farming practices, and carefully regulated extraction of finite resources. One area of great concern is the exploitation and management of our marine resources. The UDP will revamp the sector and come up with science based exploitation strategies that provides employment and supplies our people in a sustainable way that allows for stock recovery and a balanced marine life.
Anchoring all our agenda is a commitment to honest and transparent management of our limited resources. The UDP will enforce zero tolerance on corruption and will introduce a culture of full disclosure of public finance, fiscal prudence and iron clad commitment to balance and expenditures. We will eliminate waste and fraud in budget. Through an e-governance system, the following four principles will form the basis of our management of the national budget :
• Solvability: The UDP government will within the first term of its mandate put in place a system that will require all budgets submited to the National Assembly to be deficit neutral on parliament to pass a balanced budget act that will require all budgets submitted to it be deficit neutral. This will be the golden rule principles that will guide our budget.
• Liquidity: Maintain enough cash inhand to avoid increase in Public Sector Borrowing Requirement (PSBR) and interest expenses. Liquidity will be maintained through a complex system of provisions and budget control.
• Credibility: Promote decipline by adherence to expenditure ceilings and composition. Credibility will be maintained through a system of internal controls (which ensures that the administration abides by the budget) and external scruitiny (where the National Audit Office and external Auditors evaluate the execution of the budget and report to the National Assembly as and when required during the fiscal year).
• Transparency: UDP will introduce a fourth pillar transparency code for benchmarking and they are timely fiscal reporting, forecasting and budgeting, fiscal risk analysis and management and revenue management. This will ensure the people who the government works for know precisely what is being done with their budget .
Combining prudent fiscal management with necessary reforms of the taxation and regulatory regimes to make it more progressive, reduce corruption will spur growth in the private sector .
We will propose an ambitious investment strategy that would aim to create a conducive environment for our citizens to invest here at home. We will also explore ways to set up a sovereign wealth fund to deploy state owned pools of capital in additional ways to maximize returns and help further the nation’s strategic economic and social priorities.
I want to emphasize that our agenda is broad, deep and extensive. What we propose is a fundamental departure from the current dysfunction we have. I pledge to you the Gambian people that if you entrust me and the UDP with the responsibility to serve you, you can expect maximum exertion of efforts and that everything we do will be about you, for you and in the best interest of this nation that we share. I promise I will assemble the best this nation has to offer in terms of capable, experienced and selfless professionals who understand both our challenges and the opportunities we can harness to move our country forward. Our team would have the capacity to craft and manage the vision I lay out before you in this gathering and one I will be taking to the nation in the coming days and months. They also have the commitment to execute the vision that fall in their individual purviews. More importantly, our team will consist of men and women of impeccable integrity who are driven by what they can do for you than anything they seek for themselves.
- This pledge is my personal commitment and a legacy we aim to deliver to all Gambians and to generations yet unborn. Over the coming months during the course of 2021, my able team and I will be reaching out to every Gambian at home and abroad to elaborate more on the policy commitments a UDP government will provide to the people of The Gambia. To the Gambia ever true – I thank you all.