By Buba Gagigo
The United Democratic Party (UDP) has asserted that President Adama Barrow’s State of the Nation Address this year was a sectoral activity report for the 2022 legislative year, not the 2023 legislative year.
“Even though the President said we should not “mistake” the SoNA as an activity report, it is essentially a sectoral activity report of the 2022 (not 2023) Legislative Year. The President is right in informing Gambians that in essence, our economy was influenced by several exogenous and endogenous economic shocks and headwinds.
“What the President did not tell Gambians is how his government dealt with, and intends to continue to deal with, these shocks and headwinds with a specific vision and specific policy proposals. The President should have a vision for the country and the specific policy proposals should be based on this vision,” the party said in a statement.
The party said the vision for the country should take into account the key global trends such as the pressures on the post-WW2 international system, lack of reforms of the UN Security Council and its impact on international security, the rise of China and the BRIC Countries as an alternative to the Bretton Woods Institutions; Climate change and its impact on our future survival; fossil fuels, the transition to renewable energy and gas; The Russian-Ukraine War and its impact on the global economy, on the Africa regional economy in general and the Gambian economy in particular: supply chain disruptions; inflation, the rise in the cost of living, subsidies; and Regional stability and security issues such as unconstitutional changes of government; the subversion of constitutions for self-perpetuation; Weaponization of state institutions and the judiciary against critics and opponents of the government; and Election integrity for free, fair, and transparent elections.
The UDP noted in their reaction that the Gambia is classified as an LDC by various organizations, and went on to ask what the President’s vision is for moving the Gambia from its current status as a least developed country (LDC) to subsequent stages of development.
The party also lamented the stalling of reforms in the public sector, as well as reforms in the constitutional, electoral, security, health, and education sectors.
“Reforms stalled: public sector reforms for the creation of a civil service that’s agile, fit for purpose, and can deliver transformational development results, legal/constitutional and electoral law reforms, security sector reforms, and social sector reforms: health, education utilities,” they said.
UDP claims that public confidence in state institutions is at an all-time low, contrary to the President’s statement. They also claim that the country’s public institutions are not independent, neutral, or impartial.
“The increases in cases before the courts, as the President asserted, may not be the best indicator of trust in the judiciary. What could be a good indicator is the number of cases filed, the length of the adjudication process, and fairness and transparency of judicial decisions, bearing in mind that justice delayed is justice denied. Also, while there is only one set of laws in the country for everyone, charging some and not charging others at Police Stations because of their political affiliations does not exactly exude public confidence in the judicial process and policing,” they continued.The opposition party accused the government of using the criminal justice system for political purposes, alleging that the government was weaponizing the law. The party also claimed that there was a glaring lack of due process and transparency in the way that the government had confiscated lands and assets from former President Jammeh.
“Private lands confiscated by Jammeh in Batokunku and reviewed by the Janneh Commission remain unreturned to their rightful owners without due process and compensation since 2017. Meanwhile, a select group of landowners, partial to President Barrow and his party, have been issued leases in Batokunku while the others remain unreturned. The impunity, lack of respect for private property rights, and the lack of due process are glaring hallmarks of the Barrow Government: there is no equality under the law,” they said.
The United Democratic Party (UDP) in the statement said that fuel subsidies are a policy instrument that is intended to protect consumers by keeping fuel prices low. However, the UDP also said that fuel subsidies come with a high cost to the government, such as fiscal costs, higher taxes, borrowing, or lower spending. Additionally, the UDP said that fuel subsidies promote inefficient allocation of economic resources, which can lead to low growth.
“Fuel subsidies are regressive taxes benefitting mostly the OMCs and the middle class and should therefore be reformed based on the following: undertake a comprehensive energy sector reforms plan; Ensure transparent communications; Phased price increases, protecting the poor and improving the efficiency of SOEs, and depoliticize energy pricing and adopt automatic price systems.
“While there is no single recipe for successful subsidy reform, experience elsewhere indicates that these reforms should result in government shifting the budget savings to programs intended to compensate the poor for higher energy prices through targeted social expenditures,” they said.
The UDP has said that a key feature of the country’s economy is its very large debt stock. This debt overhang, as it is known, is having severe social consequences, not unlike those seen in other highly indebted countries, such as Sri Lanka and Ghana. They went on to enumerate the Gambia’s debt stock over the years:
“(i) Jammeh’s debt stock in 22 years: D48B
(ii) Barrow’s debt stock in 7 years is said to be approximately D51B for a total debt of D99B. This is clearly unsustainable for FDI’s to invest in the country, and where are the returns on these debts?” they asked.
The party went on to criticize the status of our healthcare system, which they attributed to a lack of accountability and a failure to hold people accountable for their actions.
“our broken healthcare, education, utilities, and security situations in the country. Another hallmark of the Barrow Government is maladministration and maleficence. It is a government wherein the President seems to be operating on the basis of blaming everybody but me; where there’s no accountability and no consequence management,” they said.
The party also seizes the opportunity to thank its supporters for their ‘legendary’ loyalty, resilience, determination, and commitment to building the Gambia we want:
“(i) Let us never forget that UDP’s fight has historically been, and continues to be, a fight for the poor, the marginalized, the voiceless, and the powerless of our society;
(ii) Our fight is based on ideas, principles, the truth, honesty, respect, and integrity in government; and respect for the rule of law.
(iii) Our “fight is for a government of laws, not of men” (John Adams, “The Federalist Papers :);
“(iv) Let us also remember that instead of having a vision for the country and its implementation plan, your “Baba”, Uncle, “Kotoke”/Big Brother, Hon. Ousainou Darboe, and the UDP live rent-free in President Barrow’s mind and let’s keep it that way until he leaves office. For our part, the UDP has developed a document with a clearly spelled out vision as to where a UDP Government will take the Gambia. This document is entitled: UDP Working Paper Number 1: Building a New Gambia. It will be launched by the Party Leader in due course,” they said
The UDP said that NAWEC is currently producing about 46.6 megawatts (MW) of power domestically. This is from three generating sets in Kotu, two generating sets in Brikama 1, one generating set in Brikama 2, and two generating sets in Brikama 3. However, the peak demand for electricity in the Gambia is 100 MW.
To meet this demand, NAWEC is importing 53.4 MW of power from three sources:
- 30 MW from Karpowership, a floating power plant that is moored off the coast of the Gambia.
- 30 MW from Senegal through the regional grid.
- 30 MW from SENELEC, the national electricity company of Senegal.
The cost of importing this power is CFA1B, or approximately US$1.7 million, per month.
“It is a no-brainer that with the above scenario, and its national security implications, serious consideration should be given to reforming NAWEC’s current business model and adopting a new business model based on Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) for it to be fit for purpose for citizens to have a reliable source of cheap electricity and water, The reform plan which will be aimed at reducing the non-technical leakages related to the theft of fuel, inflating invoices for spare parts and other materials,
“In order to attract independent power producers, it may be necessary to break NAWEC into four (4) separate, but interconnected entities with the Gambia Government having majority control of each entity for national security reasons with separate boards or a combined board with the appropriate management structures. These separate entities should be configured in order to begin the Gambia’s transition to clean, renewable energy in compliance with our international climate change commitments and obligations.
• The four (4) entities could be constituted as follows:
• Power Generation.
• Power Transmission.
• Power Distribution; and
• Water and Sanitation,” they concluded.