By Awa B. Bah
The National Assembly member for Serrekunda, Halifa Sallah and Hon. Omar Ceesay, Member for Niamina East, on Friday 29th September 2017, raised questions before the Minister of Trade, Regional Integration and Employment. The questions were raised during the Third Ordinary Session of the National Assembly in the 2017 legislative year.
Halifa in his question, asked whether the Minister was aware of the number of Gambian youth who are deported and how her Ministry was prepared to collaborate with the Ministry of Youth and Sport to put into effect the labour exchange programme, mandated by Section 44 of the Labour Act and to also introduce a viable project that will ensure deportees and youth have access to viable income.
In reply to Halifa’s question, the Minister of Trade, Regional Integration and Employment said her ministry has not received any official communication on the issues of deportees but has learnt through public media (a press release by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation and Gambians Abroad) about the matter. Dr. Isatou Touray said she is aware and involved in the voluntary repatriation of migrants who are stranded in one of the transit countries; that her ministry communicated to that of the Interior, in order to be provided with the data on the number of voluntary repatriated migrants from 2017 to date. This request she said, has been responded to and her ministry is currently working on the data to ascertain the total number of Gambians involved, their gender and geographical distribution as well as their capacities and capabilities. She said the two (Ministry of Youth and Sports and her Ministry of Trade), are the coordinating ministries of the Youth Empowerment Project (YEP) and are working to create a reintegration scheme for these voluntary returnees, because the project seeks to control irregular immigration by creating economic opportunities in the country. On Section 44 (1) of the Labour Act 2007, the minister said this is different from a Labour Exchange Programme.
The department of labour she said, has established a Public Employment Service Unit in accordance with Section 44 (1) of the Labour Act 2007; that this unit remains inactive as job seekers are not finding it relevant to seek employment through the unit and employers are not registering with the Public Employment Service Unit to file their vacancies; that this is not mandatory under the current Labour Act of 2007. The Minister said in the previous Labour Act of 2009, it was made mandatory for employers to notify the Department of Labour for their vacancies.
With the increase interest of the private sector in job centers, she said Government has not seen the need to continue operating the Employment Service Unit on a large scale, but rather support the private sector, to provide the service. In view of this, the Minister maintains that GAMJOBS supported the setting up of AMRA as a private job seeking center; that recently, three job centers were added and they are AMRA, YMCA and EASE.
Dr. Touray said Government through MOTIE, signed Labour Exchange Programmes with the Government of Qatar for the recruitment of skilled Gambians to work in that country; that despite numerous follow ups, her Ministry never had any response from the Qatari side; that with the new dispensation, the new Government will review the initiative and engage the Government of Qatar and other countries for possible collaboration in the Labour Exchange Programme, to ease unemployment pressures currently being experienced by the youth of the country.
Dr. Touray said her ministry is collaborating with the MOYS in the area of youth employment; that this is evident with the implementation of the GAMJOBs project, the main focus of which, was youth and women employment, the Gambia Growth and Competitiveness Project (GCP), the Gambia Songhai initiative and the current YEP.
The Ministries of Interior, Trade, Youth and Sport she said, are working on a 3.9 Million Euro project with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), to strengthen the management and governance of Migration and to sustain the reintegration of returnees in the country.
Halifa in his supplementary question, said a unit should be established by Government to take record of people seeking employment and should also be in consultation with those who are providing employment so as to merge job seekers to employers. He asked the Minister of Trade if her ministry was coordinating with the Youth Ministry, to deal specifically with youth issues.
The Minister in her response said, the data that is being generated is an ongoing process; that it’s progress, determines the merging of job seekers and employers; that her ministry does not want to come up with a prescription but to engage those affected. Dr. Touray said her ministry is working on the available data with the concerned ministries.
With regards to the Ministry of Labour, Dr. Touray said they had a meeting and have decided that the data should be ready for the process of engagement to start. She revealed that the YEP project has started and now they are dealing with the process on how to engage the youth that have given their business plans to be captured.
On his part, the member for Niamina East Hon. Omar Ceesay asked Dr. Touray the measures her ministry has in place to increase employment opportunities for youth in the country.
In response to Hon. Ceesay’s questions, Dr. Touraay said employment creation is one of her main focus; that there are various initiatives currently in the pipeline geared towards job creation; that they are following the process with due diligence, to make this happen by following procedures.
Dr. Touray said through the Gambia Investment and Export Promotion Agency (GIEPA), her ministry is able to roll out the Empretec project which she said, is geared towards training youth in entrepreneurship and enterprise development to enhance employability, particularly self-employment. The formulation of the GIEPA Act she said, also creates the enabling environment for micro, small and medium scale enterprises to thrive, with special support packages included. Dr. Touray said in February 2017, the two ministries signed an 11 million Euro Youth Project with the European Union through the International Trade Center (ITC), as the implementing agency. This project she said, aims to support the economic development of the Gambia and improve the livelihood of her citizens.
The minister said YEP takes a market-driven approach and focuses on building specific skills among youth in a number of traditional sectors such as agriculture and tourism. The project she said, will also help diversity the Gambian economy by supporting new sectors like the creative and digital services industries.
Under the Country Programme and Action Plan (CPAP), Dr. Touray said her Ministry in collaboration with the Ministry of Youth, Agriculture and the UNDP, is piloting an agricultural training Center in Chamen village in the North Bank Region called the Songhai Initiative; that since its establishment, the Center has trained over 200 young Gambians in agricultural practices and techniques; that most of those trained are now employed. The initiative she said, is expected to revitalize the Mixed Farming Centers. She said her ministry and the ILO, are working on a Labour Intensive Project geared towards training and absorbing youth in sustainable employment or self-employment ventures. Dr. Touray further said that the recently concluded Gambia Growth and Competitiveness Project (GGCP), provides support for employment creation through entrepreneurship and enterprise development.
The Minister answered supplementary questions received from members of Lower Niumi, Lower Baddibu, Sandu, Kantora, Busumbala, Upper Saloum, Janjanbureh, Latrikunda and Banjul North constituencies and also from nominated members.