Let me start by thanking almighty Allah (SWT) for making us all witness the end of this eventful year, and beginning of the New Year with high hopes and aspirations for a better future.
As I extend the traditional national New Year greetings of goodwill and prosperity to you, I wish to take this opportunity to share some of the highlights of the passing year. It is also a time for reflections and analysis of the coming year and beyond.
In twenty days’ time, it will be exactly one year when I was sworn in as the President of this country following my election on December 1st 2016. The refusal of the former president to accept the outcome of those results, set into motion sequence of events with far reaching political, socio-economic and security implications, which has greatly affected smooth functioning of the state machinery.
Indeed, when you elected me as the president of this beautiful country, it was no mistake that the task ahead of me is not only challenging but also huge and demanding. However, never in my mind have I doubted our great potentials to rebuild our country. We have the human resources comprising of talented youthful population, as well as the geographical advantage to make this great country a force to reckon with in the sub region.
That is my belief and it is anchored on the fact that I have confidence in my administration but more so in you Gambians to collectively transform our economy, deepen our democracy and rule of law.
In the face of a commanding resistance, you must be applauded for taken your country back from the dictatorship that far too long strangled our country, suppressed our potential to grow, dwarf our spirit and confidence to compete on the global stage. This is not just an incredible feat but a clear manifestation that with the collective efforts and sacrifice of Gambians here and abroad, no challenge facing our country is impossible for us to handle.
This is why my administration is working tirelessly to ensure that there in transitional justice, while we undertake the needed processes for institutional, social and political reforms. We must all set our mind that together we can set the standards for a prosperous nation now and for the next generations.
However, it is clear that we did not begin this task with the best of the conditions. We started from a position undermined by decades of mismanagement and undemocratic consolidation of power, that weaken our institutions, our coffers not only emptied, but we are loaded with huge debt. The country has debts of more than 1 billion US dollars which is a staggering 120% of debt to GDP, this is equivalent to each household owing about 4500 US dollars. In addition, state assets have been neglected. Electricity is a case in point.
NAWEC Generators have not been maintained and have been run into the ground. In October two generators were shut down for scheduled overhaul, but in the course of a few weeks three other generators broke down, this caused unacceptable power cuts.
I must say I was deeply encouraged by the level of patience demonstrated by the Gambians under the difficult condition. As a government, we have taken the decision to plan for additional new power plant as a medium and long-term plan and a complete overhaul of the ageing generators. My Government has set out an energy Roadmap to help fix the continuous energy crisis. This plan is already attracting donors and investors.
These are some steps we have undertaken for this country to graduate from isolation and collapse economy to a vibrant destination for investors and a centre of attractions for people in the sub region and beyond.
During the year under review my administration has forged relationship with many development partners and made so many genuine friends within a short span of time. We engaged many partners to rebuild our economy but also our social ties across religious, geographical and political boundaries. This goodwill has since translated into benefits as we see signs of progress in our democracy and macro-economic status. The port has seen an increase in trade. Tourism has recovered and there is a mark improvement in our macro-economic status.
The GDP growth for 2018 is projected at 3.8 percent compared to a growth of 2.2 percent in 2016. The agriculture, industry and service sectors are all expected to register positive growth compare to the year ending.
Inflation has reversed its rising trend declining from 8.8 percent in January to 7.4 percent in October 2017 reflecting the gradual decline in food prices and stabilization of the Dalasi.
Treasury bill rates have declined between September 2016 and September 2017. This has reduced the cost of Government’s borrowing by close to 50 percent and this trend is set to continue in the coming year.
The Dalasi has remained stable since April 2017; with gross international reserves increasing from less than one month of import cover at end-2016 to well over 4 months by the end of year under review.
Fellow Gambians and friends of The Gambia,
Given that no country can survive in global isolation more so a small country with limited natural resources like ours, one of the first assignments of my government is to return our country into the fold of the international community. We have already set the ball rolling for re-joining the Commonwealth and other international bodies such as the International Criminal Court and we have also reaffirmed our membership in the international centre for settlement of investment disputes to encourage and restore Investors’ confidence.
My administration has already signed the Trade Facilitation Agreement with the World Trade Organisation, to ease access to markets and have an improved investment environment.
We have since restored free speech and freedom of the press. Politics of fear and intimidation have no place in today’s Gambia. We usher in an age of dialogue and transparency. My Government also encourages all Gambians to be informed and engaged. This is demonstrated by the increase in youth and women participation in the democratic process. We have encouraged openness to the media to promote dialogue and understanding on our national issues, thus promoting freedom of expression and opinion.
In the development process, it is practically impossible to take on all development challenges at once, this is why prioritisation and focus is important. In this regard, following careful consideration I have personally identified the following five thematic areas as my presidential priorities during my tenure of office.
- Energy and Infrastructure,
- Education and Youth Empowerment
These areas will be monitored with keen interest to ensure that my Government achieves key milestones and targets which are now being worked out at the technical level.
It is also important to note that these presidential priorities have also been incorporated in the National Development Plan as required. This government blueprint which has already been validated is an all-inclusive plan with clear vision and implementation strategies.
In conclusion, as we usher in the New Year, let us make firm resolutions as a country with the bold objective of constructive change and work towards achieving exciting new possibilities in our personal lives, as well as in the life of our nation.
I urge all Gambians and friends of The Gambia to redouble our efforts and dedication to timely and effective implementation of our development plan. This requires sectoral leadership in the ministries, departments and agencies to monitor and supervise the implementation and outcomes of the National Development Plan.
And let us go forward into 2018 with optimism and faith in our ability to achieve and succeed.
I pray to almighty Allah to grant us all a New Year filled with good health, prosperity and happiness.