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Address by The British High Commissioner

Apr 23, 2009, 10:34 AM


Tuesday 21 April 2009

Honourable Minister(s)
Honourable Members of the National Assembly
Members of the Diplomatic & Consular Corps
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen

Clare and I have been back in Banjul for 3 months now after a prolonged 8-month absence - non-voluntary I add.  So you can imagine how pleased we both are that you have joined us and usand all the High Commission staffall the High Commission staff this evening to celebrate the 83rd birthday of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. 

I should like to take this occasion to again pay a tribute to the High Commission staff.  It has not been an easy year with two different Acting High Commissioners.  But as usual they all manage to deliver the goods on time and with a smile, especially my Deputy, Graham Birse!

I, as the British High Commissioner, continue to be gratified, and flattered, by

- The genuine warmth and respect which the people of The Gambia hold for the United Kingdom and its people.

- And that sentiment is reciprocated not least by the continuing number of British people who holiday in The Gambia (some 60,000 this year.)

It is in the spirit of this close relationship and the warm reception they receive that a large number of these visitors have a desire to help their Gambian cousins.

I highlighted a number of ventures in my speech at last year's Queen's Birthday Party.

- The Don McMath Foundation spearheaded by Anne McMath.

- The relationship between the village of Soma and the LordLieutenant of Hampshire

- The Marlborough Brandt Group and Gunjur Link

- The Bansang Hospital Appeal, brilliantly run by Anita Smith - who, I am delighted to announce, was awarded the MBE in last year's Queen's Birthday awards.

Not forgetting

- Mae Winterton, from Schools for Gambia - who continues to carry out sterling work in the field of education - Mae is here this evening.

I can only repeat what I often say, that the people behind these ventures are pretty rare and unique.

And that a fair proportion of these unique individuals find their way to The Gambia tends to emphasise the

- Incredibly warm welcome which British people receive when   they come to The Gambia

- And the bond of friendship between our two nations

I have heard it said that Britain and the British people have not contributed and do not contribute sufficiently to The Gambia.

I believe this bond goes back generations, and is not easily broken.  It is a bond between people and maintains through good and bad times.  And will continue to do so.

It is clear that this is not the case.  These examples, together with the many others, which I have not highlighted, all give clear examples of how the peoples of The Gambia and Britain can and do work closely together to the betterment of The Gambia and its people.

On the official front too the UK/Gambia bilateral relationship remains strong.  The Royal Gibraltar Regiment continue to are now deploying here twice a year on a regular basis to undertakeing  training in PeaceKeeping Support Skills. 

This is with the Gambia Armed Forces and the Gambia Police Service and is linked to deployment to UN/AU peacekeeping activities e.g. in Darfur. 

The Royal Gibraltar Regiment also undertakes work in the community whilst here.

Last month e.g. in concert with the Gambia Armed Forces, they built a children's playground at the NationalSchool for the Deaf.

And it was my great pleasure to be asked to officially open it!  My thanks go to the Regiment and to the 20 or so members of the Gambia Armed Forces very ably led by Sgt Nyang Momotu, who were heavily involved in the construction.

And to Sarah Downing, our MO/VC, who gave much of her time and energy.

And a very big thank you to Chief of Defence Staff for his continuing support to the Royal Gibraltar Regiment.

This year Wthe British Government are continuing to allocate 3 places at the RoyalMilitaryAcademy at Sandhurst as well as offering a number of other senior level training courses.

And the Department for International Development (DFID), despite withdrawing their country manager in December last year remains the largest traditional bilateral donor in The Gambia.

Over the last year they have spent £2 Million continuing support to the Financial Governance Programme, the education sector (BESPOR), the legal sector and strengthening of Civil Society. 

DFID together with donor partners provided support to the International Electoral Commission and contributed to the success of the recent local elections. 

Since 2003 the UK government through DFID has committed over £10 million to projects and programmes in The Gambia, including

- Through the BESPOR Project - which enhances the capacity of the Department of State for Education to implement The Gambia Poverty Reduction Strategy in and through the education sector.

- The Legal Capacity Building Project which aims to improve the impartiality, efficiency and accessibility of The Gambia legal system

The Financial Governance Programme, which supports the development and implementation of a co-ordinated public financial management reform programme, delivering sustainable results.

Through the Excell Project  which empowers Civil Society organisations by way of capacity building and network linkages

The PROPAG Project which develops capacity building within civil society groups and supports their engagement with the Gambia Government on the policies, plans and implementation of the Poverty Reduction Strategy.

The Election Project which supports the presidential, legislative and local government elections in The Gambia. 

The Foreign Private Capital Capacity Building Project Phase II of which is funded by DFID in support of the Gambia Central Bank to improve the understanding of private capital flows in The Gambia. 

And The Gambia Civil Service Reform and Capacity Assessment was funded by DFID

DFID is also the major provider of funds for Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO), globally, which has 51 47 volunteers working in The Gambia. - And don't they all continue to do a brilliant job!

In partnership with VSO, the High Commission last year supported 40 projects in the areas of health, education and agriculture.  The projects are community owned and managed with professional support from the VSO volunteers.

The High Commission is working closely with other NGO's in country, including Concern Universal, on a number of other projects.  Three of these closely link around the theme of innovative technology and production techniques, supporting our own objectives of helping achieve sustainable development and a low carbon economy.

All three projects will have impact beyond the immediate beneficiaries.

The first project, Gambia is Good, will teach 60 trainers and 600 Gambian farmers in Organic Vegetable Production through step-down training.

The Fayunku Women's VegetableGarden, in Gunjur, together with the Trust Agency for Rural Development, has produced a very real opportunity to learn about vegetable growing techniques and marketing methods for the women of Gunjur and is a key producer for Gambia is Good. 

The production and promotion of energy saving cooking stoves in concert with St Joseph's Family Farms Centre, will introduce low energy stoves to 40 communities thus helping to reduce the carbon footprint.

Work in all three projects builds on existing collaboration between the partners on alternative energy initiatives.  The British Government attaches a high priority to promoting a low carbon economy and these (and other projects funded under the British High Commission's Bilateral Programme Fund) will have a positive environmental impact while improving the livelihoods of Gambian farmers more generally.

Total budget for these three projects amounts to over D500, 000

We are delighted that Concern Universal will provide co-ordination and technical support for three projects in an innovative collaboration with the British High Commission.

Other projects include supporting a Paper Recycling Skills Scheme where water supply improvements will allow the manufacture of compressed sawdust briquettes as an alternative fuel to wood for users such as bakeries, schools and hospitalsThe conference was organised with the support of the UNDP and provided a forum for dialogue between the Government of The Gambia and its development partners who pledged a minimum financial support if US$175 million over the PRSP 2 period.

So, as the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and I agreed when we met recently, The Gambia and the United Kingdom remain close in all respects.

We are also supporting the NGO, WANEP in their efforts to provide capacity building training for newly elected councillors, local government officials and local chiefs in the Western Region.

I was delighted to read in today's newspapers that Pamela Cole, WANEP Gambia's network co-ordinator is a member of the mission observing elections in South Africa.

The High Commission has an innovative joint venture with the Point Newspaper whereby a regular weekly information column covering issues such as the rule of law, good governance, women and children issues and health matters which allows readers to interact with experts in these fields.

The partnership between the Medical Research Council and The Government of The Gambia continues to yield real benefits to Gambians and to Africa as a whole.

Interventions developed in The Gambia are now saving millions of lives here and elsewhere (e.g. insecticide treated bed nets; and Hib and Hepatitis B vaccinations).

Core funding from the UK government will continue to provide the long term stability needed to support the necessary infrastructure and retain excellent scientists from all over the world.

And although MRC in Gambia will be changing over the coming years, it is definitely not leaving or closing down.

Indeed it is moving from a focus on disease based programmes to a focus on themes (Vaccines, disease elimination and child survival)

And within these themes the main health priorities for Gambia remain well represented - and in some cases strengthened.

There is for example a long-standing partnership between the MRC and the Government of Gambia in the area of vaccines.  Over 20 years this has resulted in The Gambia having one of the best Extended Programme of Immunisation schedules in Africa.

Disease elimination will continue to be a central theme of MRC Gambia activities in the next five years.

And in recent years deaths in children under 5 years of age have declined significantly here, and The Gambia is making good progress towards meeting Millennium Development Goal No. 4 (reduction of child mortality by two thirds by 2015).

And in purely economic terms we must not forget that over the last year, the MRC Gambia Unit has contributed over 400 million Dalasis to the Gambian economy through local salaries and through its local purchases of goods and services within The Gambia.

The MRC continues to be superbly headed by Professor Tumani Corrah CBE.

And in the past year, International Health Partners, a British Concern, has established "the Gambian Health Alliance" specifically to help the Government of The Gambia to access the appropriate skills, expertise and medical resources from the international public, private and voluntary sectors.

The Alliance is specifically designed to:

Help The Government of The Gambia meet its Millennium Development Goals targets (particularly 4,5 &6) and deliver the strategies in the Ministry of State for Health's Sector Plan

To build the necessary capacity and expertise in the planning, procurement, quality assurance, control, handling, distribution and management of medical resources and to increase quality of treatment in priority clinical areas of treatment

To improve the sustainability of the health service and reduce its reliance on external funding subsidies


To commit to the highest standards of accountability, governance, transparency, and control of all resources

It is in this context that in the past year the UK Pharmaceutical Industry has donated over D19m worth of medicines through this initiative.

And I am delighted to see that the President of International Health Partners, Anthony Dunnett, CBE and his team are with us this evening too.

Well, I think you will all agree that is quite an exhaustive menu!

And we look forward to continuing our efforts in the coming year to strengthen even further the friendship and co-operation that exists between the United Kingdom and The Gambia and more particularly the peoples of our two countries.

Minister, Distinguished Guests, Ladies & Gentlemen.

Please join me in raising your glasses in a toast to the health of His Excellency The President of The Republic of The Gambia.

The President.