Dec 22, 2014, 10:06 AM
Gambian lawmakers on Tuesday passed three bills: The Gambia Investment and Export Promotion Agency Bill, Social Security Corporation Bill and the Housing Finance and Development Corporation Bill, respectively.
This bill, according to Yuspha Kah, the Minister of Economy, National Planning and Industrial Development, seeks to consolidate two acts into a single legislation governing investment promotion and facilitation, as well as promotion and management of free zones.
Noting that the bill was designed to address the needs and concerns of investors in an economy, he said it is imperative that it is reviewed and updated to reflect the changes in the needs and concerns of investors with time.
He added that the bill seeks to support the government's decentralisation efforts by providing fiscal incentives for those investors who invest in the priority sectors outside the Greater Banjul Area. The bill also seeks to rationalise the current duty-waiver system by adopting best practices of promoting investment around the world, that is, the application of low tariffs on raw materials and capital equipment instead of zero duty.
"As an improvement, the bill makes provision for the establishment of an investment monitoring committee to monitor and evaluate the performance of investors that have benefited from incentives," he said.
He added: "The bill seeks to address issues relating to micro, small and medium enterprises, in addition to export promotion to enhance their contribution to national development."
"In an era where transparency and globalisation have emerged at the forefront of the international economic agenda, export of goods has gained added importance as a vehicle for national growth. However, only developing a broad base of exportable goods can attain stability in the exportable goods."
According to the Minister, over the years, The Gambia's economy continued to rely on groundnut exports as the main commodity, leading to excessive trade deficits in the country's balance of payments. To change this, he stated, the Ministry thought it necessary to design an export development programme that would not only increase volumes, but also broaden the country's export base.
Social Security Corporation Bill
In presenting this bill, Momodou Foon, the Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs, told deputies that the bill seeks to repeal Social Security and Housing Finance Corporation and establish a distinct Social Security Corporation, which shall solely be responsible for the administration and management of social security fund, as well as the processing and payment of pensions and other types of benefits. Kombo North NAM, Adama Cham, seconded the minister's proposal.
Meanwhile, in his contribution to the debate on the bill, Hon Babanding KK Daffeh said "we have to have well-trained inspectors in order to avoid lapses of payment to the corporation," adding that all sectors have been covered by this bill.
He also expressed concern over the problems encountered by pensioners in accessing their social security benefits.
"Madam Speaker it's very sad that one works until his or her retirement age without having any benefits. People don't even see their account statement."
The Minority Leader and Member for Kiang West, Hon. Momodou Sanneh, said the bill is important, as it would allow Gambians to access their social security benefits.
The Member for Kombo East, Lamin Bonjang, also made similar comments, noting that it is difficult for pensioners to access their social security benefits. He cited an instance where he was himself a victim of the problem.
Hon. Bekai Camara of Wuli East, Hon. Sidia Jatta of Wuli West, and Hon. Paul Mendy of Kombo South, all echoed similar sentiments.
The Housing Finance and Development Corporation Bill
This bill, according to Minister Foon, seeks to establish a Housing Finance Corporation, which is distinct from the Social Security Corporation, which shall be responsible for the administration and management of a Housing Fund.
The Member for Wuli West, Sidia Jatta, said that the corporation must look at ways of expanding into rural areas, rather than concentrating much in the urban areas. He noted that they should also provide reasonable prizes so as to make housing affordable.
Kombo East member Lamin Bojang said the bill came at a right time, noting that it is not controversial.
"People are poor; so making a housing scheme expensive will make it difficult to acquire it," he added.
The member for Foni Brefet Hon. Bintading Jarju and the Majority Leader all supported the bill.
In response to the concerns raised by members, the Finance Minister said government allocates land to people, and disclosed that the government has identified 19 sites for the housing project, adding that this is a key priority.
"The corporation will endeavour to provide affordable housing in the community, and will not entertain depriving poor farmers, and if such happens due compensation will take place," he concluded.