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The 1974 MEPID achieved its mission before liquidation. The new MEPID has a bigger challenge

Jul 14, 2010, 3:26 PM | Article By: Alhaji Ba Tarawale, Researcher

The establishment recently of the Ministry of Economic Planning and Industrial Development (MEPID), by the APRC is the second time this is happening in The Gambia. The first was established in 1974 by the PPP regime. This story seeks to review and report findings relating to the 1974 ministry and the stories that follow will highlight the problems facing this country with which the new MEPID will grapple.

This ministry, like that of the PPP, came Thirteen years after the APRC took over the reign of power. They both in the Thirteenth year of their reign found it necessary to create a new ministry and in this case, the Ministry of Economic Planning and Industrial Development in preparation to embark on bold actions.

This came in the wake of the liquidation of a ministry of identical name, set up by the erstwhile PPP regime. That regime in the first thirteen years of its reign managed the affairs of this country with traditional ministries such as agriculture, education, health, finance etc. surrounding themselves with bureaucratic norms and hiding behind red-tapism and avoiding new initiatives and imaginative actions required by the present situation, whose mantra is devotion to development.

Most African leaders of the first generation are usually attuned to the work spirit of the traditional ministries, for it is from those ministries many of them had their first experience of work and apprentiship and are products of those ministries. Many in those days were always groping in the dark and having officials of ex-colonial powers to do all the work for them, whilst they dined and wined.

About two decades after, many of them discovered that they had not been able to be at the same wave length with the feelings of the masses of the people. They realized that an alternative course had to be charted. The thinking began to shift from reliance solely and wholly from external advice to the new concept of planning, which is not agreeable to the ideology of colonial powers.

However, the disciples of reforms in the administrative strata, who had been lying low in frustration and had been yearning for a change of direction started to breath a sigh of relief as sign of change begin to surface and change did come. The PPP regime made the right decision when in 1974, it established the Ministry of Economic Planning and Industrial Development.

This ministry in its usual zeal and dynamism, within a short time produced a development plan, tabled in parliament as a sessional paper and enacted as the five year development plan and later extended to ten years.

1975 - 1980, 1980 - 1985. With this development plan in the hands of reformers in the PPP regime, the stage was set for the acceleration of the development agenda of the country; rushing work on constructional and infrastructural programs.

Ignoring no sector of the development agenda. The plan was a catch-all and all embracing. The constructional work put in hand included the rebuilding of wharves at provincial seaports, long abandoned and left lying in collapsible conditions. As river going ships, the Fulladu and the Lady Wright had all sunk.

Also favoured by the plan was feeder roads, many of these in the provinces were rebuilt and restructured. This was only a tip of the ice-berg. The major projects were soon put on hand. These included the establishment of institutions that never existed and of very high profile. The famous Commercial and Development Bank, the Agricultural Bank, the NTC, the Gambia River Transport Corporation and several others all mentioned in the Daily News of March and April 2010.

At the time employment opportunities was abound and the wages good. In a self-congratulatory remark, a one time minister of MEPID Saihou Sabally said, "The Gambia never had it so good," borrowing the statement of Britain's Prime Minister Harold Macmillan.

The 1975-85 Development plan introduced a period of windfall and a boom, The Gambia had not seen its like since the construction in the 40s of the Bund Road and the construction in the 40/50s of the Royal Victoria Hospital, both financed and built by money of British Tax payers.

Whilst there were plenty of jobs, enjoyment and merriment was countrywide. The PPP regime in a bang liquidated and closed down the ministry of Economic Planning and Industrial Development, causing the country a great pain and disappointment. And whilst the country suffered from that pain, the government seemed to have started running amuck by the series of liquidations and closing of institutions.

The Gambia Commercial and Development Bank, the Agricultural Bank, The NTC, the Gambia River Transport Cooperation and others all followed suit. The Public Works Department also liquidqted, the entire workforce sent home and became jobless and women and children wailing. This somber mood continues up to this day. Why did the government take this step? This was the question on everyone's lips. For the scale of the liquidation and the harm caused to the country and the people certainly surpassed whatever expediency that might have led to the decision. More surprising is that apart from public works department, the GPMB and Marine Department, all the institutions closed had all been conceived, established and developed by the PPP regime.

They were their own hand works. And shocking still is that these institutions had all been of very high profile and had been responding very well to public interest. The people were affected, but the nation too was seriously affected for the public works department was the central depot of the accumulated collections of a pool of the entire Gambia machine/plants/tools/equipment. All treasures of the nation.

The good record of the Ministry of Economic Planning and Industrial Development of the PPP regime surprised all at its liquidation, making us fear that such a thing does not happen to the new MEPID.

The closing down of these state institutions was followed by another act of liquidation of industries privately owned by Gambians. The mineral water factories manufacturing refreshments like strawberry, fanta, orange, vimto, sprite etc.

These had satisfied local demand and had a distribution network up to the Upper River Region. The proprietors and Chief Executive namely Pa Ndure of Bakau, Jamil Farage of Serekunda, Mrs Awa Saho of Banjul, Lamin Jarra, Brikama, Lamin Jack of Kanifing, Hassan Farage, Banjul, Oldfields of Banjul all of blessed memory were unable to continue operating their own industries.

These Chief Executives operated in various parts of the country, training and employing personnel of varying level of skills and expertise, specialized in different operational sectors.

The local mineral water factories were all closed and the investors lost their capital and investment, entire machines, stock of essence, gadgets and the money and time taken to train all the workers. All workers sent home and became jobless, roaming in the street, causing a huge labour problem.

These factories closed when Julbrew, a foreign company, with heavy machine/plant and unlimited capital and with concessional grants began operation, manufacturing and producing the same products except, beer and stout. Gambian manufacturers were supplying to the Gambian public all their requirements but with the establishment of Julbrew.

They were unable to function and compete.  Julbrew was centrally located and still perched in one place and not expanding into the provinces. The late Jamil Farage in addition to his Serrekunda factory, had begun the process of decentralization by establishing another factory at Mansa Konko and would have gone further. Others too would have followed suit. Up till now, Julbrew is unable to satisfy the local market. Peep into any Naar or Peul Shops, one will find big piles of imported canned drinks of the same brand produced in the past by our own local factories and now been produced by Julbrew. Observers believe that Julbrew with heavy plants, destabilized local industries, driving them out of the market and not able to satisfy the local demand, creating a big supply gap, the imported drinks seek to fill.

MEPID should recommend to the President to revisit the company file of Julbrew to see whether it has kept the commitment made at the start of its operation in this country. We also lost our tailoring industry in circumstances that could have been avoided, Gambian tailors are in the streets of Banjul also loitering with the hope that their problems will be looked into.

The situation was and remains that workers had been sent away by the closing of state institution, workers sent away by the closing down of the mineral water factories and now, tailors too have lost everything due to the Albert Market fire inferno of the 80s. The only area that looked stable and functional for the Gambian was commerce and trading operated by the Banjul wolof, the Aku Marabout, the Lebanese and almost all, acting as agent of foreign commercial firms, selling textiles and other consumable imported goods.  And a major item of business was the groundnut trade.

There was another level of business, called petty trading. This was the area where the Mauritanians (Naar ganaars) and Peul from Conakry operated. The situation looked a gentlemanly arrangement with the Naar ganaar and Peul staying all the time at the level of petty trading. And others, commercialist and businessmen, all operating credit/dept to the region of millions of dalasi.

The situation continued until again the Gambia government issued orders reducing private participation and favouring increased cooperative society involvement in the groundnut trade, leaving traders largely with textile trading.

As Gambian traders in the private sector began to lose control over the groundnut trade, the parallel loss of control over textile business was beginning to manifest itself. It did not take long for the Gambian trader to lose control completely.

He too was now in the street like his cousins, brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces, sons who have lost their jobs. Banks that existed in the country, two in number at the time, the Standard Chartered Bank and the BICI had not much sympathy for Gambian businessmen. And underwriters/brokers and others all rather than allowing over draft facilities to businessmen, enjoyed the seizure and the auction of their houses and landed properties. As a counter measure. The Gambia government set up the Commercial and Agriculture Bank. These soon collapsed and Gambian businessmen left in a deeper lurch.

But hoping salvation would come by their way one day. This was a dream that never materialized for a different brand of Pulaar descending on this country, all coming from Sierra Leone and Liberia, two countries that had undergone a lot of manipulation and bloodshed. These have come with a lot of money, joined by new arrivals of Naar ganaars both departing from their traditional petty trading status, and moving higher, to the level of commercialists offering to pay higher shop rental fees, and lump sums of rent money for several years. Thereby import and sell by wholesale and retail of goods and bringing someone from their own countries to handle the retail trade, leaving no room whatsoever for Gambian involvement. The situation is that no Gambian is employed as shopkeeper, as retailer, a credit/debtor, storekeeper, and full time accountant, commercial or personal manager.

The arrival from Asia, Lebanese and Indians almost all keep the Gambia workers arms length from their business. Gambians businessmen, whether white or blue-colloured workers have no alternative but to be milling around government building to catch attention of their representatives in government.

They also operate round the Serekunda, Brikama, Farafenni, Soma, Brikamaba and Basse markets, hoping to stumble on someone who would help with the meal of the day. This is the situation and continues to be so, increasingly manifesting itself.

Whilst on a countrywide tour, the president caught sight of the problem. He was outraged by the glaring desperate situation of exploitation. Those who have been listening to the speeches of His Excellency, president Yahya Jammeh should by now be familiar with the logic and content of his language, publicly denouncing those called vampires, blood suckers and exploiters, citing the foreign domination of our economy, commerce and trade.  The lack of industries, the lethargy and lack of skills by the youths of the country. He then appealed to all to redress the situation. But no change has yet occurred. The foreigners are infact now driving the noose around our neck by the heartless and continuous price increase of goods.

Judged from what had been heard from the President's speech and our interpretation of what we heard, we have identified Gambia's problems as follows (1) lack of patriotism, (2) lack of  managerial skills, (3) lack of artisan and skill workers, (iv) lack of imagination and bold planners. But certainly not an economic problem. We have enough natural resources in this country to guarantee our survival.

We acknowledge the fact the new ministry of Economic Planning and Industrial Development may have their own perception of the causes and the solutions of the problems of the country.

They must realize that other Gambians not within the realm of the government but are independent with sound credentials of patriotism and a record of commitment to national development too have been monitoring and observing the situation and they have their own thoughts, beliefs, concepts, knowledge and information of what should he done to reduce the high level of exploitation.

We therefore make recommendations. They are in three groups:

Group A, we appeal to the president through MEPID to bring back and reopen industries closed by the PPP regime.

B) We appeal to the president to reopen reconstitute and reactive the public works department together with all its provincial branches, Bakau, Mansakonko, Janjangbureh, Basse, re-open the commercial and development bank and the agricultural bank and let them have branches in all parts of the country.

C) Reopen the NTC and open all its provincial factories.

D) Reopen the Gambia River Transport Corporation for the purpose of transporting passengers and goods up and down the country as an alternative route.

E) This country used to have a Butter manufacturing industry situated at Yoroberi Kunda (YBK) in the Lower Fulladu West District.

The product was supplied daily to the Teachers Training College, Armitage School, all the public servants, the Commissioner Office's, Bansang Hospital, Sapu, traders and businessmen in the area. The product was good and second to none. This factory was closed. Please re-open.

F) In the 40s onward, located behind Bathurst Albert Market was a tomato factory called Tomato Puree. This too was closed. Please reopen it.

Group II

We appeal to the president through the Ministry of Economic Planning and Industrial Development to set up three companies: Company A: this will bring under one administrative umbrella all the artisan and skill workers and workshop from Banjul to Fatoto, comprising Gambian, Senegalese and any others dealing in the business of artisan and skill trade and metal works.

B) The Pulaar and Naarganaar monopoly and strangle-hold on the economy. The business of each must be valued and Gambian capital be provided to bring Gambians, Naarganaar, Peuls all under one business head together perhaps under NTC or any other name but the company should consist of Naarganaar, Pulaar from Conakry and Gambians. These company should handle and direct the commerce and trade of the country.

C) There should be a company dealing with inland air travel with airstrips at Yundum, Kanilai, Mansakonko, Janjangbureh, Basse and Fatoto.

Under all these arrangements, the Gambians, Senegalese, Naarganaars and Peuls will all work together in one company for the common good and without anyone having an advantage on each other.
The reader is informed that the challenges the new MEPID will face will be reviewed.