Sunday, February 23, 2020

Trans-Gambia Bridge Project design is a legitimate concern of Gambians - Republication

The TransGambia Bridge Project has become current again as a topic of discussion following the recent visit of President Barrow to Senegal where it appears that of the Bridge Project is one of the three Agreements signed.

We have written a great deal about the genesis of the project and about subjects related to it.  The most recent one was the 25th May, 2016 when we expressed concern about the final design of the bridge which, if it's mishandled, will have a lasting impact on the economic, social and environmental fabric of our society. 

We are republishing the blog post by request. 

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Example of a cantilever bridge 
The Gambia River, one of the most navigable and important rivers on the African continent, is the single most important natural resource of one of the world's poorest countries - The Gambia.

The Gambia exists because of the river that it took its name from.  The River Gambia is The Gambia and The Gambia is River Gambia.  It is, therefore, a natural resource that must be protected at all cost and to be preserved for generations yet unborn.  To protect and reserve it is to protect and preserve Gambia's national identity.
Source of the River Gambia
The bridge over River Gambia has always been central to Senegal's, as well as the regional's, interest that will connect northern and southern Senegal, as well as to connect a critical link of the ECOWAS highway system linking Abuja to capitals along the west African corridor.

The original project, under the purview of the OMVG was first mooted in the late 1970s.  The project included a barrage component (Bridge - Barrage Project) to provide irrigation water for rice production, a component that was proven to be environmentally unsustainable, according to a USAID-funded University of Michigan study.  Gambia's interest which centered on the barrage for irrigation fell when it proved an unsustainable proposition.

Senegal managed to keep the bridge project alive for over three decades until fairly recently when the project was reconstituted as a Bridge Project.  It is important, at this stage of the negotiations, for Gambians to familiarize themselves with the history of the project to appreciate the geopolitical importance as well as the implications of the outcome of the negotiations that is taking place in Dakar.

During negotiations, the Gambian Foreign Minister, Mrs. Neneh MacDouall-Gaye, raised the design issue of the bridge which, according to her, obstructs or impedes the navigability of River Gambia. The fact that Gambia is raising fundamental design objections, albeit late in the project cycle, is extremely important an issue that MUST be satisfactorily addressed by both parties and the donor community, including the AfDB.

The late objection should not be an excuse to proceed without satisfactorily addressing the issue because, if indeed the design obstructs navigation of one of Africa's most navigable rivers, it will be a national tragedy of monumental proportion that will be revisited by an successor government to Yaya Jammeh.
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Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Senegal officially closed its border to the cashew export trade through Gambia - Re-publication

Senegal's Commerce Minister, Alioune Sarr
First published 9th May, 2018 

The Senegalese government of Macky Sall has decided on Tuesday to close its border to the cashew export trade that has been going on for over a decade.

A Senegalese delegation from Dakar headed by the Senegalese Commerce Minister, Alioune Sarr, convened a meeting in Ziguinchor with local authorities, customs officials, transport unionists and stakeholders to discuss the  new government policy.

Henceforth, cashew from the southern Senegalese region of Casamance will not be allowed to be transported to the port facilities in Banjul for export purposes.  Speaking to the officials and stakeholders in the southern Senegal capital of Ziguinchor in Wolof, the Minister assured exporters full government support, including bank financing of their operations, to win their cooperation.

The port of Banjul, despite its less than ideal conditions during the Jammeh era, is still a relatively attractive alternative to the Dakar Port both in terms of distance from source and turnaround time.  The operators, exporters and transporters favor Banjul to Dakar port for these reasons.
Port of Banjul 

As expected, the Senegalese transport union is reportedly opposing the new policy which is seen as interfering in the basic tenets of the ECOWAS Protocol of free movement of goods and people.

Our sources are reporting that the transport union has refused to transport the cashew to Dakar because it is not profitable for them.  They have also refused to transport the cashew crop from the bush if they the destination is Dakar and not Banjul.

Thus the Commerce Minister's suggestion that the commercial banks will provide financial facilities for the operations is to make the new policy profitable for the transporters and exporters, according to sources.  Time is neither on the side of the Senegalese nor on the Gambian governments because the cashew season commences next week.

The Gambian government is yet to make a pronouncement on what clearly is an attempt by Senegal to contravene ECOWAS Protocols on the movement of goods and people across Member State.

This development is one more reason for the Barrow government to move judiciously and with patriotic fervor to put Gambia's interest ahead of personal or partisan interest first.  We are to protect the family jewels from being sold.
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Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Open Letter to President Adama Barrow : The time has come for national introspection through genuine and inclusive dialogue

                                        

His Excellency President Adama Barrow
President of the Republic of The Gambia
No 1 Anne Marie Javouhey Ave
State House
Banjul
2/02/ 2020
Open Letter to President Adama Barrow: The time has come for national introspection through genuine and inclusive dialogue
Your Excellency, Mr. President:
We, the undersigned organizations, extend warm greetings to you and your cabinet.  We write to you, with regards to a series of occurrences in The Gambia, which is cause for grave concern for us, citizens, who have been engaged in the promoting and strengthening the principles of democracy, good governance and rule of law.  We have, since the inception of your presidency, supported the processes of national reconciliation, social cohesion, demand for public accountability, access to justice, and the right to freedoms of assembly, association and expression.  We have, as you may recall, written to you as far back as 10 April, 2018, (the 18th anniversary of the killing of protesting students), urging you to show political will and leadership in confronting acts of illegality and corruption in your government and prioritizing civil and security sector reforms, by ensuring that impunity is rooted out of the system of government you inherited.  We never received a response from you, or your office. 
You instead demonstrated the exact opposite actions, to what we had expected from an incumbency, which enjoyed enormous goodwill, both internally and externally.  You did nothing.  Impunity reigned supreme in your government, and lessons and warnings went unheeded.  We are utterly dismayed by the signs of an uncaring, unresponsive and defensive administration, which you lead, uncanny traits, which are being routinely displayed.  We have, over time, also sent out several more missives to members of your cabinet.  On 28 September, 2019, (International Day for Universal Access to Information), we released a letter to Ministers Tambadou and Ebrima Sillah, requesting them to make the Janneh Commission report accessible to the public.  In that letter, we demanded access to the Janneh Commission report, because it was financed by the public purse, through tax payers’ money.  This was something that no citizen should have to request for, especially after the lofty promises were made towards deepening and promoting a culture of a transparent government.  Sadly, no response has been forthcoming from either Minsters, and to date, the Janneh Commission report remains inaccessible to the public.  The refusal of your Ministers to respect the demands of their citizens, and do the right and lawful thing, has now become a pattern, and some may argue, given the evidence, that it is now a firmly embedded policy under your watch.  But nevertheless, we shall continue to forge ahead and engage you and the administration you lead.  Our correspondences, were done in the spirit of partnership and in accordance with exercising our civic duty.  And our concerns and proposals are being recorded for posterity, and in the not so distant future, history shall be the arbiter. 
Mr. President, we are utterly dismayed by your government’s response to the 26 January, 2020 demonstration. We are saddened to learn that what was to be a peaceful march turned violent, leading to the government's unprecedented, and illegal decision, by way of a statement issued by your spokesperson, Mr. Sankareh, banning the Three Years Jot Na movement and closing down Home Digital FM and King FM radio stations. We consider the government's actions unlawful, provocative, and destabilizing. We, therefore, call on the government to rescind these actions with immediate effect, for they have no legal basis.  We are to this day, a week on, unsure whether this extraordinary decision was reached through the legal and policy processes prescribed by both the 1997 constitution, and regular cabinet and administrative channels.  
The mishandling of this and other events lately, starting with the vacillation over the issuance of routine meeting permits by the police, bore all the hallmarks of an inept, paranoid and incompetent administration. It further highlights the fact that your administration has thus far failed to make any meaningful reform of the security sector, or to take serious measures to safeguard the rights of Gambian citizens. Despite the fact that lessons should have been learned from the fallout and consequences of two decades of intolerance, intimidation, and outright abuse meted out to Gambians by the former Jammeh regime; which has now been placed under the spotlight by the ongoing TRRC.  Furthermore, the Faraba Banta Commission of Inquiry report submitted to you, which investigated the tragic events of 18 June 2018, leading to the deaths of three civilians, injuries and large-scale destruction of property, provided concrete recommendations in order to avoid future recurrence of such events.  It is again clear that the most important aspects of the conclusions and further recommendations of this commission, to urgently embark on security sector reforms, were ignored.  Hence increasing the likelihood of the chances of mishandling of civilian protests in the future, as was witnessed last week. We once again, strongly urge your government to accelerate the pace of reforms of the security sector by hiring the right personnel capable of maintaining and enforcing the rule of law without bias.
Mr. President, the continuous disregard to promote the right to peacefully protest as a fundamental pillar of any democracy to which the Gambian people are entitled, after two decades of dictatorship, cannot go on. Freedom of assembly is an additional outlet, besides the ballot box, for citizens to voice their concerns and hold their elected leaders to account and make their desires known. We believe that the best governments are the ones that treat protests as an indispensable part of the national conversation, rather than an excuse to crack down on dissenting views and unacceptable accts of imprisonment of citizens as if they are enemies of the state.  And the recent decision to ‘go to war’ with people that hold a different political view point to you, and the administration you lead, is a dangerous tipping point for the stability of the country.
We are further troubled by the unreasonable, and heavy-handedness shown towards the media.  The arbitrary decision to close media houses and the arrests and detention of journalists is also a major cause for concern.   While recognizing that the government must maintain law and order and safeguard the stability of the nation, any use of force by the police against unlawful acts by elements within a larger context of peaceful demonstrations must at all times be proportionate, transparent, targeting those responsible and in accordance with due process of law.
Mr. President, the 2016 elections were monumental because the Gambia did not only decide on a ‘new’ President. Instead, our vote was also fundamentally a repudiation of a system of governance that removed sovereignty from the people, had no respect for the rule of law, and had no place for divergent views besides those of an individual, who happened to the be the head of state at the time. So fast forward 36 months, to 26 January, 2020, with Gambians witnessing the muzzling of dissent, which sent a chilling effect on our emergent political discourse.  The incident undermined all the promises made to us about a new Gambia, thus bruising your credibility and tarnishing your image, because you refuse to be accountable to the public, and showed your utter disdain for free speech and dissent.  The actions of your security forces only served to buttress the opinions of the protesters against your administration and your leadership.  The 26 January 2020 incident was eerily reminiscent of the events of 14-16 April 2016, when Solo Sandeng and his colleagues were arrested, beaten and tortured; Solo Sandeng later succumbed to his injuries and died.  This was followed by further protests by the UDP 31, members of your former party, and senior partner to the coalition that brought you to power.  They too were arrested, detained and charged.
Ironically, a judgement from the ECOWAS court was issued against the government you now lead, barely days before the clamp down on peaceful protesters occurred last week.  One of the salient instructions handed down by the community court was that you must now open an inquiry into the events of that fateful day, 14 April 2016, and bring the perpetrators to book.  We await a pronouncement on this order, and we trust that your administration, led by the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, will give this pronouncement the same earnestness, enthusiasm and urgency he gave the Rohingya matter.
Mr. President, we have always maintained that what we have in common as Gambians, is more than what divides us.  And as diverse as we are: politically; socially; ethnically and economically; such diversity is our strength and salvation. And we all must start from a place of goodwill and open-mindedness. The beauty of multiparty democracy is that we disagree while never losing sight of the fact that those disagreements are for the betterment of our beloved country, which we must, at all times, put first. We therefore, call for a national dialogue among all stakeholders, especially the politicians, as an avenue to reduce the unhealthy contestation and rhetoric, which has grown toxic, and lay the groundwork for a peaceful transition to a new constitutional order.  We hope that this clarion call will be supported by your good self and the administration that you lead, for the sake of peace, progress and the transition from the dark days of a 22-year dictatorship, to a new dawn of hope, good neighborliness, tolerance, and real and meaningful change for all and sundry. A listening and caring government will always gain the respect and garner the support of the citizens it leads.
Sincerely:
Right to Know Gambia (R2K)
The Democratic Union of Gambian Activists (DUGA)
The Gambia Press Union (GPU)
Gambia Participates
Team Gom Sa Borpa
The Victims’ Centre
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 Who are we:
Right 2 Know- (R2K) Gambia, started its work in October 2016, focusing on elections integrity around the then, now famed, 2016 Presidential elections, when Jammeh was ousted from power.   Our membership/following has since grown to 4,800 people.  The founders are a grouping of individuals with professional backgrounds ranging from geology, demographics, economics, international relations and law, communications, and academia.  All members are human rights activists.  We are located in The Gambia, US, UK, West and Southern Africa. We are a non-partisan entity that focuses on rule of law and democracy, good governance, human rights and the principles of access to information and freedom of expression. 
The Gambia Press Union (GPU) is a trade union for journalists in the Gambia. It was established in 1978 by a group of journalists, led by the veteran Gambian journalist and publisher William Dixon Colley (1913-2001).Other co-founders included Deyda Hydara (1946-2004), Melvin B. Jones and Pap Saine.  Around 200 journalists in the field of print and electronic media are registered members of the GPU.
The Democratic Union of Gambian Activists (DUGA)- is an umbrella movement to unite Gambians in North America (US and Canada), Europe and Africa, mobilizing citizens to achieving the goal a sustainable democracy in The Gambia.
Gambia Participates- promotes accountability policies and institutions that will prevent the occurrence of corruption. The organization also work on budget transparency, elections and participatory democracy by engaging community and policy makers.
Team Gom Sa Borpa-is a youth movement dedicated to raising awareness and participation among young people through Art and supporting their interest in the development of The Gambia.
The Victims’ Centre- provides support to victims and families that underwent untold suffering of torture, kidnapping, forced evictions, illegal seizure of property, and murder under the Jammeh regime.

Institutions and Diplomatic Missions to which this Open letter is copied:
African Commission for Human and Peoples’ Rights- Commissioner Jasmina Essie King
African Union Commission- H.E. Moussa Faki Mahamat
British High Commissioner to The Gambia- H.E. Sharon Wardle
ECOWAS Commission- H.E. Jean-Claude Brou
EU Delegation to The Gambia- H.E. Attila Lajos
UNOWA- H.E. Mohamed Ibn Chambas
IMF Resident Representative for The Gambia-  H.E. Ruby E. M. Randall
US Ambassador the United States of America to the Republic of The Gambia- H.E. Richard Paschal
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Friday, October 4, 2019

GDC's National Youth President receives a death threat from a military police officer

M.C.Cham Jr. 
The National Youth Mobilizer of the Gambia Democratic Party (GDC), Mr. M. C. Cham Jr., was threatened with bodily harm, including an explicit death threat from a military police officer identified as Mr.  Sarjo Conteh.

According to Mr. Cham, the officer in question told him "in the presence of many that the military and State Intelligence Agency (SIS), formally the notorious NIA, were mad at him for always criticizing President Barrow and for talking about the 3 years Jotna campaign."

"If you take part in the demonstrations, I will break your leg.  I will gun you down and I would care less about any investigation or face another TRRC", the officer was quoted as saying.

To underscore the fact that his view of GDC's National Youth Mobilizer political activism is shared by many of his colleagues, the military officer warned him  "he (Mr. Cham) is being targeted by the security forces loyal to Barrow."  His final threatening words to M.C.Cham Jr. were "I will make sure you are killed."
Military Police  Sarjo Conteh
   
The campaign slogan (3-Years Jotna) is roughly translated from the local vernacular meaning "the 3 years are up" in reference to the stipulated duration of the term of office of transitional presidency of Adama Barrow, as outlined in the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) of the Coalition of seven opposition parties.

In the characteristic style of the military during the dictatorial regime of Yaya Jammeh, the military police officer Conteh revealed that 100 soldiers are currently undergoing intense training in readiness for the "3-Year Jotna" campaign in the event members of the group carry out their promise of sustained public demonstrations next December.

The ultimate objective of the campaign organizers is to galvanize public opinion to the optimum level to force President Adama Barrow to step down at the end of the 3-year term, as stipulated in the MOU entered into by the Coalition partners.

The entire episode of the death threat took place at the residence of radio journalist Pa Nderry Touray in the presence of many other witnesses including one Omar Tunkara.

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Note: An earlier version of this blog post referred to Mr. Cham as National Youth Mobilizer.  He is presently GDC's National Youth President.  Our apologies

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

The €1.45 billion pledge heard around the world - Re-publication

President Barrow and European Commissioner, Neven Mimica 
A blog post first published May 28th, 2018
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The recently concluded two-day Donors’ Conference on The Gambia hosted by the European Union in Brussels closed on a high note with a total of €1.45 billion in pledges from donors to help finance the 3-year National Development Plan (NDP) 2018 – 2021 of the coalition government of President Adama Barrow.  

In addition to this amount, the European Union is contributing €140 million in grants on top of the € 225 million already committed by Gambia’s single biggest donor.  The total amount pledged is roughly equal the amount The Gambia came to Brussels to raise in pledges that led the EU Commissioner to declare the two-day affair a great success. 

The eight priority areas of the NDP aimed to ensure sustainable and inclusive were fully supported by the EU.  Further support of government priorities areas of democratic reforms, agriculture, promoting job creation for the youth, in energy sector and granting access to renewable and sustainable energy for the Gambian people.

The Gambian delegation shared the sentiment of the EU Commissioner that the conference was highly successful, confirmed by the competing press releases from State House touting similar sentiments and urging Gambians to come out in droves to welcome the president from his Brussels trip.

We expect that once the celebratory mood has waned and reality sets in, the daunting task of managing the high expectations driven, in part, by the citizen’s lack of familiarity with and understanding of what transpired in Brussels will begin.  

Managing high expectations starts with explaining to Gambians that a pledge is nothing but a promise.  Thus the €1.45 billion in pledges by the donor community is a collection of promises from donors – both bilateral and multilateral – to contribute towards the financing of the projects and programs suggested in the National Development Plan.  As expected, the World Bank, AfDB, IsDB, BADEA, EIB will provide the bulk of the financing of the NDP on concessionary terms.    

To illustrate our point, the State House is reporting on its Facebook page that France appears to have been the first to transform its pledge into a €50 million actual contribution towards the global figure of about a billion and a half euros in pledges.  The swift decision by France did not come as much of a surprise as the level of its contribution, given its increasing role and influence in post-Jammeh Gambia.   

That said, the road to translating the €1.45 billion pledges into actual contributions had just started and it is going to take a great deal of effort to reach the goal because the international community is notorious for failing to fulfil their pledges.  Haiti, Syria and, most recently, the Democratic Republic of Congo, are few examples where actual contributions fell far below pledges.  In the case of Haiti, the figure was as low as 30% of pledges and even lower in the case of the Haiti Trust Fund housed in the World Bank.  

Therefore, to translate pledges into contributions would require renewed commitments by the Barrow administration to institutional and structural reforms – something they’ve been reluctant to do so far - while taking firm steps on the fiscal front to provide the financing of the other half of the total cost of the NDP, according to the official submission of the Gambian delegation to the conference.    

The challenges on the fiscal as well as the monetary fronts are daunting.  Government must explain the process to ordinary Gambians to avoid misconceptions or run the risk of having government initiatives buried by national euphoria, driven more by politics than rationality, a condition that Alan Greenspan referred to as irrational exuberance.  They must understand that to transform pledges (promises) into actual contribution usually is contingent on further conditionalities imposed by prospective donors.  

It is encouraging, however, that President Barrow saw the need to signal, upon his return from Brussels, that the time for politics is over.  The time has come to work hard towards national cohesion to achieve the objectives of the economic and social agenda set out in the National Development Plan.  President Barrow's legacy, a major preoccupation of his, rests, in large part, on how successful the implementation of the new undertaken will be.  

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

President Barrow must step down in 2019 unless...

The Coalition of 7+1 
We are republishing our February 24th, 2018 blog post on the MOU as it becomes more topical with each passing day.  The national conversation must commence.

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The adage that a person is as good as his or her word will be tested in the coming months as President Barrow presidency approaches the halfway mark of the three-year MOU-specified tenure in office, which, in our view, must be respected.

For Barrow to serve beyond December 2019, the Coalition Partners comprising of the seven opposition parties and the independent presidential candidate must reconvene, in a convention-style forum, to agree to extend the mandate prescribed in the MOU beyond the 3-year limit.

During normal times, the issue would find an easy solution by simply referencing the MOU which created the Coalition under certain terms and conditions.  Unfortunately, these are not normal times.  The country is beginning to emerge from twenty-two years of one of Africa's most repressive regimes, the trauma of which is debilitating to both the democratic institutions as well as the human spirit.

The dictatorship also weakened the political parties to the point of rendering them impotent.   The former regime succeeded, as well, in blurring the lines that distinguished one political party from the other.  The resultant effect is a symbiotic relationships between them, driven partially by expediency and political opportunism rather than by shared values and principles.

The blurring of the boundaries occurred among opposition political parties, as well as among political parties' interests and, the personal interests of individual party members that were beginning to converge after the electoral victory of Adama Barrow.  It immediately resulted in the trading of party membership for positions in the civil service.

Recently, we cited the various sentiments expressed across the political divide regarding whether President Barrow should stick with the provisions or principles set out in the Coalition's MOU that requires the Coalition President to vacate the seat after three years or to follow the stipulated constitutional presidential term of 5 years.

The matter may have been a topic of discussion during the negotiations that led to the selection of Adama Barrow as the Coalition's flag bearer.  Whereas there are some who feel that the Coalition partners should stay true to the MOU, there are other voices that favor the stipulated presidential term of 5 years.

Because the National Assembly Members were elected to serve the full 5-year term, it becomes necessary to realigned the president's term with that of the NAMs.  The shortening the term of the NAMs to 3 years would be an unlikely option because it is already consistent and in line with the constitutional provisions.

That leaves open the options of formally extending the term of the Coalition president for an additional two years or not extending the president's MOU-mandated 3-year term which automatically allows the Vice President to assume the presidency for two years.

A convention of the Coalition partners must reconvened sooner than later so as to determine the length of term of the transitional president created by an MOU that is still operational, independent of the standard constitutional provisions and, only if to confirm maintaining the current status quo.  The MOU created the current political dispensation.

The MOU should form the basis for untangling the untidy mess created as a matter of necessity.  It is therefore an absolute and necessary imperative to untangle the mess to allow The Gambia to start the recalibration of the term of office of the President of The Republic with that of Members of the National Assembly.

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Saturday, July 27, 2019

EDITORIAL: President Barrow must put his stamp on the transition government - Republication

President Adama Barrow 
This editorial blog post was first published on November 11, 2017 
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When Gambians went to the polls last December 1st, their choice to lead the Coalition of 7 +1 was Adama Barrow.  He campaigned and won an election that the entire world, except Yaya Jammeh, acclaimed as free, fair and credible.

In fact,  Barrow's election was historic as being the first time that a sitting dictatorship, with all the instruments of power still firmly under his control, was defeated at the ballot and democratically without a shot being fired.

African dictators have lost power in the past but it has almost always been through the use force or the threat of the use of force.  Because of the uniqueness of our last December experience, we have been pleading with the new administration to avoid stepping on a very powerful and unique story that should serve as a platform to start the consolidation of out new found democratic freedoms.

The Coalition government stumbled right out of the gates as some of us expected.  If you ask a dozen Gambians the cause for it, you are likely to get a dozen but one different answers.  The one reason they all share in common is that the majority of the cabinet lack experience in governance.  Whereas this common factor may not be sufficient reason for failure, it is a necessary condition for a slow start as cabinet members feel their way around the treacherous terrain.  Most, if not all, have been out in the political wilderness for over two decades.

After almost a year at the helm, President Barrow and his team have made some progress, not of the earth-shattering kind, but progress nonetheless especially in the judiciary where discernible progress is being registered in appointing qualified and experienced Gambians on the bench.  Members of the Commission of Inquiry into the illicit wealth of the former dictator have been seated over three months ago and its live extended for an additional six month.

The law establishing the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparation Commission is on its final stage of being tabled before the National Assembly.   The security sector has also been scheduled for restructuring.  This is by no means an exhaustive list because there are ministries where public information is thin.

All of the gains enumerated here will come to naught if hard choices are not made in the country's economic management team.  A significant draw down of the ballooning domestic debt over the last decade must be made to start the reversal of the crowding out of the private sector that has been starved of cash from the commercial banking sector for investment purposes.

The rebuilding effort  of the Central Bank must commence from the ground up after what has come to light at the Commission of Inquiry.   Without the restructuring of the civil service, it'd not be possible to successfully implement the reforms that must take place to set us on the road to economic recovery.