FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Business, civil society and youth ask the Gambia to prioritize poor and vulnerable in its Covid-19 response plan
Banjul- April 8, 2020 - A four-page proposal entitled: “Draft Concept Paper for a Stimulus Plan: ‘Addressing the Socio-economic Impact of the Coronavirus on lives and livelihoods’” calling on the government of President Adama Barrow to prioritize its resource allocation to the poor, vulnerable and struggling SMEs and strategic businesses, was released today. It details modes of financial assistance to the poor and vulnerable to provide cash transfers/payments using Government – to – person (G2P) and other mechanisms to cover three months of lost income to those who have lost their jobs and/or their incomes due to Covid – 19. It also proposes the introduction of systems and mechanisms to obtain data on the informal sector, like taxi drivers via the Transport Union to assist them with fuel subsidy using fuel coupon schemes, to incentivize those who adhere to the 50% passenger regulation. It also proposes support to SME’s/businesses affected by the economic slowdown in the form of tax and import duty rebates, access to foreign currency, concessional loans and other economic stimulants. It proposes a set aside financial package of thirty million dollars for this.
“We understand the rationale for a effecting a State of Public Emergency, we concur that this is indeed is a necessary strategy to ‘flattening the curve’. However, a State of Public Emergency, where movement and freedoms are curtailed, must include incentives and other actions that would buffer against the opportunity cost and consequences of such a decision. It must give [financial] incentives to the populace and the various sectors of the nerve center of the economy. It must have the backing of the public, without which any plan will not succeed,” said one of the authors of the plan.
The backers of the plan, which includes the Gambia Chamber of Commerce, have asked President Barrow to consider giving support to strengthen the Central Bank’s Supervision Department to better manage the licensing, regulation and supervision of the banking sector and mobile money operations. It also proposes a lowering of interest rates and introduction of deferrals on repayment of loans in critical sectors, like the hospitality industry, to cover the January- May 2020 period, where loss of tourist revenue has had a direct impact on the sector. Eighteen million dollars is proposed, as an allotment, for this component.
“This proposal is smart, realistic, time bound, attainable and applicable to our unique circumstances as a nation that is struggling economically, and is still to recover from a legacy of attendant corruption, and poor governance experienced over a period of 22 years of its half a century of existence,” said one of the endorsees of the proposal.
The proposal is coming at a time when the country rests at a precipice of a health, social and economic catastrophe, as it stares down into an abyss whose depths are unknown. In a letter, which accompanied the submission sent to the President Barrow, the endorsers stated that:
‘We hope that this modest proposal will be taken in the spirit in which it is meant: to strengthen our national response to the situation through collective action; transparent partnership led by an accountable government and supported by a willing and able citizenry at home and abroad.’
The proposal has been forward to the Authority of the national Assembly and the multi-lateral and bilateral partners of The Gambia. The proposal was endorsed by: Gambia Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI); BPAS- Democratic Union of Gambian Activists (DUGA); Gambia Participates; Gambia Conference of Reforms and Democracy (GAMCORD); Right to Know (R2K) Gambia; The Association of Non-Governmental Organizations in the Gambia (TANGO); and Team Gom Sa Borpa.
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Gambian President, Adama Barrow, declared a State of Public Emergency, in a televised statement, on 27 March. The proclamation orders closure of non-essential commodity shops, bars, cafés, casinos, sporting venues, and all forms of public gatherings. The order also included all public and private institutions scaling down staff presence at work. It was revealed that an Emergency Fund of half a billion dalasi has been earmarked to tackle the Covid-19 outbreak, which had infected four and killed two. On 3 April 2020, the National Assembly granted the President an extension to the proclamation by an added 45 days. A detailed plan of the Covid-19 task force, nor has its aggregated budget been made public. The National Assembly has constituted an oversight committee that would monitor the implementation of the Covid-19 task force.