Sunday, March 12, 2017

Barrow's administration must tread carefully

Economic prospectors, as opposed to the traditionally serious and genuine investors, have been hovering above everything of financial and economic value for easy pickings to take advantage of the newness and the inexperience of the Barrow administration.

Their eyes are step on the Mandinari petroleum storage facility, the ownership of which was transferred to government under dubious conditions.  It is a project, the financing of which is still unclear.

It is claimed that the project costed $ 50 million.  Neither the principal investor nor the Jammeh regime has been forthcoming on who guaranteed the $50 million.  Was it a sovereign guarantee through the Central Bank of The Gambia?   Protecting the national interest is paramount in such a strategic investment as the Mandinari facility.

Regarding the upstream portion of the petroleum sector, there are more questions about the cancellation by Jammeh of his ESPC contract with the African Petroleum Corporation (APC) for Blocks 1 and 4 (offshore) which resulted in APC filing an arbitration request with the World Bank's ICSID the outcome of which is unclear because Jammeh abruptly changed his mind by reinstating the once cancelled contract. What drove him to do so is a question needs answered.

The other outstanding issue that requires explanation is the apparent variation of the standard contracting formula of 90% for the oil companies and 10% for government.  Petroleum companies doing business in Africa, APC included, maintain the same standard formula for similar contracts in Senegal, Liberia, Cote D'Ivoire and Ghana.  But in the case of The Gambia, APC has the entire 100% allocated to it and zero accruing to The Gambia.  Why the variation in contracting?  Is the 10% intended for an escrow account?  We need answers before any divestiture is even contemplated,    

This 'cowboy' class of investors must not be encouraged, especially when they are crowding out potential investors - domestic and foreign - from playing a central role in helping The Gambia achieve its economic development goals and growth potential .  Return on investment must go hand in glove with benefit accruing to the national economy.

That said, we welcome the fact that the full compliment of the cabinet has now been realized with the swearing in of six more ministers, permanent secretaries and senior civil servants thus finally paving the way for the convening of the inaugural cabinet meeting.

We need not reiterate nor itemize the numerous problems facing the new government.  What is urgently needed, however, is a data-driven blueprint outlining the government's agenda for the coming 3 - 5 years, prioritizing its goals and objectives.