|VP addresses sixty-seventh session of the General Assembly/PHOTO:United Nations.|
Dr. Isatou Njie-Saidy, Vice President of The Gambia has noted with concern that debt servicing still poses a major threat to Gambia and other African countries’ ability to attain sustainable growth while calling on the Bretton Woods institutions, like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, to consider debt cancellation to these countries.
Dr. Isatou Njie-Saidy told the United Nations 67th General Assembly held in New York in September 2012 that for developing countries to continue to benefit from the appreciable growth they are experiencing and in order to compromise their capacities to bring education and healthcare to their peoples, debt cancellation or forgiveness is still a major option.
The Gambia Government’s debt burden, which continues to rise by the day, and interest payment of which consumes more than 22% of the public revenues, is crowding out other public expenditures, as there is no space to increase funding for employment creation, purchase drug for hospitals, and other pressing national needs.
The World Bank has warned that the debt dynamics of The Gambia are dragging down the economy and could undermine growth in the future and if care is not taken it could take the country down the path of a vicious low growth cycle.
Poverty is endemic in Gambia, with almost a third of the population undernourished and 60% of the population living on less than a dollar a day. And yet the country spent a lion share of the national budget on servicing debts.
“It is our belief that our partners and the Bretton Woods Institutions should consider the extension of the HIPC initiative further,” Dr. Njie-Saidy said.
However, the Vice President uses the forum to call on the international financial institutions to open up and embrace overdue reforms. “They should be transparent, inclusive and raise the profile of their smallest members, like the low income countries or LCDs,” she said.
She argued the relevance of the UN has, at times, been questioned but one element that remains unchallenged is its character of being the best forum for confronting global challenges.
She added: “As we convene to discuss the issues of climate change, economic crises, financial turmoil, food insecurity, conflicts, fighting diseases, poverty or the special interests of Africa, the convening power of the United Nations confers legitimacy that is unparalleled elsewhere.”
She also called on financial institutions to embrace the Istanbul Programme of Action, an initiative aimed at bringing about the graduation of half of the LCDs by 2020.
“It is achievable if we all forge the appropriate global partnerships for resource mobilisation,” said Dr. Njie-Saidy, who is also the minister of Women’s Affairs. “It is our hope and expectation that our partners and the rest of the international community will equally fulfil their commitments.”
The scorecard on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) shows that while some achievements have been made in regard to some of the goals, a lot still remains to be achieved.
“My own country has met some of the key elements of the MDGs and is on track to meet all of them,” Gambia’s No.2 announced.
However, she said more needs to be done to mobilise the remaining resources that will further improve the critical link between the success and failure on the achievement of the MDGs. “2015 is just around the corner,” she noted.
We must mobilise the modest resources that are needed so that 2015 would not be another unfulfilled milestone, she warned.
Sahel food crisis
While commending partners for assistance given to Gambia in the wake of a food crisis in 2012, the vice president said in view of the perennial nature of food insecurity, it is her humble view that the international community needs to render more support to the agricultural sector of “our economies.”
A severe food shortage hit the Sahel region of Africa (including Gambia) this year as a result of drought and crop failure in 2011. Gambian farmers who are notoriously poor were the hardest hit.
“The role of the small scale farmer needs to be boosted and we must, through global partnerships fast track the numerous agricultural initiatives that have been announced to support African agriculture,” she said.
“Agricultural systems across Africa need to be made more resilient in terms of inputs, technological know-how, scientific research and the setting up of training institutions.”
She added that the African farmer ought to benefit from modern farming techniques and technology.
Africa is witnessing a revolution in the information-communication technology (ICT) sector.
“It is our view that with the completion of the Africa Coast to Europe submarine cable there will be even greater transformations in this sector,” Dr. Njie-Saidy said.
This should further help to increase the transfer of critical technology for the economic advancement of our peoples, she added.
According to her, it opens doors for a greater opportunity for South-South cooperation and North-south cooperation in ways that will revolutionise education, agriculture and healthcare delivery.
She therefore calls on partners to support the growth of the ICT sector with a view to enhancing “our productive capacities while generating youth employment.”
“Youth unemployment is one of the biggest threats to our social and economic advancement,” she argued. “We must therefore partner across the globe to address this ugly phenomenon.”
Written by Modou S. Joof
This entry was first published on the Banjul-based privately-owned Marketplace Business newspaper edition of October 08-14, 2012.
It is also published on the Gambia News Online.