H Sallah(JollofNews) – An opposition leader in the Gambia has used an interview with the Senegalese media to mock the schoolboy economic policies of President Yahya Jammeh and his government.

Halifa Sallah of the People’s Democratic Organisation for Independence and Socialism (PDOIS) said poor economic policies of the Jammeh regime have saddled the Gambia with a heavy debt burden and massive trade deficit. He added that despite claims by the government that it is lifting people out of poverty, more and more Gambians including government employees are falling below the poverty line and are struggling to make ends meet.

“Poverty has not been eradicated because the policies of the government have not led to the development of the productive base of the economy,” Mr Sallah said in the media briefings reproduced in the Foroyaa newspaper.

“This has reduced the Gambia into a heavily indebted poor country with a per capita income of between US$543 to US$1101 per annum in contrast to Singapore with a per capita income of US$78000. He added that despite being in power for 20 years, Mr Jammeh and his government have failed to increase the Gambia’s domestic imports or transform the country into a middle income nation.

“In 2013, the Gambia’s domestic exports amounted to D415 million while its imports stood at D12.7 billion,” he said.

“Re-exports to the sub-region cushions the low exports and earned the country D3.4 billion, thus leaving the country with a trade deficit of D8.7 billion. In 2014, the trade deficit increased to D10 billion and instead of building a self-reliant economy, the country is becoming more dependent on food imports.”

Mr Sallah added that like in most part of the globe, the Jammeh regime has a duty to guarantee the liberty and prosperity of the people. However, he said many government employees including drivers, messengers, cleaners and security guards are being so poorly that some of them cannot afford to put decent food on their tables.

“Forty eight per cent of the population have fallen below the poverty line and in the same vein, 88 per cent of the country’s budget now depends on taxes and grants,” he said.

“Last year alone, the government experienced a budget deficit of over D3.2 billion. To offset such deficits, the government has increased domestic borrowing to the tune of D19 billion, thus making the Gambia a heavily indebted poor country.

“It is made clear that while the reduction of grants would lead to greater indebtedness and contraction of public services, the government has been pretending that it could do it without foreign assistance. The relation between the European Union (EU) and the government is a clear example.

“The EU claims that it is responsible for the funding of half of the paved roads in the Gambia, including Barra to Amdalaye, Madinaba to Seleti, Soma to Basse, Trans Gambia Highway, Sofanyama Bridge and the Basse to Wellingara. The stall in the political dialogue and the executive directives to increase the value of the Dalasi against other currencies in gross disregard to the market value has led to a loss of US$22 million in grants. In fact, the EU alone stopped US$16 million worth of grants in 2014.” H Sallah

The former presidential contender added that as a result of the poor policies, the country’s foreign reserves plummeted to less than two months of import cover while the economy is contracting rather than growing.

He said: “Development which relies on loans and grants is not sustainable and could never lead to middle income status. I have emphasised that an economy which is to guarantee prosperity to its population must have a productive public, private, cooperative and informal sector. This is the dictate of our times and circumstances.”

Mr Sallah said his party has formulated concrete plans and programmes to ensure the development of the four sectors of the Gambian economy. He added that if voted into power, they would ensure that a developed productive public sector will be the engine for growth in infrastructural development, poverty eradication and balanced and proportionate rise in prosperity across the board.

He added: “Like any serious government, a PDOIS administration would spend the first months and year of its administration in prospecting to locate its mineral, energy and natural resources and harness them to promote the accumulation of sovereign national wealth for investment in our foreign reserves to meet all external obligations, build infrastructure, establish productive public enterprises and other productive sectors such as public/private partnerships and give financial and logistical support to the cooperative and informal sectors.

“Public corporations would sign performance contracts and would be left to work without political interference to ensure that they produce the dividend agreed upon to contribute their quota to the accumulation of sovereign national wealth on an annual basis to ensure their viability. Such accumulation of sovereign national wealth will prevent chronic dependence on domestic borrowing to meet national expenditures which has discouraged private banks from lending to the private sector to promote private sector investment in foreign exchange generating sectors like tourism or the value added chain or industries to generate employment through processing and packaging.

“Secondly, PDOIS notes that over US$1.6 billion is traded in the Gambian currency market on an annual basis while our domestic exports earn us just D415 million annually. This clearly shows that the wealth in circulation is not being channelled into the productive base of the economy. Hence PDOIS’ major aim is to align private sector banking with private sector investment so that employment could be generated and private sector contribution to revenue generation enhanced without making taxes excessive and decapitating to the private sector.”

The former National Assembly member for Serrekunda Central further added that his party has planned to facilitate the establishment of cooperative banks through investment from public enterprises, subventions from sovereign national wealth fund and grants to eradicate poverty.

He added: “In short, just as high income countries provide welfare benefits to the needy, a country moving from a least developed country status under the first republic and heavily indebted poor country status under the second republic to a middle income self-reliant poverty free economy under the third republic must rely on production base welfare benefits rather than consumption base welfare benefits. This is PDOIS’ approach to promoting general welfare.

“Hence, instead of using D400 million in corporate Social Security Funds to purchase and refurbish a hotel, such funds would be put in a cooperative banking sector which would have production, marketing, processing and consumption units aimed at providing seeds, fertilizer and appropriate farming implements to family farms, horticultural gardens and other production assistance to fruit growers, fisher folks and herdspersons throughout the country.

“The marketing processing and consumption units would facilitate the purchase of produce like tomatoes to process them into paste, fruits into juice , fish into sardines, milk into different milk products to generate employment and their accessibility to consumers would be facilitated. This will generate and ensure a balanced and proportionate growth of welfare.

“Lastly, those informal sector operators would also have the support of micro financial institutions which would operate on the basis of the grant principle so that high interest would not choke small scale enterprises to death. Individual income would increase and savings for the growth of banks enhanced. With over 400000 young people joining the labour market every 12 years we need a productive base to absorb them.”