Thursday, March 18, 2010

State ready to boost job creation with bold plan

NEWS BANJUL, THE GAMBIA(MB)- The Gambia government is ready to entrench such bold initiatives that would “boost the long term absorption capacity of the economy by reducing disruption caused by structural change, halt the institutional impediments to employment creation and accelerate the progress towards a sustainable, all inclusive, labour absorption growth trajectory.”

These were the words of Hon. Babucarr HM Jallow, The Gambia’s minister for Trade and Employment. The minister was speaking Tuesday at the one day validation workshop of the National Employment Policy and Action plan 2010-2014, held at the Paradise Suites Hotel.

According to the minister, emerging trends and comparative practices around the globe continues to sound a wakeup call for countries in sub-Saharan Africa and smaller economies like The Gambia to develop appropriate policies and adopt pragmatic strategies to address the growing unemployment and poverty situation they are facing.

He said The Gambia as a country has been trying to focus attention on employment creation and to bring innovations to addressing issues of unemployment and underemployment. According to him, acute unemployment has great consequences in the drive towards reducing poverty and therefore the development of a comprehensive Employment Policy and Action Plan is fundamental in the country’s efforts to promoting employment and to rid the country from poverty as stipulated in the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP), which is the building blocks of the Vision 2020 goals.

He said the Vision 2020 goals has aims to “transform The Gambia into a financial centre, tourist paradise, a trading, export oriented agricultural and manufacturing nation, thriving on free market and vibrant private sector, sustained by a well educated, skilled, healthy, self-reliant and enterprising population and guaranteeing ecosystem and a decent standard of living for one and all, under a system of government based on the consent of the citizenry.”

While the country has enjoyed a stable economic environment with an annual growth rate of 6 percent, unemployment remains a key concern to the government. According to him, many school leavers enter the labor market ill-prepared and with expectations that are very different from the realities of the labor market. He said the high level of migration among school drop outs and school leavers from the poor rural to urban areas or to overseas opportunities also pose additional challenges.

“Putting The Gambia on a development and employment-absorbing growth path is a long-term challenge which we will need to tackle together with a shared vision,” he said, noting that several projects and programmes have been designed and implemented by the government and its partners to address the growing unemployment and poverty situation. The latest of this, he said, is the Gambia Priority Employment Programme (GAMJOBS) which is the Government’s major intervention to operationalize the National Employment Policy and National Employment Action Plan 2003 – 2008, in response to increasing employment and reduce poverty in The Gambia, particularly among women and youth.

The minister said investments have been made to ensure that many people are equipped to function productively in the economy of the country. “During the course of 2009, a total of sixteen million, one hundred and forty five thousand and sixty one dalasi (D16,145,061.00) was disbursed for institutional support to skills providers, skills training, business startup capital, promotion of labour intensive technologies and entrepreneurship training.”

He reported that although all the above interventions have had positive impact on employment, the review of the past National Employment Policy 2003 – 2008 and Action Plan indicated the fact that not enough jobs are being created and the conditions of workers still need further attention. According to him, provisional results of labour force survey conducted by The Gambia Bureau of Statistics in 2008 estimated that unemployment rate in 2008 was about 6.7 percent of the labour force for people age 16 years and above as compared to 5.8 percent in 2003 for the same age category. He said this denotes that there is marginal increase in jobs.

However, he said, provisional figures still shows that the employment for women within the period still lag behind men by 13 percent. These, he said, thus calls on authorities to identify areas that inhibit job creation, and introduce new programmes to which all social partners must make significant contribution. He said there is also the need to ensure that all available resources are efficiently applied.

Speaking on the newly validated Employment Policy and Action Plan 2010 -2014, the minister said it seeks to boost employment growth in the short to medium term and to do so in a manner that will strengthen the likelihood of success in achieving greater impact. He said in the short term, they seek to directly and indirectly promote the creation of sufficient number of jobs to match net growth in the labour force, focusing on building important community assets and reinforcing existing programmes aimed at generating long term economic opportunities. He added that a number of sector–focused initiatives need to be pursued, where there could be quick-wins as in horticulture, fisheries, livestock, tourism among others. For the medium term, there is the need for a raise in the skills base of the people and to move into high value added sectors to ensure a sustainable job creating path.

While he registered the government’s appreciation for the continuous support it has received from development partners especially the Kingdom of Spain and the UNDP, he also expressed hope that more resource mobilization efforts would be undertaken to enable them close the funding gap within the GAMJOBS project and for future programmes. He also used the opportunity to call on other development partners including local institutions to support the implementation of the new Action Plan (2010 -2014).

Addressing the gathering, Mr. Carlos Murillo, deputy chief of mission at the Spanish Embassy in The Gambia said it is important for his country to rely on the experience and capacities of multilateral agencies in its bilateral cooperation agenda with The Gambia in this respect. According to him, Spain has enthusiastically supported the GAMJOBS programme from the very beginning, and they have invested 2 million Euro in order to expand GAMJOBS programmes.

He said further contributions will be among the areas to be discussed during the upcoming technical negotiations of their first bilateral four years cooperation programmes. “As stated in the previously mentioned Agreement, our cooperation is going to be focused on vocational training. Therefore, it is obvious that GAMJOBS will be included in our common agenda for negotiation. Final discussion will depend very much on the conclusion of the mid-term review of the programme.”

He said as donors who are accountable for the final destination of Spanish taxpayers’ efforts, they are obliged to encourage deliverance, adding that will also help other donors to share their enthusiasm and cope with financial gaps that may appear in their way. “We all know that unemployment is quickly becoming the main economic problem in many countries suffering the effects of the global crisis. Even if compared to other countries in the continent, The Gambia is still performing rather well in this area, an extra effort must be made to modernize the local labor market by increasing the capabilities of the Gambian workers with special attention to women and the youth,” he said.

While he applauded the GAMJOBS programmes for training many Gambian youths in the professional skills that the economy demands, he said better education is a useful tool to improve and develop the Gambian society. “A well educated citizenship is the major economic resource for any nation and no natural resource can compare to training and education,” he said, adding that only with more educated and skilled workers will The Gambia resist the effects of the global crisis.

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