Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Gambia’s economy according to two recent fiscal theories is in a state of buoyancy. But does this translate to enhancing the lives of the ordinary people? KISSY-KISSY MANSA finds out.
A fleeting look at the state of The Gambia’s economy would render one to beam like a child presented with a new toy because of the experts proven reason that the country’s fiscal position is in good-shape.
If you dare stare at the economic position, you would jump to your feet and dance, but to no music because fiscal theories by both national and international experts predict that the economy is expected to perform even better. 

For instance, IMF’s latest report states that "despite the global economic crisis in 2009, and a sharp drop in tourism receipts, remittances, The Gambia’s real GDP growth remains strong.
And "although tourism and remittances are expected to remain soft in 2010, real GDP is projected to grow at about 5 percent, led by solid growth in a number of key sectors, including agriculture. Inflation is expected to remain low at about 5 percent," says Mr. Dunn, who led the IMF team into the country recently. 
On the heels of IMF’s welcoming report that attracts much approval, especially from the authorities, the Governor of Central Bank broke-out yet another positive news rendering a positive performance of the Gambian economy in the first six months of this year as well as on the outlook for the remainder of the year. 
No wonder, those flying into the country for the first time or those that came before but stayed away for too long notice these changes about 1000 kilometers high in the sky before landing at the Banjul International Airport. The airport itself is transformed into a modern one, better than many countries’ in the sub-region.
More roads have been constructed; hospitals and schools taken to even the remotest areas of the country. The percentage of the number of communities that access potable water rose to 80 percent. Electricity supply is quiet consistent in the urban areas. Rural areas, too, now have electricity supply.
Infact the Gambia is the only country in Africa that is likely to meet seven out of the eight internationally targeted goals dubbed Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
Alas! But if one is to balance these fiscal theories vis-à-vis practical economic realities, the results would be that virtually the economic conditions of ordinary Gambians are getting worst.
“Gambian reports seem to be too good to believe them,” a colleague, Mamadou Edrisa Njie of News & Report once told me on the sidelines.
His view, indeed, is as a result of so many national reports that tend to make one to believe that the country is about to achieve her Singapore dream, but in reality this is far from the situation on the ground.
Every Gambian would love to believe that we remain economically strong as a country, but anecdotal evidence runs contrary to these findings.
For instance, many Gambians are still struggling to survive in the face of rising prices and a soaring cost of living that by far outmatch their incomes.
The price of basic commodities has been on a phenomenal increase as some prices rose ten-fold over the years.
Most people are battling with the meat crisis that has hit the country. Even though the government tried to do a rob-Peter-to-Pay Paul-Game the situations isn’t better one bit. The price of sugar reached unprecedented mark last year – D7. Onions, Potatoes, Rice and Eggs have all skyrocketed.
Just last week the ministry of finance decided to adjust the price of fuel. As a result of this development the fares are expected to increase, according to a survey conducted by Today Newspaper.
This situation as Dudu Kassa Jaata, an opposition youth activist says leaves many households to compromise their traditional 3 square meals to a meal a day.
For him, the economy is sick, Gambians are hungry and inadequate employment opportunities for youths, while the president is spending frenziedly and none dares question the source of his wealth.
So, essentially, the economic conditions have greatly deteriorated in the past few years with severe food, fuel and cash shortages which define Gambians’ daily experiences.
Thus, it does not come as a surprise that the rate of poverty in The Gambia is alarmingly on the increase.
According to Core Welfare Indicator Survey jointly conducted by The Gambia Bureau of Statistics (GBoS), the National Planning Commission (NPC) and PRO-PAG last year, about 63 percent of Gambian households are poor.
Also compared to 22 percent of households that says their economic situation is better, 22 percent says it remains the same, while 15 percent says theirs’ is little worse and 10.2 saying theirs’ is much worst, the report reveals.
Food security among the households interviewed, 37.2 percent reported that their households have food security, forty percent of the households reported that they sometimes have difficulties in satisfying their food needs with 7.8 said they often had such difficulty, 7.3 said they always had it and 23 percent revealed that they seldom have such difficulty.
Most children are malnourished as the survey indicates that most children are short for their age; their height is more than two standard deviations below the standard height for age in which thirteen percent of the children were reported to be stunted.
The report further states that though about 44 percent of the households have access to health facilities; nineteen percent of the households are actually using medical services, in overall, 87.8 percent of households indicated that they were not satisfied with health services provided.
The most common reasons cited are non-availability of drugs, expensive services and inaccessibility to service providers.
It goes without saying that the job market cannot the least absorb the galloping number of students graduating. Even the bustling private sector cannot help to address this situation nor the empty calls for self employment.
If the above argument represents a bleak view of the economic conditions of ordinary Gambians and non Gambians those living in The Gambia alike, let us apply some analogy here.
While the civil service reform package approved by the National Assembly since last year is still hanging, the president has increased salaries by 20 percent across the board in January this year.
This came at a time when living cost is over five times more than many peoples’ statutory income.
But it does not make any significant difference. 20 percent increment in terms means for every D100, there would be an increase of D20.
Those that receive D3000 monthly, which may infact be in the minority, shall have D3, 600.
Ok, imagine a bachelor living alone and earning this sum, has to spend a minimum of D10 for breakfast – half a loaf (D2.50b), butter or mayonnaise (D1.50b) per spoon full, poor quality tea (50b) and sugar (D7).
A plate of rice is D20-25 dalasis representing lunch. The same or less for dinner depending on what he or she wants to eat.
In total, a bachelor spends D55 dalasis daily and D1600 monthly. This excludes fare to and from work. If the person works and resides in Serekunda he or she has to spend atleast D10 daily, monthly is D300. This presents the cheapest in town if such an individual does not enjoy transport allowance or is not allocated a government vehicle.
Accordingly a person with two heads to feed and earns D3, 000 which I re-iterate is in the minority, spends more than D3, 000 just on feeding. Children need do not count, medical bills, and credits for mobile phones, among other petty and large expenditures.
This situation makes one to believe that every Gambian is a thief as most people’s salaries do not commensurate their expenditures.
We might have escaped thus far in the eyes of the IMF and Central Bank, but people are struggling and this is what we as a nation must focus on. Numbers and financial analysis are one thing but they mean little to people on the ground who are struggling desperately to put food in the mouths of their hungry families.

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