Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Commonwealth SG On His Visit To The Gambia

 Commonwealth Secretary General Mr. Kamalesh Sharma

At the end of his visit to The Gambia- the first by the Commonwealth Secretary General in eight Years- Mr. Kamalesh Sharma addressed the local press informing them of the issues discussed.
Speaking to journalists at the Kairaba Beach Hotel on Tuesday,24 April, 2012, Secretary General Sharma described his visit to The Gambia as an important one, reasoning that the “the Commonwealth has entered a new chapter in its history to reform and renewal, and The Gambia is a highly valued member with much to contribute and much to benefit in this new era”.

The Commonwealth Chief also informed the press that he had the pleasure of meeting President Yahya Jammeh, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia ahead of his  (Sharma’s) visit, noting that such high level contact is both “valuable and appreciated, so that The Gambia’s needs can continue to be supported by the family of Commonwealth governments, non-governmental organisations and professional associations”.
SG Sharma further told the gathered newspeople that he had meetings with the Gambia’s Vice President, Her Excellency Madam Dr.Isatou-Njie Saidy; the Gambia’s Ministers of Foreign Affairs; Youth and Sports; Fisheries and National Assembly Matters; Forestry and Environment; Higher  Education; and Justice, as  well as senior government officials of a wide number of government ministries in The Gambia.
The SG also had meetings with the Nigerian-born Chief Justice of The Gambia, Mr. Emmanuel  Agim, and  the head of the country’s  Independent Electoral Commission; Speaker of the National Assembly and Members;  representatives of opposition political parties; the diplomatic community; the UNDP and members of the media, according to him.
He also disclosed that their discussions covered many areas of the Commonwealth as a trusted and collaborative partner and the contribution it could make to both value creation and wealth creation.
According to him, they also had very productive discussions about issues that are fundamental to the future development and prosperity of The Gambia, including Commonwealth support for trade; a stronger, better trained, and more effective public service; opportunities for youth enterprise; and, ensuring that women have every possible opportunity to participate as leaders of change, growth and opportunity in society.
The Commonwealth top man told the Gambian Press:“An important part of my visit has been to follow up on two recent Commonwealth observer missions, following the presidential election in 2011 and the parliamentary elections earlier this year.
“Both reports indicated room for improvement, and it has been encouraging to see that progress has been achieved for which The Gambia is to be congratulated.” Mr. Sharma reassured that the Commonwealth stands ready to assist in implementing recommendations made by its election observers; adding that they  welcome the commitment of the Independent  Electoral Commission to  participate actively in the meeting of the Commonwealth Elections Network.
The visiting Commonwealth SG further spoke on the highlight of his visit, which had been the new elements in the Commonwealth’s engagement with The Gambia, which they had identified together.
He avowed that the Commonwealth is committed to making a practical difference for all Gambians in partnership with the government of The Gambia. He revealed to press the five noteworthy new initiatives  agreed upon.
He catalogued: “We have agreed to help establish a Human Rights Commission. A Commonwealth Secretariat team will be in Banjul next month to take this forward.
“We have agreed to continue collaboration in the establishment of an Anti-Corruption Commission. 
“We have agreed to renew efforts to help establish a Media Commission and to provide training and advice in order to strengthen the professional capacity and responsibilities of journalists, and to widen the field for private media. 
“We have agreed to help further in the Judiciary, including the establishment of a Human Rights Division and institutional support for the Judicial Services Commission and the Judicial Education Institute. 
“We have agreed to develop a new programme of human rights training for the police.”
The  gathered members of the press were also told that these initiatives are additional to existing support.
The SG went on to note that  the Gambia is a major beneficiary of assistance under the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Assistance (CFTC).  This includes ongoing assistance through national projects for public debt management; training of public servants (at a rate of approximately 50 per annum); supporting the capacity of the Management Development Institute; supporting moves towards decentralisation and local government and democracy; the development of a national export strategy; and the provision of a judge and two prosecutors. 
Also pointed out by him is the ongoing support for The Gambia through regional and other programmes in areas such as anti-money laundering and anti-terrorism financing; trade capacity-building; strengthening standards of teachers; gender sensitive budgeting and investment; and combating non-communicable diseases.
“Just as the Commonwealth is working in partnership with The Gambia in these areas, The Gambia itself is making contributions to the Commonwealth that are much appreciated. 
“For example, The Gambia recently presented a paper on the current landscape of women and leadership in Africa which will have a significant impact at the pan-Commonwealth level as we work to strengthen the voice and role of women across our membership,” he added.
SG Sharma acknowledged that there is a deep reservoir of goodwill towards the Commonwealth in The Gambia and the Commonwealth is likewise committed to its partnership of trust and support with The Gambia; noting he looks forward to visiting The Gambia again and meanwhile remain committed on behalf of the Commonwealth in supporting practically the Government’s efforts on its path to democracy and development for all Gambians.
In his remarks, he also recalled that, at the last Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Australia in October 2011 – The Gambia being represented by the distinguished Vice-President, Her Excellency Aja  Dr Isatou Njie Saidy – the leaders agreed that 95 recommendations for reform should be advanced. 
He put on record that half of those recommendations are already on track to being implemented and the other half are to be considered by a special ministerial task force in June before decisions are taken by all member governments in September.
“The essence of these reforms is two-fold: first, to sharpen the impact, strengthen the networks, and raise the profile of the Commonwealth; secondly, to work more positively and intensively with all member governments to achieve greater practical commitment to our shared 2009 Affirmation of Commonwealth Values and Principles, which builds on the Harare Principles and other earlier Commonwealth declarations,” the Gambian press heard from the Commonwealth boss.
The  “Affrimation”, he went on, includes a strong commitment to their shared values of democracy, development and respect for diversity as well as to their principles including inclusiveness and transparency.
The Commonwealth’s history, as noted it SG, is rooted in its opposition to discrimination on any grounds as well as the importance it attaches to equality, and these are undertakings by “us all collectively and for us all individually”. He said the Commonwealth is also an association of both governments and peoples: democracy therefore is not only a matter of well-functioning institutions of State and the balanced separation of powers, but also a people-based culture in which all strands of opinion can be heard. 
Sharma disclosed to the press that every one of the Commonwealth’s 54 member countries is on its own national path of progess towards a stronger practical commitment to their values and principles. 
“The reformed and renewed Commonwealth is reflected in the stronger mandate given to the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group(CMAG), which is the guardian of our fundamental political values including democracy, the rule of law and human rights.
“The CMAG is now expected by Heads of Government collectively to take a positive interest in democratic constitutional government as well as such matters as the independence of the judiciary, and the ability of the media, all political actors and civil society to express themselves freely and responsibly, “ Sharma informed journalists, prior to his departure from the country.

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