The minister of information and Communication Technology as spokesperson of the government on Wednesday 18 April briefed the media on the Commonwealth summit, relations with Russia and China, ferry services and tariffs, the suspension of the MD of Gambtel, monitoring the gateway, the council elections and post-election violence in Bakau, Sukuta, Jimara and Bakoteh,etc. The minister read out the following press statement:
Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to this Month's press briefing. I'd like to thank you all and the various media houses in The Gambia and abroad for the interest demonstrated in the activities of the Government of The Gambia and your continued commitment to informing the Gambian people.
Participation in CHOGM
A delegation of the Government of The Gambia, led by President Adama Barrow is currently participating in the Commonwealth Heads of State and Government Meeting (CHOGM) in London, UK for the first time since The Gambia withdrew its membership from the body in 2013.
Beyond CHOGM, the head of state this morning presented a paper on "SHAPING THE GAMBIA'S FUTURE: HOW TO BUILD A PATH TO SUSTAINABLE PROGRESS" at the Chatham House. At the end of the tour, President Barrow will be meeting Gambians resident in the UK.
From London, the delegation will proceed to New York, United States of America where the head of state will be attending the United Nations General Assembly High Level meeting on Peace Building and Sustaining Peace.
In New York, President Barrow will also attend an advocacy meeting on the International Conference on National Development Plan 2018-2021 scheduled to take place in Brussels in May 2018.
On April 10, the Foreign Minister Ousainou Darboe met with t the European Union Ambassador to The Gambia to discuss the Gambia's preparations for the Donor Conference scheduled for May 2018 as well as best practices on migration.
Relations with Russia
On Wednesday April 11, Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed Russia's intention to work with The Gambia in promoting quality education and agriculture amongst other sectors. The Russian president made these remarks whilst accepting the letters of Credence of the Gambian Ambassador to the Russian Federation, Her Excellency Jainaba Bah.
An improvement in bilateral relations between the Gambia and Russia have led to an agreement for Visa-Free protocols for Diplomatic and Service Passports holders from The Gambia and Russia.
Relations with the People's Republic of China
In a move to further strengthen ties between the People's Republic of China and The Gambia, the Government of China has offered 400 short term study opportunities and 40 fully funded scholarships Gambians through bilateral support for human resource development in 2018.
The first batch of twenty (20) Gambians to be trained on Information and Communications for Mainstream Media and government officials, mainly staff of my Ministry and its line agencies will this evening be leaving for Beijing to attend a three week intensive training course in China.
Another twenty five (25) will be leaving next week to be trained on cyber security.
These and other related initiatives are the immediate results of the State Visit of President Adama Barrow to the People's Republic of China.
Gambia Ports Authority
Following public complaints about poor ferry services at the Banjul and Barra points leading to at times for both Passengers and Vehicles long waiting times due to siltation problems at both Banjul and Barra landing sites thus resulting to ferries not being operational during low tide.
The Management of the Gambia Ports Authority is cognizant of and deeply regrets the difficulties faced by passengers and vehicles plying the Banjul- Barra/ Barra -Banjul Ferry routes. However, GPA management to solve this dredging problem has on 11th April signed a contract with a Belgian company, DEME to dredge the landing sites and the port jetty areas to the tune of Euros 1.250 million. The contractors have started their mobilization and all works are expected to finish in July 2018. GPA endeavors to do its best to ensure that their esteemed customers are served under the right conditions; as such the operating times are extended to satisfy demand.
The Gambia Ports Authority wishes to inform the general public that the current problems are caused by a natural phenomenon - due to low tide at the Banjul- Barra landing sites - and has been a constantly lingering problem for the past 30 years. Due to high costs, the Banjul - Barra route has not been dredged for the past 30 years and a lot of sand has settled in the areas.
This in turn leads to frequent damage to the ferry propellers, which parts are very expensive.
As such, the GPA management has decided that ferries will only ply during high tide, leading to a 3 hour loss of operations, daily.
To ensure dredging is done according to specifications and international standards, the GPA has also contracted the services of a Danish Consultant to monitor the process.
The GPA Management also wishes to confirm that there is no increment in passenger tariffs. However, there is increase on vehicle tariffs.
The rationale behind tariff increase is due to high operating costs. The Kunta Kinteh ferry which costs over 9 million Euros is on supplier credit facilities (not yet fully paid off). Towards its settlement the GPA management pays D10 million monthly. The cost of running the ferries is far inferior to the costs of maintenance, high fuel bills etc.
To have a Safe, Reliable and Regular Ferry Service at Banjul / Barra/Banjul the right price must paid.
This is a scenario and to have an idea of the total revenue from Kunta Kinteh which takes 30 small cars at 250 dalasis generating D7500 per trip, doesn't even cover the fuel cost.
Though the electricity supply situation is yet to be fully stabilized, there has been a relatively significant improvement in the power supply situation for the past one month due to the commissioning of a new 8.9MW generator at the Brikama Power Station. The engine was installed and commissioned in the months of February/March, 2018 as a replacement of the faulty Wartsilla engine at the Brikama Power station.
The commissioning of the 30MW Emergency Power Supply Agreement between NAWEC and KARPOWERSHIP began last week and all things being equal, the system would be available for commercial operations by next week. With the availability of this additional capacity, power cuts and load shedding will be minimal.
At the moment, NAWEC is installing a new 11MW generator at the Kotu Power Station. For now, all the key installations are completed including the main engine and the pre-commissioning test are in progress. The full commissioning is expected in May 2018 and the engine would be available for commercial operations by the end of May.
In March, NAWEC also signed a US$41 Million Grant Agreement with the World Bank in for a 10 to 20MW grid connected Solar project within the Greater Banjul Area and also, to upgrade the existing 33kv line between Brikama and Kotu Power Stations to 132Kv with a modern Dispatch Center. The upgrading of the Transmission line will eliminate the current evacuation problems at the power stations.
The second phase of the Cross border electrification project with Senegal was commissioned last Saturday at Karang/Amdalai Border point and since last weekend, the people of Barra and its catchment areas are enjoying 24hrs power supply.
MOICI (Information and Communication Systems)
Contrary to reports that the Gambia was affected by a cut in the ACE Cables resulting to low internet penetration, the Gambia Submarine Cables (GSC) confirms that there was a cut on March 30, 2018 on the Nouakchott lines. The only issues were that part of internet traffic from The Gambian traffic going via Mauritania was diverted.
The GSC systems did not indicate any failure or alarms to that effect, neither have any of its members or other non-member ISPs complained of any system failures.
On April 11, the office of the Secretary General did issue a letter indicating an offer to immediately restore relations with MGI on the International Gateway. This decision has since been rescinded.
PURA has finalized the tender processes of acquiring a gateway Monitoring tool. Further to this, MOICI, the Ministry of Justice and PURA are closely working on finalizing immediately the license terms and conditions to enable us immediately roll out the liberalization of the Gateway, as dictated by policy.
The Board of Directors of Gamtel, acting on instructions from the Office of the President, has suspended, the Managing Director with immediate effect pending an inquiry into some management issues.
A caretaker MD will be appointed by the board until the inquiry is completed.
The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) has successfully carried out the Local Government Election Processes for 120 council wards. Total voter turn-out was low at 34 per cent. Of886,578 total registered voters, only 302,528.
In a preliminary statement, the CSO Coalition on Elections -The Gambia has stated that the Local Government Elections in the Gambia was free, fair and transparent with no significant anomalies or malpractices to impugn the credibility and legitimacy of the vote.
The CSO Coalition did express concerns on the low voter turn our particularly amongst the youth and cited "many instances" of incidences of hate speech, incitement to violence, gender stereotyping and tribalized narratives.
A key recommendation of the Coalition is "the need for the sensitization of citizens on the importance of elections in the overall good governance and development of the Gambia." And that there must be consistent and continuous civic education to that effect; I concur and agree on the importance of voter sensitization. Though the state broadcaster GRTS has been innovative in engaging candidates and voters, my Ministry will take this up with the relevant line agencies in order to improve on voter sensitization, particularly the youth.
The CSO Coalition also notes that the Election Day was generally peaceful, but however recorded incidents of violence between supporters of the United Democratic Party and the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction in Talinding, Kanifing Municipality.
After the Local Government Elections of April 12, the GPF received reports of violent Incidents in Bakau, Bakoteh, Basse (Jimara Constituency) and Sukuta.
In Bakoteh, their investigations have led them to conclude that two people were involved in the incident. One has been apprehended and charged with assault. The second person is still at large.
In Sukuta, another election violence-related arrest took place over the weekend. This person has been charged with assault and has appeared before the Kanifing Magistrates Court.
The complainants in Basse (Jimara Constituency) ably identified four individuals. Police investigations have concluded and the one of the four persons was charged with incitement of violence the other three have been charged with common assault.
The incidents in Bakau took place late at night and police are yet to identify any culprits. The complainants themselves are unable to identify their assailants/attackers. Police have visited the "alleged" crime scenes but have not yet received any conclusive evidence that crime did indeed take place. Investigations continue.
Restoration of Checkpoints
The Gambia Police Force has decided to restore Police Checkpoints across the country effective Friday April 13.
Realising that there are some security gaps and related security risks by allowing individuals to ply the routes from Banjul to Basse without being checked, the GPF has decided to restore checkpoints at various vantage points mainly in search of unlicensed motor vehicles, stolen items and other security related issues.
False Reporting of Crime
The Gambia Police Force leadership three months ago has embarked on a nationwide tour to assess whether they are adequately dealing with reported crime. They still concur that crime itself is not on the increase but that reporting of crime has increased both at the level of the police stations and more focus is given to crime on traditional media and social media.
Of recent, the GPF has also noticed a new trend in false reporting of "non-existent crimes". The Police will charge any person found to be giving false to public officers on the incidents of non-existent crimes. So far, two persons have been charged for falsely alerting the police of incidents of crimes that did not take place.