Wednesday, September 22

2021 Budget: Prioritisation Of Youths Slogan Stops On The Lips

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Young Gambians, particularly those venturing in entrepreneurship, are not satisfied with the government’s 2021 sectoral budget allocation to their line ministries such as Agriculture, Youth & Sports and Trade, Industry & Employment. The disenchanted youths are of the view that the government does more lip service about youth development than being action oriented on issues of their concern.

The longstanding discontentment was refreshed recently with the approval by the National Assembly of the Budget. This saw an allocation of D627, 443, 812 (Six hundred and twenty-seven million, four hundred and forty-three thousand eight hundred and twelve dalasis) to the Office of The President alone. This sum is way bigger than the combined budget allocation the ministries of Agriculture, Youth & Sports and Trade, Industry & Employment.

The breakdown of these under catered for ministries is as follows: Ministry of Agriculture = D402, 753,336, Ministry of trade, industry & Employment = 101,236,036 and Ministry of Youth and Sports = 117,679,522.

“This is not fair and we know why. It’s because we are entering an election year and the allocation to the OP is clearly done to help the president secure re-election. Otherwise, the State House doesn’t implement many programmes compared to the government’s Ministries and departments. Priority should be more on those than the State House,” said Isatou Kanyi a young Gambian social critic and business starter.

Isatou believes that the Ministry of Trade as well as that of Youth and Sports are particularly important in budget catering. She highlights the challenges confronting the growth of her business. “The common problem for us as start-ups in this country is the lack of labs and packaging materials. We are trained but we do not have machines to standardize our products. All and all, I think the youth prioritization slogan stops on the lips. It’s a mere lip service for no commitment.”

Her assertions are re-echoed by different people who shared their concerns to The Chronicle on the possible impacts the low budget can have on youth development drives in the country. Mamadou Edrissa Njie, Executive Director of Global Youth Network (GYIN-Gambia) says the 2021 Budget should have catered for better. His organization has held a series of entrepreneurship training and conducted a special award ceremony yearly to motivate young people across the country.

“Looking at the 2021 Budget, there should have been an increment for the Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Trade and the Ministry of Youth and Sports. Because we have a good number of young people with start-ups, some have grown and others are entrepreneurs but they need a capacity whereby they can sustain their businesses,” Edrissa tells The Chronicle.

Njie says a series of training is required as well as material acquisition for young entrepreneurs in packaging and labelling. “This is a very big problem in this country because, one, it’s expensive and secondly accessing these materials is another problem.”

The Gambia education system is now expanding into Technical, Vocational Education Training (TVET) allowing many young people to be trained on skills. While Njie welcomed this development, he feared for availability of the needed support after their completion.

“For example, those who are doing tailoring need tailoring machines while others need plumbing materials. Basically, we need ministries that will have a very good budget to be able to support young people in the entrepreneurship ecosystem, TVET and this will create more jobs.”

Baboucarr Kebbeh, C.E.O of Gambia Youth Chamber of Commerce (GYCC) tells The Chronicle that the 2021 Budget has failed to adequately cater for two key ministries that could’ve changed the shape of youth unemployment and boosted businesses in the country.

“If you look at the coming of African Continental Free Trade Area that was signed by The Gambia a national strategy was developed, all these strategies and implementation require budgets. If you look at the Budget of the Ministry of Trade, it is equally under a very low side. And these are the ministries we think can move this country by creating employment.”

Kebbeh acknowledges the increment of the Youth Budget recently under the new dispensation. However, his expectations are beaten as he expects the sector to be allocated with not less than D200 million considering the projects and planned initiatives the Ministry of Youth and Sports have.

“With the projects and all the incoming initiatives by the Ministry, I am just worried, wondering if D117 million will be able to cater for all those things and create employment for people in sports and enhance the capacity of youths to be able to be at the high decision-making levels.”

GYCC’s line Ministry is Trade, Industry & Employment. Kebbeh frowns at the allocation. “If you look at the allocation for the Ministry of Trade, it is less than D103 million. For that ministry, I was expecting an allocation of at least D300 million this year to lay the foundation for the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).

Baboucarr Kebbeh says good budget allocation to the Trade Ministry would have prepared the standardization of Gambian entrepreneurs [MSMEs] to compete in the regional market. “It’s very good we take our businesses outside Gambia and in doing so we have to prepare them in building their capacity.”

“If you look at all these things and see the budget that’s actually given to the Ministry of Trade, I am just doubtful if they can do that. I think they need to take these two ministries very seriously. If you look at our Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises (MSME) sector, most of the services that are in the country are contributing almost 54.4 percent to GDP, which is almost higher than agriculture. I think creating the enabling environment will give these MSMEs more room to thrive.”

Baboucarr Kebbeh said a better budget could have seen the establishment of testing and processing centres in The Gambia to help business with processing and packaging materials.

The programme manager of National Enterprise Development Initiative (NEDI), Abdoukadir Daffeh will appreciate a 10 percent of national budget increment for entrepreneurship.

“That would mean that NEDI and all the players in the entrepreneurship ecosystem will be able do more in the area of youth’s enterprise development. Remember one of the major challenges in entrepreneurship development is access to finance, training, mentoring and coaching. So, having 10% of the National budget allocated to entrepreneurship will mean that more youth and women entrepreneurs will have access to finance to support their business.”

The deputy Permanent Secretary in charge of admin and finance at the Ministry of Youth and Sports, Lamin A. Camara, says they are disappointed with the Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs regarding the allocation.

“It’s a grave concern for the Ministry considering the youth fraternity in the country; the case of youth is cross-cutting so we can say we are somehow disappointed with the way we receive our budget from Finance [Ministry].”

According to the DPS, the under budgeting will make it difficult for MoYS to go ahead with some of its approved projects in terms of implementation.

“If you don’t have enough funds, it’s going to be difficult to implement our programmes.”

However, he said the Ministry will manage with the Youth Levy to execute some projects.

But the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Trade, Industry & Employment, Hassan Jallow who also admitted to under budgeting, says other youth development projects such as the Youth Employment Project (YEP) will continue its support for young people.

“YEP is helping a lot in training and also providing mini-grants to people starting entrepreneurship. Packaging and other things are some of the things youths have been trained on but it’s about having the capital to import the machinery,” he admitted as he discussed the limited budget allocated to Trade Ministry, though he added that the budget strain is also due to the limited money the country collects annually as tax.

“GRA collects taxes every year and basically, the GDP of the country can be estimated to 12 billion per year and this is what you have to spend and this is what you have to share among different sectors. So, it’s never enough for any sector,” says Jallow.

The Maputo Declaration commits countries to allocate 10 percent of their national budgets to the agricultural sector. This would have seen Gambia’s improvement in agribusiness in which many young people are currently engaged in. But the country is not abiding by the Declaration.

“As it stands, we are to some extent below that target, so if we are serious about agriculture that should be the target and anytime, we are below that we should always be asking for more until we get that, judging from the fact that agriculture is definitely the backbone and the biggest employer of the economy,” says Ebrima Sisawo, Permanent Secretary of Agriculture.

“So, any meaningful investment into this sector will translate into general improvement in terms of economic development.”

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