Europe is in economical crisis, the USA is also having economical problems and the arab world is not politically stable, all signs show that Africa is the next destination for investments. What is your point of view about Africa as an investment destination, and how do you see Gambia in the region?
For many years it has been a truism that infrastructure and good housing schemes in Africa have not kept pace with advancement elsewhere. Some may attribute it to poverty, others may say corruption and some may even say it is the legacy of the colonial rule. We, however, believe that our focus today should not be on WHAT or WHY but on making things happen now and in the future for sustainable developments. Africa being rich in terms of natural resources and the availability of relatively cheap labor force coupled with the political stability in the recent past as opposed to the last century, these are factors which gives signs that Africa is the next destination progressive investors.
Additionally the level of infrastructural development across the continent is an added impetus. In the Gambian context, the political satiability and rapid economic developments are highly visible and a source of attraction to investors. The conducive environment in the area of tax incentives and the rapid improvements in the infrastructural developments across the country are particularly enticing for investors.
In the recent past the expansion in the energy sector facilitates access to water and electricity for investors wherever their investments are located. Furthermore the strategic location of the Gambia especially its proximity to Europe, Asia and the Americas gives it an edge over other countries in the sub-region.
Sustainable developments in the area of Construction, Tourism, Transportation, Agriculture and Energy are becoming the way of thinking and doing business in The Gambia and the most practical way of achieving this is by Public Private Partnership.
The Social Security and Housing Finance Corporations has a mission to provide adequate social protection for workers, facilitate social shelter delivery on a sustainable basis and invest funds of the Corporation to achieve optimum returns possible. After many decades of operations, how far has the Corporation gone in meeting this challenge?
The social security coverage and expansion over the years spread throughout the length and breadth of the country. This is manifested by the number of Institutions registered as well as the overall membership into our various schemes. In terms of service delivery, the time for processing claims has reduced drastically to enable beneficiaries to access their funds at the earliest possible time. Among other services rendered is the constant monitoring and enhancing of the monthly pensions and benefits to keep pace with the rate of inflation.
In the area of shelter delivery, we embarked on different types of products such as complete houses, serviced plots of land, Core houses, Business plots and the development of infrastructure i.e. road networks, water, electricity in all the housing estates developed by the corporation.
How is SSFHC contributing to the growth of The Gambian economy?
SSHFC supports Government through its development drives in areas like the Financial sector, Energy sector, Agricultural sector ,Telecommunication , Aviation , Tourism, Transportation and Health sectors as well as the Education sector which all contribute to the mix in our investment portfolio. As a result the corporation owns one of the best hotels in the country and also the owner and parent body of the most reliable and affordable transport company that covers the length and breadth of the country and is poised for expansion into the sub-region.
The Corporation is involved in various housing projects such as Brusubi, Bakoteh, Kanifing layouts, the African Union Villas, the Kanilai housing projects and so on. How affordable are your plots and how are these projects helping in improving the socio-economic lives of Gambians?
In contributing towards the improvement of the living standards of the average Gambian SSHFC sell serviced plots below the market price as well as on extended mortgage period which makes shelter affordable. The beneficiaries only pay for the infrastructural cost and not the cost of land. It boosts the national economy by creating revenue base for the Government through tax, stamp duty and registration too. SSHFC also pays premium to government for the allocation of land. Land rent is also paid to government and other fees related to consent to sublease. The projects also create jobs for the skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled labor force. The transportation industry also benefits as well as the urban re-generation component too. The housing projects help to reduce the housing deficit thereby improving the lives of the average Gambian.
The Corporation is in charge of administering and operating 3 funds i.e. Social Security, Industrial Injuries Compensation and the Housing Finance Fund in The Gambia. What can you tell about these funds?
The Federated Pension Scheme which is the oldest scheme was created in 1973 when institutions’ contributions were federated and administered by the Pension Board which was later reconstituted to form S.S.H.F.C. Its membership comprises mainly of Parastatal Institutions although private institutions may decide to register their employees under this scheme. The contribution level for this scheme is 15% of gross salary which is an employer liability. It is a final pay scheme where payment of benefits is based on old age, length of qualifying service and final salary as at the date of retirement or on the date of death of the member. Normal retirement would earn the beneficiaries both one off gratuity payment and a monthly pension for the rest of their lives.
The other fund is the National Provident Fund. It was created also by an ACT of Parliament in 1981 and became effective in 1982. The purpose of the scheme is to provide some measure of protection for our members against interruption or loss of earning powers as a result of specified contingencies like old age, premature retirement, retirement on grounds of marriage, death etc.
It is applicable mainly to the private sector operators and is the largest scheme in terms of contribution payments by member institutions. The contribution is 10% by the employer and 5% from the employee’s salary on a monthly basis. Normal retirement would earn beneficiaries a one off payment consisting of both the total contributions and interest earned over the years of their membership.
Another scheme is the Industrial Injuries Compensation Fund passed as an ACT of Parliament in 1990 but became operational in 1996. Even though it is the youngest scheme, it is the largest of our schemes in terms of membership. This scheme is launched essentially to provide a social insurance scheme for protection against employment injury.
The other fund is the Housing Finance Fund which started with the Bakoteh Housing Estate in the 1980s. Given the demand for housing needs this was soon followed by the Kanifing Site & Service Estate Project targeting low and middle income earners. Other housing projects followed suit like the Brusubi (Phases 1 & 2) and the Tujereng, Jabang and Brikama Jamisa Housing Estates respectively. Additionally twenty-six (26) other project sites have been secured under our Land Banking Initiative for further developments.
The SSHFC recently entered into a joint venture with BP Investment Group, a Dubai-based company to provide about 400 houses and 110 apartments in less than two years for Gambians at home and abroad. Can you tell us more about this project?
This project proper is yet to take-off the ground although three (3) sites have been identified at the Brusubi Housing Estate. A consultant has been approved for the development of the simple houses.
It also seeks to provide for the housing needs for low, middle and upper classes of the Gambian citizenry. Products range from semi-detached flats, apartments to stand - alone houses. The estates will be fully networked with tarred roads, electricity, water and social amenities such as swimming pools, restaurants, pharmacies etc. This estate will be fenced and gated and managed. The products will be sold by mortgaged and outright sale to Gambians at home and abroad.
Has the company entered into other public-private partnership? Are you looking for partners or investors?
The Public/Private Partnership (PPP) is on going as we are currently negotiating with three (3) different groups and we are looking forward to working with more investors. If genuine investors are interested in working with us they are welcome to express their interest to Management.
What are the short, medium and long term goal of the Corporation in line with the Vision 2020 objectives of the government?
In transforming the Gambia into a City State, SSHFC has banked twenty Six (26) land sites in all the Administrative Regions of the country for the short, medium and long term developments to decentralize SSHFC housing programs. This is in line with the objectives of The Gambia vision 2020 to decentralize basic facilities and services and bring them to the affected communities.
The benefits of the projects will certainly impact positively on the rural communities and therefore arrest or curb the rural/urban migration menace. Management is poised to continue to diversify our investment portfolios covering all the core sectors of the Gambian economy.
What have you learned throughout your career that you implement in your current position. What are you most proud of?
The Estates created by Management over the years were for the provision of shelter for the citizenry on a sustainable basis. In our career development, we were able to create a revenue base for the organization which contributes immensely to all major national development initiatives as per the vision 2020 thereby contributing meaningfully to the socio-economic development of the country. In the process we learnt amongst other things how to improve our strategies in meeting the expectations of our stakeholders which are key to our operations.
The Board, Management and my humble self are proud to be part of those who contribute in making The Gambia a safe commercial and conducive environment that whet the appetite of partners in sustainable developments in a unique way. United we stand, divided we fall so let’s come together and contribute to the achievement of the wonderful vision of The Gambia.