Looking at the situation in the world, all signs show that Africa could be 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?
Africa is being touted as the last frontier for investment and there is a global rush and strong competition among Industrialized countries and their multinationals to invest in as many areas as possible. It is certainly not without good reasons that there is this rush. Focusing on Gambia, I believe first and foremost the country’s main asset over the years has been its unrivalled peace and security assured by a very good political climate. As you know, this condition is unnegotiable for any investment consideration. In unstable situations, there is capital flight rather than investment. Gambia is well positioned for investment, it is a unique country in the sense of accessibility for example to other countries within ECOWAS subregion. Accessibility through sea and air is very good and provides an excellent infrastructure for trade. In addition to this, the Government has done a lot to improve and provide an attractive investment climate. A specialized Agency has been set up many years back specifically mandated to improve the investment potential and climate of the country. On top of all this, other equally important and requisite support Agencies have been provided. Notable among these is the creation of The Gambia Standards Bureau which is responsible for Standardization, Metrology and Conformity Assessment being three out of the four pillars of the National Quality Infrastructure. These are crucial for trade facilitation, production of goods and delivery of services. The availability of standards and metrology are two basic indicators for investor confidence and assurance of a level playing field for competitors. The potential for investment in Gambia is high and profitable in many areas including but not limited to Agriculture in general especially Horticulture and Floriculture, Fisheries and Aquaculture, Tourism including Eco-tourism, sea, air and inland water transport for the River Gambia just to mention a few. This is not to say everything is rosy and no need for further improvement. Indeed, we have to keep improving the conditions of investment for the better in response to the evolving global economic upheavals and to be innovative in order to achieve a better competitive advantage with respect to our neighbours.
What would you say are the main challenges that prevent The Gambia from taking a bigger place in the trade with Europe and the rest of the world right now?
This is a very good question. Europe has been and continue to be the biggest trading partner of the Gambia. Of course, trade with other regions of the world notably Asia and Latin America has been on the rise too. The challenges to The Gambia are many and varied. Among these are the negative effects of climate change and dwindling fish resources on agricultural production and fisheries respectively. We also continue to have issues of high aflatoxin levels in groundnuts which is our main agricultural export to Europe. The ever-changing conditions of trade that Europe imposes which are essentially Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) are also big challenges to increasing trade with Europe. This is where the Bureau’s relevance comes into play by helping to address some of these challenges I mentioned. For example, we host the WTO TBT Enquiry point to help traders and develop standards for better quality and thus higher premium on exports such as ground nuts, fruits and fish products.
Right now you are focused on the agricultural sector, what other sectors are you trying to standardize?
Agriculture is the most important economic activity for The Gambia. The quality and safety of the food consumed in The Gambia has been a cause for concern over the years. As a result, the Bureau prioritized the development of standards in food and related matters such as hygiene and labeling. This focus will continue but the Bureau has also begun work in other areas such as electrical and allied products commonly known as electrotechnicals. This important category calls for standards in electrical wiring, electric cables, household appliances such as sockets, plugs and fittings and the whole range of renewable energy just to cite a few examples. All of this work is being done alongside the Metrology services in calibration of measurement devices as well as testing and certification services. May I add that we are at the same time working within the framework of ECOWAS to harmonize standards across the sub-region for a number of priority products.
TGSB is the only company providing these services in The Gambia? Are you looking for partners or investors?
Yes, the bureau is seeking partners in any of the areas of the Quality Infrastructure. Good opportunities exist in a number of services notably Testing, Inspection and Certification for goods and services and even Accreditation. For your information, the Government is serious about Public Private Partnership such that it created a Department in the Ministry of Finance. This is done so that adequate support and the right policies are adopted and provided at Government level. This means that the opportunity is very attractive for private individuals and companies to enter into PPPs with the Bureau in any of the services I discussed as well as Metrology.
The Bureau is quite young, do you already generate income or are you still fully funded by the Government?
Since its inception in 2011, the Bureau has been fully funded by the Government and I wish to express my gratitude for that. However, this does not mean we have enough because as you rightly said the Bureau is new and therefore expanding both in scope and coverage. This obviously requires more funds and thus it makes business sense to generate additional income to augment what Government provides. There is some window of opportunity for the Bureau in the services we can offer in Inspection, Testing, Calibration, Certification and Training. As we speak, we have a small contract with a UN Agency here for Inspection and Testing of food commodities. This is an encouraging start and we would like to build upon it by providing similar services to even Government regulatory bodies. We hope they will embrace the international best practice of outsourcing testing to an independent competent entity such as the Bureau and only focus on their regulatory role for better effectiveness and efficiency.
What are the main challenges that the bureau is facing and what are your strategies to tackle them?
Our main challenges are both from the public and regulatory framework. For the public, there is a huge need to raise awareness and disseminate our activities to them in order to improve the quality culture of people. For the regulators, we have the challenge of encouraging them to use directly or reference relevant standards for best regulatory practice. Another very important challenge, also in regulation, is the improvement of the legal metrology framework. We are responsible for industrial metrology, but this category cannot move without legal metrology which is the purview of a different entity. Speaking closer to the Bureau, technical competence and capacity of the Staff is a formidable challenge. We are working hard to improve on this through training and international networking and partnerships.
What have you learned throughout your career that you are implementing as the manager of the Standards Bureau and what are you most proud of?
I have learnt how to set up a national Institution from scratch. It afforded me the opportunity to directly work in human resources, finance, procurement, negotiation and of course leadership. These are abilities that no other opportunity has afforded me. My pride lies in the fact that I was able to successfully take off the ground The Gambia Standards Bureau and to publish the first national standards of The Gambia and I wish to acknowledge here the support I received from Government, my Board and Staff.