Alieu Secka, the chief executive of Gambia Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said President Adama Barrow should address energy deficiency in the country as a first important step in making Gambia a competitive investment destination.
GCCI is a private sector pressure group in the country that works with the government in identifying key areas affecting businesses and engage government in solving those problems.
“The government has to address the key challenge to the economy which is energy,” Secka said.
“The capacity of NAWEC to generate electricity is less than half of the requirement and that follows a number of years of poor or lack of investment.”
NAWEC has given an 18-month vision to stabilize power supply amid mass cuts. The company is operating at a loss. It owed billions of dalasis in delinquent bills.
Bai Matarr Drammeh, president of GCCI between 2006 to 2012, and former president of Federation of West African Chamber of Commerce and Industry said the lack of energy has made “Gambia not competitive.”
“Lots of potential investors have come to The Gambia and left because they were told of the heavy cost and lack of energy. If you are an investor, factors such as energy are very important in decision making.” Drammeh said.
Businesses agree the energy problem must be addressed for the country to move foreward and becoming competitive, especially in manufacturing.
Guaranteeing cheap and constant supply of electricity is key to attract manufacturing companies to the small West African nation, which is now opening its doors to foreign investors.
NAWEC, Gambia’s indebted energy company, currently runs on half of the capacity required to serve the country.
The company which covers only 40% of the small nation of about 2 million people has had several interests from investors recently but its poor shape, debt and inefficiency have made it unattractive.
A French energy company currently has an interest in investing in NAWEC, though details of their discussions remain unknown.
“Power supply should be a viable business…,” Secka said.
Secka and Drammeh also urged the new administration to conduct tax reforms and institute policies that recognize private sector as the engine of growth.
Last year, Gambia’s neighbor, Senegal has put into service one of sub-Saharan Africa’s largest solar energy projects, a 20-megawatt Senergy 2 project in Bokhol, close to the Mauritanian border, which serves 160,000 people with electricity.
Senegal has a target of serving 20 percent of its energy needs with renewables by the end of 2017.
Secka said Gambia can also use its scorching heat and loyal daily sunshine to its advantage.
“The cost of generating electricity is still too high because we still rely on fossil fuel… Secondly, our transmission and distribution are in a very poor shape. Thirdly, NAWEC is in a dire situation financially.”
“I think we need to look into investing in renewable energy… There are huge potentials on that and we have investors that are still ready and interested in energy…,” according to Secka.
Secka also spoke of the importance of reforms in the judiciary to ensure the sector’s impartiality.
He said the business sector is encouraged by the openness of the current administration and they are willing to work with them to strengthen private sector growth in the country.
Drammeh, who is also an hotelier, said the new administration should also focus a lot of time and resource to developing tourism.
Gambia currently faces lots of challenges including higher public debt at 115% of GDP, income poverty at 48% and youth unemployment at 38%, among many others.