By Lamin Njie
Assistant Information Officer
Ministry of Transport, Works and Infrastructure
The Minister of Transport, Works, and Infrastructure, Hon Bai Lamin Jobe, in a recent interview, spoke on various important ongoing construction projects within the Greater Banjul Area, in West Coast Region, including University of The Gambia at Faraba-Banta, the Banjul International Airport, and the Banjul roads, sewage and drainage projects, and also the imminent roads projects to be constructed in the Nuimis, Saloum, and Kiang Districts.
Speaking about the University project, the Minister made it clear that the contracting authority of the university project is the Ministry of Higher Education and the executing agency is the Project Coordinating Unit (PCU), of the Ministry of Basic Education; in effect, the role of the Ministry of Transport and Works is to provide technical advice, upon request, or to participate at the level of the Project Steering Committee (PSC), if and when there is a meeting.
Minister Jobe was part of the entourage of the President of The Republic, H.E. Adama Barrow, when he visited the university project on 27th October 2020. Minister Jobe revealed that even though the project encountered several challenges since its inception in 2010, it is gradually taking shape. “The project works were supposed to start around 2011, and expected to be completed in 2015, but this did not happen, under the last government. The works eventually started in 2016 and was supposed to be completed in 2019, but faced several contractual and funding issues, which were inherited by the new government. The project deadline has now been extended to April 2021,” he said.
He further described the project as very important to the country’s education sector, and he expressed hope that the consultant, contractor, and all the stakeholders will put in their best efforts to successfully complete the project.
“During the visit, we saw major structures coming up, such as roads, drainage, and the proposed schools of Education, Information and Technology, and Engineering and Architecture; we also saw some challenging issues, such as the low level of site activities, equipment, and manpower, which needs to be addressed, if the proposed deadline is to be met by the contractor. The Ministry of Higher Education does knock on our doors from time to time for technical advice, which we readily provide. We also receive regular progressive reports from the consultant, which contain at times some issues of concern, but unfortunately the PSC does not meet regularly to discuss such issues,” he said.
On the Airport project, Minister Jobe stated that the Banjul International Airport, had been undergoing major re-construction and expansion since 2018. The Minister revealed that the project was supposed to be completed in July 2019, but this has now been revised to November, 2020.
“The Airport project started as a minor renovation works which was costed about $14 million, but the project scope got much bigger, and we had to look for another $12 million, making a total of $26 million dollars. We now have over 1000 square meters of additional functional spaces; new offices and new equipment with doubled capacity; and twice the number of immigration, customs, and checking desks. The floors of the main Terminal Building have increased from two to three, fitted with two elevators. The Airport has been transformed into a modern facility, which could process conveniently over 500,000 visitors per year, including the hajj, which is the most demanding on the airport during the year. The Airport is a landmark facility with added functionality, once it is opened,” he added. The Gambia Civil Aviation Authority- GCAA confirmed that Flights can come and go for now. The final official opening of the airport, however, may be at the end of this month- November. I am satisfied with the quality of work, although there have been delays, contractual issues, and challenges in securing additional funding from the Saudi Fund for Development (SFD), which has been the main donor. But things are now all bright, he added.
On the new passenger levy on travelers of $40 introduced at the airport, which has attracted a lot of comments, both locally and internationally, Minister Jobe said this is not under the purview of the Ministry of Transport, Works and Infrastructure, but rather, under the Ministry of Interior, in particular Department of Immigration.
“We are just accommodating this operation at the airport,” he clarified.
Commenting on the much talked about Banjul roads, sewage and drainage project, Minister Jobe stated that the project started around May 2019, and it is expected to end in May 2022, covering a span of three years.
“We are about halfway into the project, and already it has noticeable impact on our capital city; this goes to indicate that the situation in Banjul was deplorable and at breaking point, with respect to the road conditions, drainage, sewage and solid wastes. We had to fast track the Project .The state of disrepair of the sewage and drainage systems was life-threatening, and we had to race against the raining season of 2019, which could have deteriorated the situation, possibly leading into a city-wide cholera outbreak. But critics say a lot of negative stuffs about the project; notably, it did not go to tender, and that it involved shady deal with the contractor. Given the described situation of Banjul in 2019, we are not apologetic that we found a local contractor, capable and willingly to address immediately the situation in Banjul, to pre-finance the works, and ready to be subjected under the supervision of an independent consultant. Today, we take consolation that the communities of Banjul have eyes to see; they are living in the midst of the project impact, and their positive feedback is sustaining the project’s credibility,” he added.
Minister Jobe further observed that the Banjul rehabilitation project is one of the smallest projects in terms of monetary value under the Ministry, but yet it attracted the biggest noise, and he wondered if this was only because it was initiated, funded, and implemented by local actors.
He further stated that the example of the Banjul project is showing the way forward for other priority projects, such as the imminent Hakalang roads project, amongst others.
• “One of the main reasons, I believe, why the National Assembly countenanced the Supplementary Appropriation Bill this year to finance rural and urban roads, such as the Hakalang project, was because they saw the Banjul project as an example, and they felt the growing need and the sense in looking inwards, and taking responsibility to finance the country’s priority projects through local means and resources," he said
Lastly, commenting on the growing traffic congestions on our highways, the Minister said it is not only lack of adequate infrastructure, but as well, a number of other constraining factors against the free flow of traffic, such as the rampant parking on street lanes, rampant picking and dropping of passengers on the roads by taxis and vans, the unrestricted number of vendors, workshops, and flea markets on the side walks, the high number of road-unworthy vehicles plying and breaking down on the roads and the high number of inexperienced drivers. There is total traffic anarchy on our roads, which to remedy, must involve adequate traffic regulation and management, including good infrastructure.
“Our streets and roads are generally small, and making this worse for traffic flow, there are no rules governing their use; drivers park anyhow and anywhere, even on the side ,walks. In Banjul, for example, as we are renovating the side walks, street vendors are also building stalls on them. This is forcing pedestrians to use the lanes meant for the vehicles. There are many permanently parked derelict cars, buses, and trucks on the roads. To bring remedy to the dire traffic situation, our Ministry, the councils and municipality, the Ministry of Interior, The Gambia Ports Authority, and the Associations of Vehicle operators, must come to an understanding of rules to govern the traffic on our roads. We need regulation, and we need enforcement. Just like we have for the Port and for the Airport, we must have regulator and enforcer to guarantee proper traffic management,” he concluded.