By Joaquin M. Sendolo from Banjul, The Gambia
A three-day training organized by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in Banjul, the Gambia, has ended with a challenge to Economic and Financial reporters in West Africa to report in the way that all key players driving the economies of the region will be reflected in stories.
In a brief but assertive statement at the closing ceremony of the training on February 22, 2019, Gambian Communication Minister, Ebrahim Sillah identified key players in the economic drive of all countries as the businesspeople, consumers and the government.
He further categorized the three groups into two containing the taxpayer and user of the taxes collected; which, according to him, cannot do without the other.
Minister Sillah emphasized Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) as a major player in driving and upholding the economies of West Africa; however, he said while SMEs continue to grow and remain the largest group of taxpayers, the corresponding reports about their activities are not seen or heard in media outlets.
“SMEs are the largest taxpayers, but we are not seeing the general interest of the journalists to report how taxes paid are spent and what benefits go to the taxpayers to advance the cause of the SMEs,” Minister Sellah said, stressing further that market women even struggle to go to the market and if they go, they have no access to public toilet while they are compelled to pay taxes.
Additionally, the Minister said journalists are also not taking interest in reporting how taxes paid are translated into development to benefit the taxpayers.
Minister Sillah, who himself is a journalist and worked for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) for 10 years as an economic and financial correspondent, told the journalists that economic and financial reporting is a specialized area that needs trained journalists who will be well knowledgeable in jargons and complex analyses used therein to interpret them in a simple language to the public to understand.
“You have to take the training seriously because you are the lucky few to be chosen among thousands for this specialized area, and we are thankful to the IMF for this initiative because it will build our journalists’ capacities,” adding, “We are very, very grateful and hope that when we read your papers, listen to your radio or watch television, we will see some fundamental differences in how you used to report and how you are reporting now.”
He admitted that government alone cannot contend with the capacity building of its people in various areas of discipline, and media houses do not have the financial capacity to do it. He, therefore, lauded the IMF for the assistance and urged that this should not be the end.
Reemphasizing the significance of the training, Minister Sillah said training economic and financial reporters was not better than now because the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is exerting every effort to integrate the West African economy so that all countries can transition to one currency.
By that, he said it is important trained journalists report what businesses are offering consumers and at the same time understanding consumers’ behaviors.
He also indicated that as technology advances to the extent that the younger population of West Africa gets acquainted with the internet, journalists have to be trained to make use of technology to disseminate information to a larger audience on consumer behavior and the market system.
The Communication Minister, like Finance Minister Mambury Njie, said there is a shift in West Africa that everyone is graduating from war to democracy and good governance, noting that in such a situation, businesses flourish.
In this light, he said there are outdated laws that do not conform to current reality that governments and stakeholders need to understand and come together to revise or completely get them out of tax policies to help businesses grow.
Therefore, he said journalists and media houses have a vital role to play by giving out the information so that government, businesses and consumers will understand the new dynamic that is working in the economic sector.
Meanwhile, IMF Resident Representative, Dr. Ruby E.M. Randall, in conjunction with Lucie Mboto Fouda, Senior Communications Officer, explained the role of the IMF to the participants and said unlike the World Bank that funds projects, the IMF promotes international monetary cooperation; carries out economic policy advice for member countries, provides technical assistance and financial support in the form of short and medium terms loan to member countries.
According to the two Executives, IMF could be understood commonly as a SUSU club that member countries contribute to, and it in turn gives the same contributions out in the form of loan for balance of payment.
The United States, Japan and Germany are recorded as the highest contributors to the IMF, and Liberia ranks third in benefiting from technical assistance as it remains a fragile state that experienced almost 15 years of war.
The training brought together 23 journalists from five Anglophone countries including Gambia, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone. Similar training according to IMF’s Communications Officer Fouda, was conducted two years ago for economic and financial reporters of Francophone countries of West Africa.