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By Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS)
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BANJUL, Gambia, November 21, 2013/African Press Organization (APO)/ -- The Vice President of The Gambia, Dr. Isatou Njie-Saidy, has said that availability and access to modern energy services is not only vital to reducing poverty in West Africa but also critical in maintaining peace and security.

She made the declaration while delivering the keynote address at the opening of the two-day 4th ERERA Forum on Wednesday, 20th November 2013 in Banjul, The Gambia. The Forum is being attended by some 150 participants including regulators, operators, power experts and consumers in the electricity sector

According to her, there can be no meaningful and sustainable development without adequate, reliable and sustainable energy, considering that the region is blessed with some of the richest energy resources including oil, gas, coal, large hydro and abundant sources of renewable energy.

The Vice President however lamented the fact that ECOWAS Member States have been “pursuing our individual national energy policies without exploring the benefits of economies of scale”.

As a founding member of ECOWAS, The Gambia, she said, has “always believed in the benefits of regional integration as the best way of efficiently and sustainably exploiting and managing our resources for the common good of all our citizens”.

She recalled joint regional projects between The Gambia and her neighbours, and said that when completed, they would improve electricity supply as well as greatly enhance the socio-economic development of the region and enhance the integration of Community citizens.

While noting a paradigm shift through the creation of such institutions as ERERA, the West African Power Pool (WAPP) and the ECOWAS Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (ECREEE), which has led to the implementation of various developmental projects in the region, the Vice President urged the ECOWAS Commission to continue in the development and implementation of more projects for the benefit of the people. In this regard, she called for the development of new renewable energy technologies in such projects to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Dr. Njie-Saidy who noted that electricity regulation was relatively new in the ECOWAS region, called on ERERA to help Member States build their capacity, noting that they had different levels of competence in regulation.

In his remarks, the President of the ECOWAS Commission, Mr. Kadré Desiré Ouédraogo, described the performance in the power sector in Member States as unsatisfactory and unable to attract appreciable level of private investment despite the implementation of power sector reforms.

He recalled the many initiatives by ECOWAS to address the energy challenge, including the adoption of the 2003 regional Energy Protocol and the attendant actions undertaken resulting in the establishment of the West African Gas Pipeline Authority, the WAPP Secretariat, ECREEE and ERERA.

The President - represented by his Special Representative to Cote d'Ivoire, Ambassador Jonathan Oluwole Coker - noted ERERA's contribution in the implementation of the roadmap leading to the regional electricity market, the hallmark being the adoption of the Directive on the organization of the regional electricity market by the ECOWAS Council of Ministers in June 2013.

He called on ECOWAS' partners to continue assisting ERERA in the discharge of its mandate and support it in the implementation of its strategic objectives.

“ECOWAS desires that regional regulation should help to improve governance by supporting the liberalization of exchanges and by promoting respect of contracts and sectoral standards by all partners”, the President stated.

Also addressing the participants, the Chairman of ERERA, El Hadj Ibrahima Thiam, enumerated the major activities of the Institution since its operationalization in 2010. While stating that energy is an important engine of economic growth, he described access to electricity as an essential catalyst for social development.

Furthermore, he stated that regulation is fundamental to the development of the electricity market in West Africa, adding that efficient regulation is critical to the optimal functioning of the electricity market.

He said the annual ERERA Forum is in response to the strong need for a permanent platform for dialogue among stakeholders towards the creation of favourable conditions for the mobilization of human and financial resources necessary for the development of infrastructure for the production and transportation of electricity.

El Hadj Thiam expressed confidence that the exchange of ideas at the Forum would lead to pertinent recommendations towards new levels of the flow of efficient and sustainable regional electricity.

In her statement, the Minister of Energy of The Gambia, Mrs. Teneng Mba Jaiteh, argued that the provision of electricity should no longer be considered the sole responsibility of governments due to the huge investments required and the limited and competitive nature of donor funds.

She said the private sector should be encouraged to invest in the energy sub-sector through the development of the right policy, legal and regulatory frameworks, as well as the visibility of efficient and financially viable power utility companies.

As generation of electricity increasingly becomes a private sector activity, utility companies can focus on enhancing and improving transmission and distribution networks and sale of electricity to consumers, Mrs. Jaiteh said.

According to her, it would make ERERA's role even more critical in ensuring that regional trade in energy and electricity services is facilitated and encouraged. It would also require the development of trans-border infrastructure; that is, transmission networks inter-connecting countries in the region and the creation of grid codes, she added.

Similarly, the minister said it would reveal the vital role of national regulatory authorities in ensuring a level-playing field for investors, distributors and consumers.

Participants at the 4th ERERA Forum being hosted by The Gambia are to examine the place, roles and responsibilities of ERERA and the national regulators in speeding up the establishment of a regional electricity market in West Africa through the theme, 'Fast-tracking the regional electricity market: the regulatory issues'.