Barrow defends toll charges at Basse bridge

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By Tabora Bojang

President Adama Barrow has appealed to drivers, commuters and natives of URR protesting the introduction of toll fees at the Basse bridge to understand that paying a toll to cross a bridge is a normal practice in all developed countries to help the upkeep and maintenance of the infrastructure and help government with needed revenue to provide development.

The introduction of a toll fee at the Chinese-funded Samba-Juma Bridge one year after its inauguration has caused a stir among drivers and commuters with some resorting to using canoes to cross the river.

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But addressing a meeting in Wuli and Sandu during his meet-the-people tour, President Barrow, who is also a native of URR, said he does not believe any Gambian would be reluctant to sacrifice D50 to the government to help it develop the country and improve the lives of citizens.

“This is why we immediately introduced charges at the Farafenni Bridge just after its inauguration. Today the government is earning over D40 million from that [Farafenni] bridge. We are putting all these monies together so that we can construct more roads because we cannot continue to rely on foreign countries to give us money for our development. We should have the confidence in ourselves that we can do it by ourselves and we cannot achieve it without putting our own resources together,” the president said.

According to the president, the bridge is meant to make travelling quicker and easier after decades of ferrying challenges that exposed commuters and drivers to ‘unquantifiable risks’ including damage to their vehicles, long delays and high fuel consumptions.

“Aside of that, this place used to be flooded during the rains and the ferry would stop operations and as a result, commuters used to travel up to McCarthy or Bansang to cross the river and come over. Imagine how tiring, how risky and how costly that was. That cannot be quantified. And now with the bridge it takes you a blink of an eye to cross the river. My friends should look into that. If it was me [Adama Barrow] I would rather pay D50 to cross the bridge than pay D5 to use a ferry because the risks and the challenges involved in it cannot be quantified but with the bridge there is safety,” he said.

The president said the country would not achieve its development targets if citizens are not willing to understand and help their government.

“This why even the civil servants pay tax from their salaries to help the government sustain its programs. My advice to taxi drivers here is to go and learn from their colleagues at the Farafenni Bridge and you will see how drivers there manage their business. Here we are charging a van for D100 but in Farafenni they are paying D200 and they are complying. This government is here to help Gambians. We know that there are only a handful of drivers who are reluctant to pay the bridge charges but let them know that we are coming up with a plan to bring additional 100 buses and if the buses arrive, we are going to bring one of them here and it will be crossing the bridge. Bridges are tolled everywhere, in America, UK, Dubai, in Senegal. That is how it works everywhere and Gambia cannot be an exception. We cannot have everything for free,” he said