By Tabora Bojang
At least 200 staff of Banjul Breweries Limited yesterday gathered at the outskirts of the brewery in Kanifing to show opposition to the new tax imposed on the company by the government.
The staff who spoke to The Standard said they were calling on the government to consider rescinding the tax hike policy so that they will not be sent home. They also urged the management to delay plans for a fresh round of layoffs and cessation of production.
The country’s main brewery laid off 18 workers and stopped production last week. The government increased excise tax rates on domestic alcoholic beverages from 10% to 75%, a policy the brewery complained is killing their business.
The secretary general of the wholesalers association, Osaji Muhammadou, said they are in dire straits with the tax hike and the end of the tourist season.
He said the retail price of beer has become unaffordable for the average Gambian and as such “restaurant sales have dropped to less than 30% and they have turned to other cheaper wines and gins which come with greater health risks”.
Ansumana Khan, an accountant at the breweries, said they want the government to understand that the livelihoods of young Gambians are at stake since the company cannot continue to operate at a loss. He said no one is certain of their fate.
“We are appealing to Adama Barrow to listen to our concerns and intervene in this case. There are responsible family heads who have been working here for years and they are now about to go home only because of a policy that can be reconsidered,” said Omar Drammeh, an operator.
“There is no production ongoing, our colleagues have been sent home and any day from now, all of us could be dismissed,” he added.
Tumbul Sanyang, a staff member, recommended that the government bring down the tax to at least 20% to allow the company to continue opearation.
“I have three kids and I am the breadwinner of my family so if this company is to close, it will be a huge problem [for my family],” he lamented.
An online Gambian paper quoted Finance Minister Mambury Njie calling for “proper regulations to control the abuse of alcohol” in the country saying, “we have seen (how) the underaged people have been abusing alcohol.”
However, Sanna Drammeh, who has been working at the brewery for eight years, said the brewery should not take the flak for alcohol abuse among the youths.
“Alcohol consumption has been here well before the coming of Julbrew. It is a matter of choice and wish. A lot of the alcohol is imported,” he claimed.
Bekai Kujabi who has been working with the company for 28 years said: “We are Muslims but people should concentrate on their personal faith and avoid unnecessary utterances.”
The president of the staff association Alhagie Ceesay said the alcohol content in the beer is only 5% while others are selling drinks with alcoholic contents up to 40%.
“This company has existed for over 40 years, so it is today that they realise that BBL beer is affecting the youths?” he chided.
Borry Darboe, the country sales manager, urged for calm and assured the staff the re-engagements between the company and the government are ongoing at an advanced stage with a view to finding solutions to the crisis.