By Tabora Bojang
The Central Bank of the Gambia has declined to disclose names of business entities given millions of dollars from the Gambia’s foreign reserves to help them import essential goods into the country.
President Adama Barrow revealed last month that the government had drained millions of U.S. dollars from the hard currency reserves and given it to businessmen who faced difficulties in getting foreign currency to help them import goods and ensure prices of basic commodities are lowered.
Asked about the names of businesses that were given these reserves and what procedures were taken to identify them during yesterday’s MPC presser in Banjul, Governor Buah Saidy, revealed that over $100 million have been given so far to a number of importers of basic food commodities, but he refused to disclose their names, and does not provide any reasons.
“We cannot leave our people to starve when there is shortage of dollars because of the U.S. monetary policy. We [CBG] sold dollars to essential commodity importers of rice, sugar, oil, onions, potato, flour and fuel importers. That is why stock levels in the country are not affected. That is why you are still having rice to sit comfortably in your house, eat and come and ask me this question. That is why you are able to pay taxi fares because fuel prices are not increasing,” the governor claimed.
In a follow-up to what are the names of these importers or their businesses, he furiously responded: “I said the businesses entities. These are the essential commodity importers. Go to the Ministry of Trade. They will give you their names.”
He claimed the move is yielding significant impacts by ensuring prices are stable while cutting down inflation from 13.3% to 12.9 %.
“This is why we are able to import and keep stock levels still high and price increases would have been more significant than these because in our neighbouring countries prices are going up every day,” Buah Saidy told journalists.
On the criteria used to identify these importers, the governor disclosed that the data was provided to the CBG by the Ministry of Trade where these businesses were registered with.
“They [Ministry of Trade] would look at the stock of essential commodities and businesses that import and the stock levels dictate where we focus. At some point there were goods at the ports but because of scarcity of U.S. dollars they [importers] could not pay their suppliers. In those kinds of situations the Ministry supplies us with data in terms of stock level and businesses that have their goods stocked at the port. There are some businesses that have placed orders with commercial banks but the banks don’t have dollars to finance them and they send those things to us [CBG] and that is the intervention we made. At one point we sold $39 million to the OMCs [the Oil Marketing Companies] so that they can pay for their LC’s. That is the essence of CBG keeping foreign exchange reserves. We are working to ensure we monitor stock levels in the country and have a minimum of 6 months strategic reserve of all these basic commodities,” he added.
The CBG has been inundated by a series of allegations from last year including the D155 million scandal and the recent hacking of the bank’s system. Asked if these scandals would erode public confidence in the CBG’s operations, the governor replied:
“Our biggest asset is our integrity. We had a shock a couple of years ago with the IMF and that program was derailed and it resulted in a governor and line managers being sent out. That was a very bad moment for CBG. After the change of regime we all saw in the Janneh Commission what was revealed about the CBG. It all impacted the image of the Bank and since then we have been working hard to rebuild the confidence of the Central Bank. The D155 million allegations are bogus and you the journalists should now go to the accuser and his lawyer and ask them if they get their money from the Central Bank and why are they not making noise. But you keep on asking the Central Bank when we have cleared ourselves and the police have cleared us. So do not border us with these things. We are working on rebuilding this country. What you guys [journalists] are doing is impacting your own country’s image and prospect of growth and respect.”