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City of Banjul
Sunday, September 19, 2021

DRIVERS STRIKE TODAY, GOV’T REACTS 

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By Olimatou Coker  

The Gambia Transport Union has vowed to commence its long-planned sit-down strike today as negotiations with the government over several demands failed. These include transport fares be increased or fuel prices reduced, provision of garages, a reduction of the toll fees at the Sene-Gambia Bridge, harmonization of the Gambian Afrique passage with that of Senegal, introduction of a queuing system for goods in transit at Banjul port, and lifting of restriction on Gambian drivers at Senegalese border crossings.

The strike is expected to cripple businesses and official transactions as very few or no commercial vehicles would be on the roads, to ferry thousands of commuters to work and business.

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Throughout yesterday, rumours of the looming strike have driven anxiety around town with many people worried that they would not be able to move to work or business.

Union president Omar Ceesay yesterday confirmed to The Standard that the strike will cover the entire nation and accused government of failing to meet his union’s demands.

“Nothing is going to stop this strike,” Ceesay told The Standard. He further argued that they have waited for long and held several meetings with various government offcials from trade, local government and even the highest offfice about these demands but nothing concrete has been done about it. ”Now all our members have agreed to go ahead with the strike starting Monday,” he said. Asked how long would the strike last, Ceesay said that would be left with the government.

He added that all drivers will stay home until the government meets their demands. “This call is for all of us [drivers] because we are fighting for the common welfare of all drivers. We all know the current situation is very different. So we are only fighting for our wellbeing but not politics or otherwise,” he concluded.

Meanwhile, The Standard tried talking to the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Works, but he could not be reached on the phone.

However, a senior government official told The Standard that the drivers are becoming unreasonable with their demands especially after government had already taken steps in addressing them.

“The issue of fuel prices is determined by market forces. Government has also identified places to be allocated as garages and there is a strong commitment to consider other demands that require processes.”

He further disclosed that government has directed the public transport company GTSC to deploy as many buses as possible and government drivers and officials are also advised to help carry students who are now on exams.

Gov’t reacts

Meanwhile, the Gambia government issued a statement last night regarding the pending strike, published herewith verbatim:

“The General Public will recall that on the 13th August, 2021, the President of the Transport Union issued a notice of industrial action (sit-down strike) by members of his union slated for the 13th September, 2021 unless government fulfill their demands by the scheduled date. The Union demanded six points as follows;

1.         Identification and allocation of additional garages nation-wide

2.         Harmonized and standardized Afrique Pessage operations in The Gambia with their operations in Senegal

3.         Reduction of Toll Crossing fees at Senegambia bridge

4.         Approval of GTU proposed general transport tariff increasement by 30%

5.         Re-introduction of queuing system for transit goods at the Gambia Ports Authority

6.         Full operationalization of the inter-state road transport permit (ISTP) by removing blockage at Karang of Gambian commercial passenger vehicle to Senegal

The following day 14th August 2021, His Excellency the President directed for an urgent meeting with the members of the Union to look into their demand and amicably find a lasting solution to their requests. Several meetings, field visits, inspections were made with active participation of the union executive under the leadership of the Secretary General & Head of the Civil Service. Government is happy to report that a consensus and agreement were mutually reached on the following points:

1.         Identification and allocation of additional garages nation-wide: Garage Sites were identified, surveyed, demarcated and allocated to municipal councils in the following local government areas while others are being processed for allocation:

Banjul

1.         The Bund Road Truck Terminal layout area confirmed, sketched and ready for formal allocated to Banjul City Council

Kanifing Municipal Council

2.         Farup, site behind Mobile Police – Private Property- being processed for allocation to KMC

3.         Abuko Truck Garage – Demarcated and ready for formal allocation to KMC

West Coast Region

4.         Coastal Layout – Allocated to BAC

5.         Salagi Layout Car Park, – Allocated to BAC

6.         Burusubi Face I- Allocated to BAC

7.         Burusubi Face II – Allocated to BAC

8.         Tanjeh – site almost ready – being processed for allocation to BAC

9.         Sotokoi Layout – Allocated to BAC

10.       Nemasu Layout – Allocated to BAC

North Bank Region

11.       Essau – Allocated to KAC

12.       Maka-farafenni, Allocated to KAC

13.       Farafenni Layout – being processed for allocation to KAC

14.       Konjo – Allocated to KAC

Lower River Region

15.       Soma Opposite the new market – being processed for allocation to MKAC

2.         Harmonized and standardized Afrique Pessage operations in The Gambia with their operations in Senegal

The axle load weighing Tariff is harmonized and the Afri Pesage equipment at Bereto weighing station is inspected by both Standard Bureau and the Comptroller of Weight and Measure. The Comptroller have also verified the scale and certify that the scale is good order. A certificate is being process to that effect. Representative of the GTU observed the inspection and verification exercise.

3.         Reduction of Toll Crossing fees at Senegambia bridge

Government have agreed to reduce the SeneGambia Bridge crossing user charges across all vehicle category. This is not only because of the union’s demand, but also by the transitioning from the interim toll management tariff model to the existing ferry tariff to the Toll Plaza system which does not factor weight and only charges by vehicle category/size.

PENDING

4.         Approval of the GTU proposed transport tariff by 30%

Government received the request for general transport fares increment from the union in May 2021 and replied that we would initiate the review and consultation process on this and requested for details break-down of tariff input cost for technical assessment. In so doing, in the interim to end December 2021 requested the union to delay the measure to the new year January 2022. The union replied agreeing to the government proposition and suggested instead fuel price reduction. The Ministry of Finance & Economic Affairs responsible for fuel price setting was approached for concession on this matter. The Ministry agreed to freeze fuel pump prices in The Gambia since June 2021 to the rest of the year and now further provided additional concession by committing to reduce the prices of fuel beginning the month of October, 2021. That the price setting and notification are made monthly allowing for oil marketing companies to adjust their importation plans. It’s noteworthy that pump prices in the Gambia while considered high, mirrors fairly the international oil prices and much lower in the region compared to our neighbors. The monthly oil price setting mechanism in use here in the Gambia guarantees stability and availability whereas elsewhere, shortages and queuing at the pump is frequent. The union’s insist on getting the reduction in September and by a whooping D6.50 well after the September price notice is agreed with OIL MARKETING COMPANIES (OMC), is the principal disagreement over this matter. MOFEA have written a letter that they will reduce the pump price by the 1st October, 2021 and made it available to the union.

5.         Re-introduction of queuing system at Gambia Ports Authority for transit goods trucks

The Ministry of Trade have engaged stakeholders, the managements of GPA, GRA, Clearing & Forwarding Agents, Locateurs (transit good agents) since the last union action at the Ports of Banjul. No consensus on the re-introduction of the queue was reached and agreed to by the stakeholders. Last time government imposed the queue, the transit good agents counter-strike and the measure have to be suspended. The government is faced with the challenge of arbitrating fairly and in the national interest and in principle agreed to establish a framework for transit good transportation arrangement to increase participation of Gambian registered vehicles in the transit good business.

The guideline or framework will cover registration, tariff, roadworthiness, operations among others. Government requested for additional time of one(1) month to develop one, validate it and push it through the approval process.

Yet again on this point, the union insist on immediate decision and its implementation.

6.         Full operationalization of the inter-state road transport permit (ISTP) by removing blockage at Karang of Gambian commercial passenger vehicle to Senegal

The Republic of Senegal is notified of the perennial agitation of the commercial passenger transport operators of the Gambia. The matter has been discussed at the highest level both at the Presidential Council and international AU and Ecowas Commission forums. In fact, the President of Senegal H.E Marky Sall both at Council meeting and to a Gambian envoy, Hon. Mamodou Tangara instructed that the ISTP be launched and operationalized and a dateline given. Regrettably, before the launch date the borders were closed due to covid control mechanism. This is being rekindled through exchange of letters at the level of the two transport ministries and the Presidency. We have also indicated government preference for the diplomatic channel to resolve the matter to the pathway of confrontation. The Senegalese minister of transport Mansour Faye has agreed to receive Hon. Lamin Ousman Jobe upon his return from overseas trip sometime next week.  A special envoy by the Presidency will also follow, all seeking to remove this bottleneck at Karang.

Conclusions:

While significant progress has been made in the talks and within a very short time, three (3) of the six(6) demands were met, two (2) issues (fare increment/pump price reduction and re-introduction of queuing system at the Port of Banjul for transit goods needed little more time to accomplish. That is, notice period for pump price reduction announcement and finalization of the framework for the operationalization of the queue at GPA.

One matter (ISTP) involves a 3rd party decision and indications are that there is demonstratable goodwill to resolve it.

Consequently, it is unfortunate and bizarre that the union have determined to pursue their industrial action starting Monday, the 13th September, 2021 coinciding with examination calendar for grade 12 students, Presidential statutory tour nation-wide, the state of the nation in these times of election. We have put in place contingency plan to assist students to commute to exam centers. The Secretary General have instructed all government, agencies and SOEs drivers to pick students to and from exam centers in the wee hours of 5am to 10am & 1am to 3pm.  The DG – GTSC is also by this release requested to mobilize additional buses to cover the GBA (Banjul, KMC, WCR) for commuting students and workers. Equally the driving public are all requested to assist during the period of the strike to assist students and the travelling public

The action of the union reinforces the urgency of stepping the expansion of the public transportation service to the nation i.e ferry, buses, river transport and light rails). To that effect, we salute GTSC recent acquisition drive for 33 buses from the QGroup. Government have taken note and will compliment your efforts by granting necessary support and continue to putting in place the needed infrastructure such as roads, bridges etc.

Government sincerely appeals to the general public adversely affected by the strike to be patient. Those drivers in Banjul, Serekunda, Gunjur, Brikama, Barra, Farafenni, Soma, Kaur, Bansang, Basse who want to continue their normal services, are encourage to do so as all rights would be respected and protected. To the GTU President and striking drivers, we urge you to come back to the negotiation table and discontinue the strike in the interest of your members and your beloved clients.”

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