By Talibeh Hydara
It’s been three days since commercial drivers began a sit-down strike across the country, called by the General Transport Union.
In a statement on September 9th, the Union said the strike was influenced by three things; high fuel prices, high tariff at the Senegambia Bridge, and too many police checkpoints on the roads.
The strike has been a thorn in the flesh of commuters who line on the roads in their thousands.
The transport minister, Ebrima Sillah maintained that the government’s doors are open for negotiation but may not initiate it. The Union’s president, Omar Ceesay, however insisted that the drivers will not budge until their demands are met.
The striking drivers argued that despite the reduction of global fuel prices, nothing has changed in The Gambia. The prices remain unchanged.
Last week, Oil Marketing Companies had momentarily halted selling fuel at all filling stations.
The move caused a huge panic, with state-owned GNPC the only station selling fuel.
The government had to strike an agreement with the OMCs, subsidizing a further D18 million in order to maintain the current pump prices.
The government claimed it has provided at least D1.3 billion in fuel subsidies since January 2022.
There were unconfirmed reports that fuel dealers had demanded pump prices increased to D100 per litre.
According to the Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs, the current pump prices per litre are:
Senegambia Bridge tariff
Police checkpoints, fares and pump prices have been familiar gripes of drivers but tariff at the Senegambia Bridge was mentioned for the first time.
The striking drivers demanded a review of the tariff, which reportedly caused a clash between drivers who refused to pay, and the Police Intervention Unit.
The Transport Union president said some drivers were arrested amidst the clash, which happened a few days before the sit-down strike was announced.
The bridge was inaugurated in 2019 to connect the sub-region and boost intra-Africa trade and regional integration.
Here is the tariff for various categories of vehicles crossing the bridge, according to information accessed by The Standard:
Jeep/double cabin: D250
Passenger cars: 1-7 D200,
8-14 D250, 15-20 D350, 21-35 D500, 36-44 D1,000, 45-above D1,500
Trucks: D80 per ton.
However, the Transport Union said it had agreed with the government on a new tariff, which they expect to be implemented.
The supposed new tariff, seen by The Standard, shows slightly different charges on vehicles.
It proposed buses and trucks to pay D1000 while a truck with a trailer pays D1,800.
The rest of the tariff are:
Small car 4-7 passengers: D200
Jeep 4×4, 8-14 passengers: D250
However, the Minister of Works and Transport Ebrima Sillah, has told The Standard that the new tariff was a proposal made by the Committee in June and was forwarded to the Ministry of Finance. “It is being reviewed by the committee which comprises even the Union. Because the national budget was already done capturing the existent tariff, any new tariff will have to be reviewed and factored in the budget. That review was being done together with the Union only for them to walk out of that to declare a strike. We are however open to continue discussion on it,” the minster said.
A third demand of the drivers, which they claimed accompany mandatory fines, is the issue of checkpoints.
The Union complained that police constantly harass drivers on the roads.
However Chief Inspector Alieu Jamanka, the deputy police spokesperson, said that claim could not be further from the truth.
“As far as we are concerned, that claim is not only false but misleading and inasmuch as our role is to protect lives and properties, we’ll continue to ensure that people’s safety and security remain our core priority. We must understand that the police as duty bearers will never falter in our legal mandate,” Chief Inspector Jamanka told The Standard.
Neither the government nor the Transport Union shows any sign of backing out and the commuters remain at the receiving end.