By Omar Bah
The government has been blamed for the high increase of cement prices. The Finance ministry recently introduced a 5% import tariff on cement imports from Senegal. The new tax was issued to the Gambia Revenue Authority in November 2018 for enforcement from the beginning of 2019.
However, the national coordinator of the Cement Importers Association, Yaya Jobe, told The Standard yesterday that local cement dealers have condemned the new tax, arguing that local production is unable to meet the country’s demand.
Jobe said it was “unfortunate” that the government went ahead to increase the tariff from D30 to D121.75 per bag of cement on the pretext of protecting the local industries without consulting the cement dealers.
He said since the government announced the increment, a large number of importers have stopped importing cement “because if we import the cement at that tariff, we can only sell it here at D340 which would be very difficult because our sales will significantly go down.”
Jobe said the government’s failure to consider consequences was also unfortunate because when importation stops, many Gambians would be unemployed since some importers have more than full time 20 employees.
“In Farafenni alone, we have over 50 businesses which are employing hundreds of Gambians. If the government is wise, they should empower the rural areas because that is the only way they can curb rural-urban migration. I am paying tax regularly and about D9,000 every month for my stores and the least I would want is for that to stop. As we speak, because of this new policy, a bag of cement costs D340 here in Basse,” he told The Standard.
He further disclosed that they have taken up the issue with the Consumer Protection and Competition Commission which are committed to take the matter up with the Ministry of Trade.
Another cement importer said the reason given for this new policy “is not genuine because there is no cement factory in The Gambia because all what these so-called factories do is bring the bulk cement here and bag it. So there is no local factory to protect as such”, he said.
He added that since the introduction of the new policy, cement price has “gone roof” way beyond the means of the average Gambian and it should therefore be rescinded.
Meanwhile, Ousman Gajigo, an economist and former international civil servant, has warned that the predictable consequences for “the misguided policy” are now beginning to affect the general public.
“The government’s stated reason for this new policy is to help the ‘local cement industry’. Unfortunately, this was demonstrably false, and it showed a complete disregard for the welfare of Gambians. The actual truth is that there is no local cement industry in The Gambia. This is a false narrative that is being pushed by bulk cement importers to give the image that they carry out processing when in fact they do no such thing,” adding every single grain of cement in the country is imported.
He said the casualties of the policy, which are the ordinary Gambians and the construction industry, are beginning to acutely feel the pain, adding that immediately after the imposition of the import duty, the price of a 50kg bag of cement went from about D215 in NBR to about D280 and in the Kombos, the price has now exceeded D290.