Letters: An open letter to the Minister of Trade, Industry, Regional Integration and Employment

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Dear Editor,

Please be informed that I am writing to you this open letter with mixed feelings. I came across an article published by The Standard newspaper on  11th February publication captioned ‘Gambian goods coming from Dakar port, bonus to our economy’.

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Mr Minister, I thought at once that either the headline or the editor-in-chief misled his readers but I read the main article and analysed it. You stated that “if it were not for that Gambians would have witnessed even higher prices for basic food commodities amid congestions at Banjul ports”. You being the chief adviser to the president on trade matters, I want to put it to you that my hope for a better Gambia post 2021 elections has almost evaporated.

Mr Minister I looked around the subregion, looked at the cost of living, looked at our port, our importers and exports, and I got even more angry and flabbergasted. The last time I checked, the Gambia port used to be the main transit port for cargo for re-export to Bissau, Casamance, Mali and Conakry. In fact over 50% of Gambian imports got re-exported thereby helping us gain foreign currency, create jobs and increase our port and customs revenue. Also, the export of cashew nuts via the port of Banjul has since 2018 been lost due to fiscal laws and regulations in Dakar. This is a multimillion-dollar trade that we have lost. Are you aware or don’t care about the plight of Gambians? As trade minister, doesn’t it occur to you with the foreign minister to visit Dakar and get exports via Dakar reinstated?

The lost imports to The Gambia which go via Dakar port include the following as it seems you are either clueless, out of touch or simply don’t care: tankers – it’s lately not surprising to see fuel coming to The Gambia via Dakar due to poor trade and or port congestions; car carriers – weekly, hundreds of cars are discharged in Dakar and driven to Banjul; cruise ships – they call at Dakar port and fly tourists to Cap Skiring which has a similar beach to The Gambia. Doesn’t it occur to you that these bring in lots of foreign currency, create jobs and boost our economy or is it that you simply don’t care?

Furthermore, port congestion delays ships hence higher freight charges. As the minister in charge of GPA, don’t you have a plan of action or maybe you simply don’t care?

Revenue and jobs are being lost. Doesn’t it occur to you that whatever passes via the border has a high chance of revenue leakage and fewer jobs for Gambians. It’s not surprising to see how well-off customs, police, immigration and SIS officers at the borders have become. Do you turn a blind eye or simply don’t care about the issue at hand? Mr Minister, the question one might be quick to ask will be, what are your five performance indicators and plans for your ministry and country as you advise President Barrow?

You should engage Senegal as part of the Ecowas protocol of free movement of goods and people for cashew trade. Get experts to help redesign the port. Be honest and truthful to Gambians on the daily increases of commodities which are linked to the rising US dollar rate, imports via Dakar, poor port services, poor trade balances and your unfortunate pronouncements.

Senegal has always practiced a well-planned trade association with its neighbours, do The Gambia have one? Neighbours across the world compete around ports and services. Examples are Cameroon and Gabon; Kenya and Tanzania, Senegal and Ivory Coast; Nigeria and Benin. If you want to talk about Europe,  Rotterdam and Bremerhaven. All these ports compete fiercely with the knowledge that customers could and will shift to where there is ease of doing business, cheaper rates and less corruption and red tapes. Do you know about that or you don’t care?

Why are shippers, exporters and shipping lines preferring Dakar port to Banjul? Did you make a study or invited them for a one-day seminar?

Mr Minister, to conclude my letter you will notice that I didn’t use honourable before your name and it’s deliberate. The National Assembly is a revered place as is your ministry or State House and whoever is there needs to fear Allah and discharge his duty with honesty. The Gambia and her people deserve that.

Saidina Alieu Jarjou

Serekunda