Ever since President Adam Barrow appointed his government in early May, the post of the Minister of Trade has remained vacant, while the current Finance Minister, Seedy Keita, a former holder of the post, has been assigned by the president to oversee the ministry until a replacement is found.
Minister Keita has come under harsh criticism for his humble performance as trade minister, which represents the continuation of insanely unchecked prices. Critics argue that Minister Keita, disconnected from the facts on the ground due to his long service abroad as an economist, henceforth he is isolated from the plight of the poor and vulnerable in our society.
In the wake of the continuing rocket rise in commodity prices and famine looming in The Gambia amid a severe global food crisis, serious questions are being raised as to why it took the President so long to appoint a new minister to fill the vacant ministerial post.
That, and prices are expected to rise further due to the ongoing war in Ukraine, which, alongside Russia, accounts for nearly a third of the global wheat supply. In addition, the government has remained reluctant to take any price control measures citing the liberal market system in the country.
Furthermore, agriculture, which is the backbone of the Gambian economy, which accounts for about 17.8 per cent of the GDP, is expected to suffer a major setback this year. In this regard, farmers are complaining of hefty fertilizer prices, which jumped from D700 last year to D2500 per bag, despite being backed by the government, raising concerns that the majority of poor farmers will be unable to afford the hefty cost.
Farmers in Thailand and India, which export half of the rice in the Middle East and Africa, in turn import fertilizer from Russia and Ukraine; rice production in the two countries is expected to drop significantly, which will inevitably affect Gambia. In a 2018 release report, the African Development Bank revealed that while Gambia received $80 million from tourism in 2017, it had spent $74 million on rice imports in the same year to close the deficit. Gambia reportedly imports up to 175,000 tonnes of rice annually or nearly 70 per cent of its rice needs.
In the midst of this crisis, the President of the Republic is supposed to appoint a new Minister for Trade to formulate short and long-term plans to reduce price increases, in coordination with stakeholders. The Minister should also liaise with relevant ministers such as Agriculture and Finance, to look at ways to alleviate an impending crisis that could sweep the country with unfavorable consequences!