By: Saidina Alieu Jarjou
Please be informed that I am writing to you this open letter with mixed felling’s which I find difficult to decode beyond human imagination. I wish to bring it to your attention that on a sunny Friday as I sat under the mango tree, going through Facebook, reading news, and enjoying the breeze accompanied by “Attaya” – I came across the article published by the Standards Newspaper on its 11th February 2022 publication and captioned ‘Gambian goods coming from Dakar port, bonus to our economy’.
Mr Minister, I thought at once that either the headline or the Editor in Chief misleads his read ship but then I got the main article which I read and analyzed. The unfortunate thing in the said malicious words of yours has it that “if it were not for that Gambians would have witnessed even higher prices for basic food commodities amid congestions at Banjul ports”. On that note, 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 dwindled.
Mr Minister I looked around the subregion, looked at our costs of living, looked at our Port, our importers and exports and I got even more angry, disturbed, flag basted if not confused. The last time I checked the Gambia port used to be the main transit Port for cargo into Bissau, Casamance, Mali and Conakry – intact over 50% of Gambian imports got re-exported thereby helping us gain foreign currency, create jobs, 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, Senegal. This is a multimillion-dollar trade that we have lost – are you aware or don’t care about the plight of the sovereign citizens? As trade minister- doesn’t it occur to you with your foreign Minister to visit Dakar and have the 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 – didn’t it occur to you that the port, customs and our drivers lose out; cruise ships – they call Dakar port, tourist will then fly to Caps Skiring which has a similar beach to The Gambia. Doesn’t it occur to you that this brings in lots of foreign currency, create jobs and boost our economy or you simply don’t care?
Furthermore, Port congestion and ships delay hence higher freight into The Gambia. I believe as one of those sitting on the board of GPA and sitting in Cabinet with the line Ministry of GPA, don’t you have a plan of action or simply don’t care and blame GPA and GFS and its line Ministry or do you simply want to scapegoat?
Revenue losses and job opportunities lost – Doesn’t it occur to you that whatever passes via the bother had a high chance of revenue leakage and fewer jobs for Gambians. It’s not surprising to see how well remunerated those at the borders especially customs officials – how and why? 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 5 performance indicators and plans for your Ministry and country as you advise President Barrow?
However, let me share with you my advice that I believe could help improve our sinking nation. Engage Senegal as part of the ECOWAS protocol of free movement of goods and people for Cashew trade via the Gambia. Get experts to help redesign the port which I had earlier written to GPA on it. Be honest and truthful to Gambians on the daily increases of commodities which are linked to the rising USD rate, imports via Dakar, poor port services, poor trade balances and your unfortunate pronouncements.
To guide you, Senegal has always had practiced a well-planned trade association with its neighbours- do you have one? Neighbours across the world compete around ports and services. Example Cameroun and Gabon; Kenya and Tanzania, Senegal vs Ivory Coast vs Ghana; Nigeria vs Benin and if you want us to talk Europe – Rotterdam vs Bremerhaven. All those countries compete fiercely with the knowledge that customers could and will shift to where there is the ease of 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 1-day seminar? I submit to us that it’s 2-3 times freight wise to Dakar compared to Banjul, ships waiting time in Dakar is almost zero while in Banjul is 10-21days not to mention the port, systems, red tapes in place.
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 holy place as is your Ministry or Statehouse and whoever is there needs to fear God/Allah and discharge their duties with honesty. The Gambia and her people deserve better.