TAT Editorial: Respond To The Continuing Cries And Tears Of The Negatively Affected

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Alieu Famara Sagnia, Chairman TAT Editorial Board

By: Alieu Famara Sagnia

The central and local government authorities must spring into action immediately.

They must come together urgently to address the suffering of the vulnerable women and self-employed operators, who are now left without a source of their daily income – most of which they use to live from hand to mouth.

This must include looking into the possibility of compensation for those affected by Operation Clear the Roads.

While it has been a popular exercise, going by public comments on the mass media, the same public is aware of the continuing cries and many tears being shed daily by victims of the exercise, especially the women and other petty traders in the informal and SME sector.

This is the sector which, after agriculture, provides the most employment in the country, which the public authorities know too well and therefore must not be seen to do anything that will retard the growth of this sector – which would be contrary to known government policy.

The Brikama area council is complaining of an exercise in “destruction and vandalism,” which has shut down a constant source of revenue from the many street hawkers and vendors who paid duty daily.

And this is coming when the council needs help collecting enough revenue to pay staff salaries and meet other obligations.

The same could be said about the Kanifing and Banjul city councils.

The complaints of the BAC are being heard when there is an outcry in the Greater Banjul area, from Banjul to Brikama, caused by the ongoing roads-highways clearing exercise.

Also, the disruptions to the economic activities of the self-employed and SME employees are happening during high national unemployment, especially among women and youths in urban and peri-urban areas.

Such worsening of their plight forces them to continue to, among others, embark on the back-way – at a time when the stated government policy is to encourage them to stay at home and when the destination countries are putting in place measures to keep them away from their shores.

It is also baffling that the state would embark on such an exercise without talking to and involving the councils in this critical national crusade, as suggested in the BAC complaint.

Are we being told that the animosity between the two is wrong now?
The issue became more worrying when we heard a Brikama area council member claim that the highway clearing exercise was “politically motivated.”

And as seen in the effects on street hawkers and vendors, are we witness to a clear case of the grass suffering when elephants fight?

Undoubtedly, the local and central government authorities were negligent in allowing the encroachment, construction of illegal structures, and selling on the sidewalks. They were more focused on raising revenue than enforcing building and trade regulations.

Thus, both are to blame for creating a situation whose outcome is now economic losses and visible human suffering – which should have been anticipated and avoided.

Yet, the impact of the exercise should not be the killing of the goose that lays the golden eggs for both authorities.

And talking about that raises the possibility of compensation for those affected, which both must consider seriously.

It is a fact that both the area councils and Gambia Revenue Authority do benefit hugely from generating a lot of their revenue from this sector – with a vast potential to give much more if only it is adequately monitored and taxed.

This is why they both have a responsibility to fix the problems we are now seeing as soon as possible.

Finally, the authorities must beware as the exercise has left many crying and complaining about the perceived government’s use of power in a way that makes society’s many weak and vulnerable to suffering.

This is not good for any government in office – as observers who know Allah’s ways would confirm – going by what we have seen happen to the governments in the first and second Republic when people cried, were made to live in fear, and to suffer as a result of inadequate implementation of well-intentioned state decisions taken in good faith and in the public interest.

We know the government’s measures were not meant to stop women and petty traders from selling in public spaces, but this is the effect of the ongoing exercise, and this negative effect is being neglected by all involved.

The reality is that there is palpable fear in women vendors who are now afraid to sell during the daytime and would only come out at night to do so in a little corner to continue earning something for the family’s livelihood.

This state of affairs must not be allowed to continue. It is urgent – actually an emergency situation – that must be attended to immediately.

A new task force – comprising representatives of state and local authorities – should be set up now, which, as a follow-up exercise, would go out to talk to those affected by the exercise and to assure them that it was never the intention of the authorities to deprive them of their livelihood – that is, to stop them selling.

Such a task force will then work with them to designate areas to place their stalls/tables and wares to sell – several meters away from the public highway/road and sidewalk/pavement.

We also suggest that the relevant authorities work on identifying places – such as the abandoned former GPMB premises at Iceman Kanifing and adjacent to the PIU headquarters – which location is next to but off the highway and would be an ideal location for fruit sellers and similar vendors.

This is our humble suggestion as the way forward.

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