By: Madi Jobarteh
Once again, the Gambia Government has increased fuel prices from last night without any statement to justify an increase on an already high price. The usual argument that fuel prices are going up all over the world because of the Ukraine War should be rejected. The further argument that the Gambia Government is already spending millions of dalasi to subsidize fuel prices otherwise the prices would have gone even higher is equally untenable. Our issue is not the Ukraine war or global prices, but internal inefficiency and corruption.
The issue of high fuel prices in the Gambia did not start with the war in Ukraine. High fuel price is a longstanding perennial issue at the core of which is sheer corruption and inefficiency which must be addressed. The current case involving Gampetroleum is a clear indication that fuel prices are high in the Gambia mainly because of internal factors than external factors. One needs to go back to the Janneh Commission Report to see how petroleum has been engulfed with massive corruption since the time of the Tinpot Dictator.
The malpractices that were here before 2016 have continued since then up to today, 2022 and this is why fuel prices will continue to go up. It is unthinkable that the Gambia Government would spend one billon dalasi on subsidies on petrol alone in 2022 yet the price of this commodity continues to rise. After all, what is the total quantity of fuel use in the Gambia such that with such huge amount of money for subsidies still the price of fuel goes up?
Furthermore, if the Gambia Government has been efficient and strategic, how come a country of two million people with very limited industrialization and very few vehicles cannot acquire, store, and manage fuel in such a way that the country should neither face fuel shortages nor suffer fuel price increase so frequently. Fuel is a national security issue hence any serious Government would have realized that there is a need to produce or acquire fuel to cater for strategic national need.
It was only 2004 that the Gampetroleum depot in Mandinari was constructed. The Janneh Commission Report indicates it is owned by private individuals and three state owned enterprises – GNPC, GPA and SSHFC which owned about 60% of shares. Is the depot enough for the Gambia? Why didn’t the Government invest in more fuel depots? Given the changing nature of global affairs, a visionary government would have considered fuel a strategic national security issue and make all efforts to secure this scarce resource for the life of the country. Failure to do so is at the heart of the unacceptable fuel situation in this country.
Furthermore, there is need for more transparency about fuel so that citizens know if indeed fuel shortages and price hikes are justified. For example, can the Government tell us how much do these SOEs, as shareholders invest and earn from Gampetroleum. We know that only GPA paid a D95 million dividend to the Government this year. What about the rest? Meantime the Auditor General reported that the Government bailed out several SOEs at a tune of over 11 billion dalasi? I have seen no report that any SOE did pay back its loan to Government. We also know that last year D15 million disappeared from NAWEC’s AGIB Bank account and until today there is no transparency and accountable for it.
What all of these indicate is how public funds are being squandered and no accountability takes place. In fact, the Janneh Commission said the “Gampetroleum had not submitted signed and audited financial statements prior to the purchase of shares by the PEs.” We know that Tyrant Jammeh had used Gampetroleum to buy aircraft and fuel and maintenance those aircraft including his other activities without accountability? Therefore, it is not enough for the Government to merely tell us fuel price increase is because of Ukraine when that Government is notorious for the plunder of public wealth when it could have judiciously used these resources to ensure reasonable fuel prices.
Therefore, I find the fuel increase to be utterly unjustified and I hereby reject it, totally.
I hereby demand the National Assembly to open an inquiry on how the Government manages the issue of fuel. The issue of fuel cannot be removed from the overall incidences of corruption and wastage in the Government. For example, the practice of giving ministers more than one vehicle is waste. The practice of providing very expensive vehicles to public officials unjustifiably and indiscriminately all go to affect fuel use and cost in this country. Just look on our roads to see the latest high value SUVs and mini-SUVs of all brands with tinted glasses that public officials drive just to go to work. Meantime our police stations, hospitals, cleansing services, schools and field extension workers lack the necessary pickup trucks, ambulances, garbage trucks, and buses to serve the ordinary people.
Why should a Minister or Permanent Secretary, not to mention a director or a manager drive a multimillion-dalasi ultramodern Nissan or Prado SUV just to travel between his home in Brikama or Brusubi to the office in Kanifing or Banjul? Why cannot they use public transportation? Why can’t the Government allocate staff buses to institutions to transport all workers to office? Why are we paying transport allowance? These are what a responsible, honest, and patriotic government would do in a country where the means are not there. The fact is that public officials in the Gambia Government are the biggest consumers of the national cake yet produce nothing other poverty for the masses!
Stand against this fuel price increase. It is unjustified. It is illegitimate. We need an inquiry on the issue of fuel in this country. Now.