By Kebba Camara and Mamour M. Mbenga
Consumers are complaining that they are sometimes deprived of electricity for long periods and after which it would come on for only few hours and then goes off again for another longer ‘spell.’ The consumers who are complaining the most are those whose work is directly dependent on the supply of electricity, especially the tailors and welders. Although, the phenomenon of load shedding or the inconsistent supply of electricity is a perennial problem that has been affecting consumers in the Gambia for a very long time now with seemingly no solution in sight, the consumers have described the situation this time round as getting worse and therefore want an urgent solution especially in light of the summer or hot season and the fast approaching Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
Muhammed Saho, a Gambian national and proprietor of ‘Ligaye Bedeh’ tailoring workshop at Jang Jang Road in Serrekunda London Corner, told Foroyaa that the inconsistent and unpredictable supply of electricity is really impacting negatively on his work. He said the load shedding is getting worse nowadays as they would sit down the whole day without being able to do any work as there is no electricity. “Sometimes the electricity comes when you are already in bed and after a brief stay it goes off even before you wake up in the morning,” he complained.
Saho said he spends nothing less than D170 on fuel everyday to run his generator. “I buy 3 or 4 litres of diesel every day for my generator at a cost of D57.52 per litre. This is really unsustainable for my business but I have no alternative as there is no enough electricity supply,” he said.
He also explained the problem he always has with some of his women clients for failure to deliver on the agreed time. He expressed fear that if the trend continues without any improvement, he will be running into deep debt, rent arrears for both his workshop and house as well as salary arrears for his workers.
He therefore called on the government and management of NAWEC to do everything possible to regularize the situation to save the businesses of small economic operators from running aground due to the lack of adequate electricity supply.
Another tailor in Serekunda known by his sobriquet “Lahass” also expressed his displeasure with the poor supply of electricity especially at this time when customers begin to come in preparation for the Koriteh feast following the Ramadan which, he said, is just round the corner.
“It is high time for this electricity problem to be solved. I have travelled to many countries in the sub-region including Senegal, but the electricity situation in these countries is far better than here. You rarely experience black outs and anytime electricity goes off it will just be for few minutes,” he observed.
Sheikh Faal, a tailor in Manjai Kunda, also pleaded with the national electricity supplier to address the problem as it is directly impacting negatively not only on their businesses but livelihoods as well. “I am really pleading with NAWEC to give us electricity and thus free me from the wrath that I always incur from some of my less reasonable clients because I don’t finish their dresses,” he said.
Another resident of Manjai, Famara Singhateh, claimed that they sometimes stay close to two days without electricity.
Alhagie Manka is a welder who operates a workshop in Serrekunda and is also not spared by these frequent and long power outages. “I pay transport to come to Serrekunda everyday from Sinchu Alagie and would sit here in the workshop for the whole day and there would be no electricity. This means no job and no money to take home. It is really affecting me because my livelihood and that of my extended family entirely depends on my welding job which cannot go without the supply of electricity. I wanted to look for a generator but the situation is not only that a generator is very expensive but to buying fuel to put it on is equally unaffordable. The fact of the matter is that it is only NAWEC who can bail us out from this quagmire,” he said soberly.
A manager of a radio station who prefers anonymity also raised concern over the present state of the electricity supply which, he said, goes with a heavy financial cost in terms of their operations. He said in order for the radio to be on air he normally buys D1000 worth of fuel every day. “Sometimes there is electricity, but in most cases I use generator to sustain the radio and this is not profitable since the adverts are much. Imagine paying rent, salaries and other expenses and buying fuel every day in addition, this is too much! NAWEC should really try and address this electricity problem once and for all,” said the radio station manager.
Responding to the concerns and complaints of the consumers, Mr. Pierre Sylva, the Public Relation Officer of NAWEC, said they are aware of the fact of the fluctuations of electricity supply and that what they are doing in NAWEC is not being done in secret and this is why the PRO office is created. He said they have a forum at West Coast Radio where every Thursday they discuss issues surrounding NAWEC and the customers. He said in most of these radio programmes they bring people who are responsible for the different departments in NAWEC to talk to customers. He said last week they brought someone from the generation department to talk to the customers. He said they are preparing for the holy month of Ramadan which is why they are doing maintenance on both the Brikama and Kotu power stations.
“We can’t give everybody electricity 24 hours because I keep on saying that the demand is higher than what we have. So what we usually do is to give particular area electricity for some period and then give the others who were without it for some hours. We have a load shedding roster and we always say that it is not true that we ignore some areas and always give certain areas electricity,” said the NAWEC PRO.
Mr. Silva also clarified that certain areas are being given priority by NAWEC such as security officers’ points, the hospitals, GRTS etc which they continuously supply with electricity. He said they do not want to see these areas go off but added that sometimes the situation compels NAWEC to switch them off.
“The machines we are using are made by people and sometimes we do maintenance. When we know that maintenance will take time, we send notice to newspapers and radio stations. What I would also want to make clear is that NAWEC is also not happy that people are complaining. We generate income through customers and when there is no constant electricity the people will not buy our cash power and when they do not buy cash power you know what that means for NAWEC financially,” explained the NAWEC spokesperson.
Mr. Silva stressed that NAWEC staff are well oriented and trained and that they will not allow bribes from few people to risk their jobs.
The NAWEC PRO said they are working day and night to make sure they extend the two power stations and give better supply to the customers.
He promised that as the holy month is coming the people will certainly notice improvements in electricity supply.
Mr. Sylva concluded that he wants to thank customers for their invaluable support to NAWEC.