By Sailu Bah
Following the announcement on the 13 January of the introduction of a new measure to licence, authorise or register importers, distributors as well as major and minor retailers of essential food commodities in the country to be jointly administered by the ministries of Trade, Regional Integration and Employment, and Lands and Regional Government, this reporter was out and about to get the comments of some of the stakeholders on this development.
According to Mr. Abdou Jobe, the Trade minister, this new regulation, which will be effected from February 2015 to February 2016, is meant to ensure a fairer and honest pricing of essential food commodities in the country and to curb the tendencies of exploitation.
It requires importers, distributors and major retailers to get their licence from the Trade ministry, while minor retailers acquire theirs from regional authorities (Councils).
Alagie Jallow, a retailer in Banjul, expressed concern that this new measure will not favor business if the attempt is for government to have control over the prices of basic commodities. He argued that the prices of basic commodities depend on the rise and fall of dollar against the Gambian dalasi. He said importers change the dalasi to dollar to be able to buy goods from China, Dubai, or other countries.
Mr. Jallow, however, added that if the concern of the government is really to lower the prices of essential food commodities, then it has to consider reducing the taxes on importers and businesses.
He said there should not be any price control because it is not their fault, adding that if there is no enable environment for business then it will affect everyone. “Businessmen invest to make profit, but if you are spending more and earning less, it will be difficult for your business to survive,” he said.
Mbye Gaye, another retailer, expressed the same sentiments, adding that the any policy of government trying to control the prices of basic commodities will affect business. He said even at the present moment businesses are going down because of the poor economic climate.
As for Muhammed Bobo Jallow, a distributor, they incur a lot of expenses running their businesses as they are required to tax, rates as well as rent, among others. “Therefore it will not be okay for prices to be controlled, especially the basic commodities. There should be a tax waiver on all basic food commodities so as to bring down prices,” said Jallow.
A food importer, who prefers anonymity, explained that business in the Gambia is now going down. He said some five years ago he used to import 25 containers of rice at one go but now he cannot even bring more than 10 containers. He added that the expenses on the importation of rice have increased 100% within a period of five years.
“The price of a bag of rice during the same period has also increased from D500 to D1100,” he said.
He reiterated that the depreciating dalasi against other foreign currencies has a negative effect on the import trade as they depend on foreign exchange to bring goods into the country.
He also lamented the numerous and high taxes on their businesses as well as the annual increase of rent.
The importer explained that the 100,000 dollars or D4. 4 million that you needed to buy 10 tons of rice before can no longer get you the same quantity today.
He concluded that if government waives or reduces taxes on business operators, including importers, then this will automatically drive down prices of basic food commodities.