By Landing Ceesay
The Ministry of Trade, Industry, Regional Integration and Employment [MoTIE] in a statement announced average retail prices for Essential Basic Commodities across the market in the country for the week of 18th to 23rd April 2021.
The objective of the move is to support the price transparency mechanism as well to give the consumers an idea of the prices of essential commodities in the markets to make informed decisions during their purchase across markets for the various regions of the country.
The statement specified prices for the basic commodities for markets in Banjul; Kanifing Municipality; Brikama; Foni; Lower River R; Farafenni; Barra; CRR North; and URR South have been specified in the announcement.
A specification of prices for the Kanifing Municipality reads:
CURRENT PRICE 23rd April 2021
20 liters gallon of cooking oil
Cup of cooking oil
20 liter of palm oil
Cup of palm oil
Bag of Sugar
Bag of Onion
Bag of Irish potatoes
Cost of bread
D51 per liter (petrol)
An excerpt of MoTIE release for the week of 18th – 23rd April 2021
Retail price of basic commodities at SereKunda Market
After this release by the ministry, the prices for essential commodities such as rice, sugar, onion, potato, cooking oil, cement etc., keep skyrocketing day by day without control.
For the week of 18th to 23rd April, Kerr Fatou visited the busy Serekunda market to monitor the situation. Interestingly, the situation is really defying the prices set for essential commodities in the Ministry’s announcement for the Kanifing Municipality. This poses a great challenge to the purchasing power parity of the consumers.
While digging into the adverse impacts of the price hikes on the innocent consumers, one person this medium met is Mariama Jobarteh a native of Bundung in the Kanifing Municipality who spent nearly 100 thousand dalasi but only purchased a few quantities of food stuff due to the price hike.
Jobarteh spent 73 thousand dalasi for her purchase – twenty-two thousand five hundred dalasi (D22,500) on 15 bags of sugar; nine thousand four hundred dalasi (D9,450) on 7 bags of American rice; nine thousand five hundred dalasi (D9,500) on 5 gallons of palm oil; seven thousand one hundred and twenty-five dalasi (D7,125) on 5 gallons of cooking oil; four thousand five hundred dalasi (D4,500) on 5 cartons of Chicken legs; and four thousand two hundred dalasi (D4,200) on 7 bags of onion, the list goes etc.
Evidence of her transaction showed that she bought each bag of sugar cost her D50 more; each bag of American rice [50kg] cost her D25 more; a gallon of cooking oil cost her D25 more than the price cap for the region by MoTIE.
After buying the items more than the stipulated cost for the region she lives, she expressed her dislike about the situation.
“The price of food commodities is too expensive in this country nowadays, last year I came here with less than sixty thousand dalasi (D60, 000) to buy these commodities. I bought all what I needed and left with some thousands for change. This year, I came with sixty-five thousand dalasi to buy the commodities I want but I couldn’t even get all I want to buy because of the high price of these commodities.
“I even went back to the bank and withdrew some money through the ATM so that I can get all that I want to buy. Every year by this time I always buy food commodities for myself and my relatives especially during Ramadan but what I spent this time around I have never spent that amount of money before and I bought lesser food commodities compared to the previous years,” she complained.
Mariama told this medium that if the price of the food commodities remains above the purchasing power of ordinary Gambians, it will be difficult for people to feed their families on a daily basis. She said a father or mother who earns three or four thousand dalasi (D4, 000) a month will find it hard to feed his or her children.
Jobarteh likened The Gambia to a kingdom without a leader who stirs its affairs to the right direction.
“This country is like a kingdom without a king, it’s like we don’t have a president neither ministries nor ministers. I have never heard President Barrow addressing the nation on issues that are of national interest apart from the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. A leader should not mute like a dump and deaf person. But I realized that even a dump and deaf person makes more noise than our current president,” she uttered.
The aggrieved consumer declared that her complaint is not partisan but based on truth.
“I am not a politician. I don’t belong to any political party. Even my husband doesn’t know the political party I support or voted for in the previous elections. But truth shall set us free and the truth, is President Barrow and his cabinet ministers only care about their families, not we the citizens who put them in that office,” Mariama told Kerr Fatou.
The native of Bundung finally called on the government of the Gambia to investigate the matter and take action against those found wanting, as soon as possible.
Another consumer affected by the crisis is Muhammad Jabang of Serekunda who went to buy two bags of sugar, two bags of rice, two bags of onion, two bags of potato, a 20-litre gallon of cooking oil and other food stuffs. But he said he was shocked when he learnt the cost of the items, and he was pushed to cut the list of items he intended to purchase.
“But I am shocked when the shop owners told me that a bag of sugar is one thousand five hundred (D1, 500) and that a bag of American rice is one thousand three hundred and fifty dalasi (1,350). I now have to reduce some of the things I wanted to buy, otherwise my budget will not be sufficient,” he lamented.
Like Jobarteh, Jabang called on the government to help ease the burden in order to avert people engaging into theft for their survival which will surge the country’s crime rate.
“The Gambia government should stop sleeping and help us the poor citizens otherwise it will be difficult for us to feed our children. If people don’t have what to eat the only thing that will come to their minds is stealing which will increase the country’s crime rate to another level,” Jabang told this medium.
Reactions of Retailers
We spoke to retailers of the food commodities to bring to light what’s responsible for the surge in prices.
One Momodou Wuri Jallow, who sells at a shop in Serekunda said people should not blame them for the price hike, especially of food commodities but their suppliers.
“I don’t think it is fair for people to just blame us for increasing the price of the food commodities because we also buy it from other businessmen and women. If they sell a bag of sugar to us for One thousand and five hundred dalasi (1,500) we must also add profit on it and sell it for one thousand and six hundred dalasi (1,600). So that we can also have profit at the end of the day. Business is about making profit, even though sometimes we make losses,” Jallow explained.
Another shop owner Ebrima Bah admitted that the status quo does not only affect the consumers but also slows their business.
“Our business is slow, customers are not coming as they used to all because of the increase of the price of commodities. So, it is not only affecting the consumers but also us businessmen and women. We have to pay rent every month. We have to pay duties to KMC every day. If our business is not working as expected, it will be so difficult for us to pay all these,” Ebrima told this reporter.
This reporter’s several efforts to get the side of the businessmen and women who import food commodities into the country and sell it to the retailers couldn’t yield any fruits.
The Ministry of Trade & Industry is the lead policy advisor to the government on trade, industrial and private sector development with the responsibility for the formulation and implementation of policies for the promotion, growth and development of domestic and international trade and industry.
Recently, the Minister Seedy KM Keita, said their findings and observations revealed that the continuous existence of the coronavirus pandemic, has disrupted global supply chains resulting in high freight cost. He said the freight cost to Banjul has increased by over 100% since November 2020 from an average cost of USD2, 750 [about D137, 500]per 20ft Container to USD 5,750 [about D287, 500].
“The pandemic has also scaled down the global production level, and caused high prices of essential commodities in the international market. The international commodity prices have been surging from April 2020. The price of oil which is a determinant factor on commodity prices continued to rise from the slump in mid-2020. The Price of a barrel of Brent Crude was USD42.3 [about D2, 115]as at November 2020 and it was USD63.8 [about D3, 190]as of 13th April 2021 representing an increase of 50.83%. The Gambia being a net importer of food like many other developing countries is now feeling the impact of the pandemic in the domestic market in a form of price hikes,” Trade Minister stated.
Minister Kinteh further informed that it is worth noting that despite the external factor on the domestic price of commodities, which to a large extent are beyond the control of the Government, some of the internal factors may exacerbate the situation. This, he said, include demurrage charges[levies on importers by a shipping line]as a result of the congestion at the port; and the reintroduction of 20% reduction of the indicative values by the Gambia Revenue Authority [GRA], and the registration fees of Food Safety and Quality Assurance (FSQA) by food establishments and some of the local fees charged by shipping lines.
“My Ministry is aware that increases in food prices can have a major impact on the living standards of lower‑income households, which generally spend most of their income on food. In order to ameliorate the suffering of the people, my Ministry has led a concerted effort by the government to contain the price hikes. We commenced work on this phenomenon in January 2021 through conducting a diagnostics local market study and have briefed the National Assembly Select Committee on trade on four occasions as well as briefed the cabinet,” he said.
The Trade Minister has said that since March 2021, GRA has suspended the reintroduction of 20% reduction in the indicative CIF valuation of essential commodities; the CIF valuation for essential commodities is set at 80% value as it was the case in April 2020 when government introduced this measure to cope with the effects of the pandemic. The Authority has also maintained a zero Value Added Tax (VAT) rate for most of the essential commodities as defined in the VAT legislation, he added.
In spite, the efforts of the government highlighted by the Minister in addressing the menace, the prices of basic commodities, specifically food defy the street prices that the government has tagged for the various commodities, thereby posing a great challenge to the ordinary Gambians considering their weak purchasing power.
With eight months to the 4th December presidential election, the million dalasi question on the minds of many is- how soon would the government come to the rescue of the crying consumers to ameliorate their sufferings for the sustenance of their families daily basis; and would the impacts of the prices hike on people dissuade them from giving President Barrow a second chance?