By Awa B. Bah
The prices of basic commodities in the markets within the urban area, is gradually on the rise, as Muslims prepare to observe another month of Ramadan, in less than two weeks’ time. The prices of basic food commodities such as sugar, rice, cooking oil, imported chicken legs, Irish potatoes and onion to name a few, are virtually increasing. The information gathered by this reporter has it that a bag of rice that used to be sold at D1050, now costs D1150. A bag of sugar which used to cost D1250, is now sold for D1450 within the Kanifing Municipality and other areas visited by this reporter.
Rice and sugar are part of other basic commodities whose prices are increasing despite recent attempts by the government to maintain a fair price of these and other commodities in the market. Everyone knows that rice, sugar and oil are the basic food commodities highly consumed by the Gambian population. And in a country where majority of its population lives below the poverty line, every effort should be made to reduce the price of these commodities especially during the Holy month of Ramadan, when the demand for them is very high. Another thing that could be a factor for increasing prices is the excess demand created in the market due to the holy month of Ramadan.
Over the years, it has been observed that the price of basic commodities rose, when personal disposable income remained stagnant for some or unavailable for the vast majority. The fact of this matter is that the vast majority of the people’s wages or earnings could barely provide them with food, not to talk about other necessities to live a decent life. Similarly, because of the persistent increase in the prices of basic food stuff such as rice, sugar, cooking oil, the number of people living below poverty line has increased beyond accepted levels.
This is why this reporter went out and about to collect the views of consumers within the greater Banjul and other areas.
Fatou Dibba, a fruit seller at the Serrekunda market said the country can never be “good” as far as prices are not controlled in the market; that business persons sell a cup of rice at five and six dalasis while the cup of sugar is sold at eight, nine, and sometimes even ten dalasis.
She noted that Ramadan, a month of mercy, is known for sharing and caring as well as assisting those in need; but that many business persons seize the opportunity of the month to make more profit.
“I had five hundred dalasi’s and I wanted to buy a small bag of rice but to no avail. All the shops I went to were selling it for six hundred dalasi’s. Can you imagine how I will survive with my family? There is the need to take action because many are selling at their own comfort,” Ms. Dibba lamented with tearful eyes.
‘‘The prices of basic commodities,’’ she suggests, ‘‘needs to be reduced and stabilized, because Ramadan is fast approaching and most of these commodities are highly consumed during this period.’’
She called on the government of President Barrow, to look at the price of rice which is highly consumed during this month. ‘‘We Gambians,’’ she said ‘‘cannot survive without rice. The price of rice nowadays is beyond the reach of the vast majority, and government needs to do something about it urgently.’’
Naba Njie, a consumer and business woman, said business is slow nowadays, adding further that there is no place for them to sell their goods as the authorities always chase them away from the market. “They keep telling us not to sit here or there to sell and we keep on moving up and down all day long,” she said; that they all have families to take care of at home and from this business that they toil to do, is where they pay their children’s school fees, house rent and feed families.
She added that the commodities are high in the market, because prices in the country are not controlled. “Men only give us what they have and we are the ones who always suffer at the market. Most of the time, the fish money given to us, is not enough due to the high prices of basic goods that we find in the market. We also sit in the market the whole day, without selling anything and now they expect us to buy a bag of sugar at one thousand four hundred and fifty dalasis. Where are we going to get it from?’’ she lamented. Naba urged the new government to fulfill the numerous promises they made to women when they were going about campaigning for people to vote them in.
One civil servant and father of six children, Abdoulie Jobe, said that there is need to review the polices on import of basic food commodities and make better plans ahead of high demand periods like Ramadan.
He said it is always difficult for people like him to even purchase a bag of rice for his family, under such circumstances. He calls on government, in particular the Minister of Trade, who is a woman, to intervene and take the right measures and rectify the situation before it is too late. He also appealed to business men and women, to consider bringing down prices during and even after the holy month of Ramadan, and urged all Muslims in the country, especially those who are well-off, to consider helping the needy.
Muhammed, a Mauritian national who sells rice, sugar, oil and other basic commodities at the Serrekunda market, blamed the persistent increase of basic commodities on the Valued Added Tax, introduced by the former government. He pointed out that business in the Gambia, is not flourishing as expected, but was quick to say that, with recent pronouncements made by the president on the lifting of the ban on imports, and the reduction of tax on certain commodities, He said this can create a big difference when implemented.
He called on the new government to put price control mechanisms in place in the market and reduce the high taxes levied on such goods. He confirmed the price of a bag of sugar to our reporter, which he said is one thousand, four hundred and fifty dalasis, (D1,450.00). This, he said, is very expensive for the average Gambian.