Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Gambians managing in economic hardship

Majority of Gambians are finding it very difficult to keep their heads above water these days as prices of basic food commodities continue to skyrocket, on the hills of an increased transport fare and electricity tariffs, even though the nation continues to experience erratic power supply.

As this dire situation continues stakeholders in the tussle are pointing fingers at each other.  Consumers are blaming the government for leaving traders to increase prices at will, while traders are partly blaming it on the rise in prices of goods at the international market as well as on the government for not reducing taxes or subsidizing basic foodstuffs, which in turn causes reduction in prices of commodities.  

The government, on the other hand, is saying it cannot implement price control, as demanded by many consumers, because The Gambia is a liberal economy that depends on taxes to finance its development plans.
The rising food prices and declining income sources provide a toxic mix in the country as most of the people wallow in poverty.

With the majority of the population being classified as living below the poverty level it is clear that many people are seriously affected even when small shocks of price rise occur.

Many Gambian workers do not earn more than D30,000 annually, which is D2,500 per month.

While bag of rice is costing nothing less than D700, daily fish money is at least D50 for the poorest of the poor, which is the lowest someone can go with to the market to buy condiments for the preparation of household food.  In addition to meeting this cost of living, a household head has to pay rent and take care of utility bills, all from a monthly salary of D2,500, which has left one to wonder how people survive in this country.

“If the costs of a bag of rice, fish money, and house rent are more than your salary, how about daily needs like soap, sugar and bread for breakfast and other life’s essentials,” ponders Ousman Manneh, breadwinner of a family of five. “You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that people are suffering in hardship,” he added.

NAWEC has just succeeded in lobbying for increased electricity tariffs, even though the increment is against the wish of most of the people. It says the increment will enable the company to upscale its services, which is yet to be really seen, as electricity supply continues to go haywire.

“To make matters worse, the Gambia National Transport Control Association has also increased transport fare, which favours commercial vehicle owners and drivers,” said Ndey Fatou Jobe, a trader in Serrekunda, who spoke to this reporter.
Sidia Jatta, National Assembly Member for Wuli West, has said that the rise in cost of living, such as transport fares, utilities and feeding, has compounded the situation the more. “Rather than decreasing poverty, they are increasing poverty,” he said, adding that what is happening “can only add to the worsening of poverty” in the country.

The resulting effect of these increments will be difficult to fathom as its consequences will affect cost of production and inflate prices of essential commodities and services, which leads to a high cost of living for the country’s populace.

“Many ordinary Gambians are undergoing serious economic hardship,” said Modou Kujabi, a hawker at the Serrekunda market.

Momodou said the prices of basic commodities such as rice and flour have gone beyond the reach of many ordinary Gambians.

“This is totally unacceptable in a country where the earning capacity has not been enhanced,” he pointed out, saying he and his fellow vendors are constantly harassed by the police who often drive them away from where they stand to sell on the roadside.

The regular harassment meted out to them by the police has placed them in a difficult situation, as they have been denied earning their daily income, he says.

Mamadou Edrissa Njie of the Gambia News and Report Magazine said Gambians are living in abject poverty, since they are only surviving from hand to mouth on a daily basis.

“The income of many Gambians in the country is very low,” he says. “As prices of basic commodities are rising every day, the poor are getting poorer by the day.”

A roadside restaurant owner, Omar Saidykhan, said the increase in the prices of foodstuffs has severely stifled his business, as he has had to increase the prices of his foodstuffs, which has made many customers to curtail frequenting his shop for breakfast and dinner. 

“This did not often go down well with the customers, who could not understand the dramatic increase. As a result, I am incurring losses on sales,” he said.

“My brother we are suffering, you don’t need to ask people to know that,” said Fatou Jallow, a housewife who spoke to this reporter at the Serrekunda market. 

“Things are getting more and more expensive beyond the reach of the average Gambians.  Prices of goods and services are skyrocketing like no man's business,” she said.

Many people who use to buy a bag of rice each month are now resorting to buying cups on a daily basis, which continues to put pressure on their income.

From the look of things one maybe tempted to say Gambians are happy despite living in poverty, but many sufferers say they have no other options.  “What can we do, we don’t know when things will change for us, so it’s better we open up and not to be frowning all the time,” Sarjo Badjie said.

Modou Joof of The Voice Newspaper, said the realities of a free rise in prices of basic commodities, high cost of electricity, mass unemployment and other aspects of economic hardship are prevalent in The Gambia. 
Mamudou Sillah of Global Electric Group says the hike in electricity tariff, transport fare increment and the rapid increase in the prices of basic human needs, especially rice, which is Gambia’s staple food, have pushed many Gambians to the brink of severe economic hardship.

“To make matters worse, all these things have been increased without any salary increment. People are really managing in hardship now,” he said, adding that very few people in the country are now using their salaries only for meeting the daily food of their households.

The wealthy people “may not be too feeling the hardship” in the country but “the poor are suffering”, Isatou Jallow, a housewife, said.  “I don’t know where we are heading to now,” she added.

According to Ebrima Lowe, an employee of Toplink Consulting, said employers in the country have made themselves “oblivious of the difficulties on the ground as they have so far failed” to increase salaries. 

“Employers should increase wages to pay salaries that commensurate with the rate of inflation and price increment in the country,” Mr Lowe said.

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