Wednesday, December 5, 2012

COMMENTARY: Gambia security officers seek fare on the street

Life in The Gambia is growing difficult by the day as economic hardship in the country continues to take its toll on almost everyone in the country.

The hardship in the country has driven many people to adopt various means of battling the harsh economic status quo, no less the national security officers some of whom have resorted to begging for transport fare, against their will.

Most of the security officers, like majority of Gambians, are finding it very difficult to even keep their heads above water as prices of basic commodities continue to skyrocket, the Dalasi continues to lose its value and people’s earning power remains stagnant, with less and less to purchase essentials of life with.

Twice, on different occasions, I have met with a security officer begging transport fare to go home after work.  One of them is an officer of the Police Intervention Unit, and the other a Fire and Rescue Services officer, both are part of the national security apparatus. 

‘Jerre jef bro, nakam, nga def’ (literally meaning thank you my brother, how you doing), the PIU officer told me one morning on my way to work. 

After I have responded to him, the officer begged for a fare to go to his house in Tabokoto. 
Few days after, on my way to work I met again with an officer of Fire and Rescue Services also begging for transport to Brikama.

“My brother, can you please help me with fare to Brikama, I just closed from work but I do not have fare to go back?” the officer appealed.

“Even if you don’t have the full fare to Brikama if I can have any amount, even D10 is good,” he added.

Even though it seemed these officers were asking for fare, the actual fact is that they were looking for some cash to help themselves.

Apart from students, security officers are keener in begging for lift when going and coming from work. Early in the morning and in the evening, security officers usually form line-ups on the roadside seeking lift to their home or going to work.  

A fire service officer has said a full fledge fire fighter – after six months of training at the training school – earns a basic salary of just D1,300.  Though there are some allowances – transport allowance (but those in the provinces get bush allowance instead of transport allowance) and house rent; all these cumulatively are not more than D800.  All the allowances and basic salary put together is just about D2,100.

“From this amount, you have to pay income tax and social security,” the officer said.  “What I am left with is always small, and expectations are high on workers - people expect so much from you - the expectations are higher than the salary you earn.”

A bag of rice cost nothing less than D850 and daily fish money of at least D50, which is the lowest somebody can go with to the market as prices of cooking condiments also continue to hike. 

Now a daily fish of D50 for 30 days of the month is D1,400, which is only fish money. D1,400 plus a cost of a bag of rice at D850 is D2,250 out of a salary of D2,100.   

You have to pay your house rent and the cheapest rent in town for a room and parlour is D500, excluding the cost of electricity and water. 

Now put together the cost of a bag of rice, fish money, and house rent is more than the basic salary in the country, how about daily needs including transport to and from work; no wonder some security officers resort to begging for lift to and from work. 

The Integrated Household Survey has it that more than 40% of those who are employed live below the poverty line of $1.25 per day. 

There is no doubt that the national security officers constitute part of the working poor, if not the greater part of it.

Security officers in The Gambia, like some other civil servants in the country, do not earn enough to pull themselves and their families above the poverty line of $1.25 per day. 

“Definitely, our work does not commensurate with the salary we earn; the work is too much,” a fire service officer lamented.  

However, the officer chose fire service as a career because “the job is clean”.  “The job is very much clean compared to Police and the Immigration, where you can be getting some small things, sometimes illegally, before month ends to subsidize yourself,” the officer claims. 

There is no much difference between fire service officer and other officers of The Gambia’s security apparatus in terms of their monthly earnings – legal earnings.

The fact is that the need for salary increment is greater now more than ever, as workers’ earning power, particularly civil servants, continues to get weaker and weaker by the day while prices of commodities continue to go into the stratosphere.


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