The Trade, Regional Integration and Employment minister has warned that the adoption of the liberal policy by the government of The Gambia does not mean that the country's population should be left at the mercy of the business sector to strangulate. The minister said the government considers basic food commodities as having strategic importance, and warned that everything will be done to protect and secure it as such. Speaking recently during a meeting with the major and minor importers of basic commodities in the country, Trade Minister Abdou Jobe argued that the business sector has responsibilities to the government and by extension, the Gambian people. "Yes, no price controls exist in the country, but when the liberalised market is not working in the interest of the citizenry, corrective measures will have to be implemented to safeguard the populations," he warned. Jobe was unequivocal in his statement that the government is here to protect everybody especially the citizens. He told the business sector that President Jammeh noted with serious concern "the recurring practice of wicked and heartless price hikes by some businessmen/businesswomen during Ramadan, which he stressed is utterly unacceptable and that government will continue to do whatever it takes to protect the public interest".
"Typical example is prior to the Ramadan a bag of onion was costing under D 600.00, but sometime during Ramadan the price of a bag of onion rose to D 1,100.00. There is absolutely no justification whatsoever for such a price increase. Within the context of the above, this Ministry is giving the business sector the opportunity to immediately take necessary steps to correct His Excellency's concerns. It is important for the business sector to understand and be mindful of government's authority and power and its uncompromising stand to secure the welfare of the Gambian people at all times," he emphasised. He added: "Whenever the business sector use the pretext of foreign exchange as the cause of commodities price increase, consideration should be given to the trade facilitation (the value of which cannot be quantified in monetary term) government has provided to the business sector; such as: the conductive business space, policies and strategies created for business to operate and contribute effectively towards the development of the country; the infrastructure built by government that business sector use to transport their goods; the peace, stability and security that businesses enjoy. Without peace and security no business will thrive. It is because of the peace, stability and security which enable the business community to order good; it arrives at the ports, transported to warehouses and distributed to retail points; the efficient in-country banking sector through which Letters of Credits are opened to facilitate importation".
Jobe called on the business sector to slaughter the practice of business-as-usual to commodity prices and adopt President Jammeh's call for moderate and reasonable pricing of basic food commodities. The major importer, major retailer and minor retailer, he insisted, all have a huge role to play. The Ministry in pursuit of its new agenda, he indicated, will, through its directorate, departments and agencies ensure that monitoring and analysis are now carried out regularly, after which appropriate advice is provided to the relevant authorities for necessary policy guidance and decisions. "I urge you to go with this message, think about it and take necessary action. We will monitor progress, analyse and then engage you whenever it is necessary. The Ministry has a wide open door policy ever ready to consult with the business sector. But the business sector should now know that the conductive environment created by government is inclusive of the welfare of the Gambia people," he said.
The Trade minister reminded that he convened the meeting to deliver a message against the backdrop of President Jammeh's Koriteh message when he called "for honesty among Gambians especially amongst trades who are in the habit of hiking prices of basic commodities whenever national feasts approach". He reminded that His Excellency also called on all and sundry "to desist from ungodly acts by being moderate and reasonable in pricing our goods and services at all times, especially during holy month of Ramadan and other festive occasions". "Let me hasten to say that His Excellency has made this call on numerous occasions and engaged the business sector for redress. Each time His Excellency makes such a call, the respond of the business sector has been lukewarm to say the least. The time has now come for the business sector to positively respond to His Excellency's call and contribute to His Excellency's continued drive to uplift the welfare of the Gambian people. As the minister of Trade it is my duty and responsibility to take this message and run with it for the purpose of addressing such grave concern using whatever authority vested in the Ministry," he asserted.
He continued: "I wish to communicate a very clear and simple message that is for the business sector to hear His Excellency's message and take corrective actions and ensure that pricing of goods and services are moderate and reasonable at all time. Each one of you present here today should give this issue serious reflection within the context that the government has given you the privilege to operate your business in the Gambia. It is no secret to anybody who wishes to know that the opportunities provided by the government to Gambians and non-Gambians alike is more than anything you see in other countries in the sub-region. The Government's wide open door policy and all-inclusive participation in the business sector are second to none".
The minister indicated that government has always noted the important contribution the private sector can play in the development of the country. He reminded that the role of the private sector participation to national development is pronounced in Vision 2020, PAGE and all other plans and strategies. "Nobody should have any iota of doubt of government's commitment to working with the private sector. The Ministry of Trade will continue to work with the business sector through participation and consultation on a win-win basis. The government has done everything humanly possible to create a very conductive environment for the private sector to proposer. I can authoritatively say that no country has done more than the Gambia in terms of providing opportunities for the private sector. As His Excellency said, 'Government has provided all the necessary support and encouragement for the business sector to thrive and we expect fairness and honest pricing for the citizens'.
The business sector must therefore reciprocate government's support by seriously taking the welfare of the Gambian people onboard. It is not just about making money, but every business should have social responsibilities and demonstrate patriotism to the country," he concluded.