The PRO of the Local Cement Importers Alhagie Ceesay, has accused the government of discrimination against importers of cement from Senegal. He disclosed that if all efforts to engage Government to reverse its 5% excise duty on cement from Senegal fail, his association will seek justice from the Courts. Ceesay made this and other disclosures in an interview with this reporter, when he walked into 'Foroyaa's office on Saturday February 9th. Ceesay said his association has now registered at the Attorney General's Chamber in order to stand firm for the interest and general welfare of all its members; that Government need not promote unfair treatment among those involved in the cement importation and trade.
Dilating on the government's policy to protect cement importers from Europe, Ceesay described it as bias and urged government to immediately reverse its decision as it is not in the interest of the all importers.
"We as local importers want to be supported too, we also want to grow to be cement producers for the nation," said PRO Ceesay.
Asked what effect does the policy have on their business and the market, PRO said cement is no doubt in short supply and this is caused by the new tax regulation. According to him, D121.75 is charged on every bag of cement imported from Senegal by the custom officers and if this is multiply by eight hundred bags of a forty tonnes, the load of a truck, it will cost them a total of ninety-six thousand and eight hundred dalasi as tax.
"We are very concerned about the unfair treatment because the Factories that the government policy is supporting are not producing cement in the country. All they do is to bring the cement powder and put them into bags," PRO Ceesay complained.
On the efforts made since the enforcement of the policy, Ceesay said they had meetings with the Permanent Secretary Ministry of Trade, Regional Integration and Employment and the Gambia Consumer, Competition, Protection Commission (GCCPC) in order to find a solution to the problem but to no avail.
"We wrote a petition to the Secretary General and Head of Civil Servants (SG, HCS) and copied the same to the PS Ministry of Finance and PS Ministry of Trade. We are yet to get any response from them," asserted Ceesay.
Commenting on the high cost and scarcity of cement, Ceesay said that, that alone is evidence to prove that the companies that they back cannot provide enough cement for the country.
Yaya Jobe, Secretary General of the same association echoed similarly with PRO Ceesay adding that the decision was tried in 2015 under the former régime without success. He said the former government quickly reversed its decision because it was difficult to defend.
"This government has rushed into this regulation. They would have needed to notify us, involved all stakeholders then, there wouldn't have being this problem today," said SG Jobe.
He complained of financial losses at the Senegalese Factories where they have to open an account and make declaration and the money put in is not refunded.
Abdou Aziz Bah, a retailer at Farafenni in North Bank said the shortage of cement has considerably affected them in terms of high cost, joblessness for the laborers, among others. He also added his voice calling for a revision of the government tax regulation. According to Aziz Bah, a bag of cement in Farafenni costs between D310 to D315 whilst in the Greater Banjul between D265 to D285 depending on the type.
In an interview with Mod Ceesay, the Permanent Secretary Ministry of Trade, last week, he defended the policy saying it is aimed at promoting and protecting cement importers from Europe as it benefits government in terms of foreign exchange, creates jobs and enhances competition in the market.