Senegal's minister of Transport has cancelled his trip to the Gambia in the wake of confirmed reports that four European nationals in the former French colony have contracted the Coronavirus.
Essa Drammeh, the Director of Planning at the Ministry of Transport, Work & Infrastructure, has on 6th March, told Foroyaa that the Senegalese Minister of Transport who was due to arrive in the Gambia on 4th March 2020, has cancelled his trip because he had to attend a cabinet meeting focusing on the Coronavirus.
He remarked: "The minister was willing to come to the Gambia. People like protocol officers and other delegates that should have been here with him, including the MP of Karang, were actually in The Gambia before we got the news that the minister would not be able to make it as a result of their cabinet meeting on the coronavirus."
"At the Gambian side, we took this matter to be very important - hence a high power delegation went to Senegal last -month and this was followed by a technical meeting between the two ministries. During those meetings, we expressed dissatisfactions and the concerns we have about the status quo."
He said, "It was agreed at those meetings that we will implement ISTP. In one of the meetings, the Senegalese transport minister promised to come here to kind of finalise all the pending issues so that there will be a smooth implementation of the agreement."
As part of measures to try and avoid the spread of the virus, he added, "The minister's delegation was already in town (Gambia), but due to circumstances, he was not able to make it. But withstanding, our minister had a telephone conversation with him, where the minister made it clear to him that the implementation date, which is set for 15th March cannot be changed."
According to Drammeh, there is political will on the side of the Senegalese government based on the conversation that they had with their officials.
"They are willing to implement this Inter-state Transport Permit (ISTP), but it is like they are facing challenges with their unions. We believe that they will overcome it in order to allow ISTP to be fully operational," he explained.
He continued: "Now that the new date is on the 15th March as agreed with the two ministers. So, for us we will wait and see what would happen. We will advise the operators, who were already issued with the permit for them to operate on the 15th March and then we see what will happen."
He further advised Gambians to be patient because 'to us, our key stakeholders in this are the Gambia transport union. The leaders of those unions agreed when we communicated the date to them."
Drammeh explained this ISTP was part of an agreement that was signed between the Gambia and Senegal in March 2018. As part of the agreement, the Gambia was supposed to give 100 permits to various categories of commercial vehicles, but GTSC which is the formal public transport was exempted.
Omar Ceesay of the Gambia National Transport Union (GNTU, said they were told that the Senegalese Transport minister was to visit Gambia, but he had to cancel the trip because of the coronavirus disease which hit Senegal recently.
"A date is scheduled that is on the 15th March. So, we as a union our stand is for Senegal to fully implement the ISTP- which our ministry has assured us will take place on March 15th. So, we will wait for that date and see what will happen," he said.