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GAMBIA: MASSIVE CORRUPTION, KICKBACKS, BRIBERY, PATRONAGE AND SLOW ECONOMIC CAPTURE TAKING OVER GAMBIA

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PRESS RELEASE FROM (Cement Importers and Traders Association)

Massive Corruption, Kickbacks, Bribery, Patronage and Slow Economic

Capture Taking over Gambia!

The Gambian government’s recent import duty hike of 500% on cement via road networks effectively blocks all African imports by road and favours bagging operators who import by vessel in favour of poor-quality imports by Jah Oil, Salam, and Gacem. Please make no mistake: this policy contravenes our mission to promote African trade in favour of distant Eurasian markets. This policy harms Gambian consumers by raising cement prices, limiting choice, and disrupting trade with key ECOWAS partners, and is a contradiction of free market principles.

A culture of kickbacks and corruption is undermining the economic welfare of The Gambia at the top echelons of our government. Baboucarr Joof, Minister of Trade, Industry, Integration and Employment, exert significant control over the Gambian economy, essentially playing the role of economic gatekeeper and fostering an environment of kickbacks. We demand Baboucarr Joof’s immediate resignation for his central role in promoting widespread unemployment among thousands of youths, either through sheer incompetence or blatant disregard.

Presently, Mr Joof is in Senegal seeking additional assistance while ironically endeavouring to block the importation of Senegalese cement, thus compounding the economic adversity gripping our community. His actions lack any semblance of economic impact analysis or due diligence, reflecting a callous disregard for our country’s economic well-being in favour of personal gain.

To be clear, Hamidou Jah of Jah Oil and Gacem all import cement and Muhammed Sillah of

Salam imports all inputs necessary for the final process of cement. The Gambia does not have easily convertible natural resources to manufacture cement.

All cement sold in the Gambia is imported. How can Hamidou Jah scream about indirect benefits to Senegal when he insists on only hiring his family members from Mali and importing cement and labour into The Gambia?

We are seeing immediate price feedback from the market. In Soma, Jah Oil Tiger brand cement is already at D410 compared to the Senegal brands, which are selling for D390. In Farafenni, the price difference between Tiger and the regional ECOWAS brands jumped over D25 immediately after the government announcement of a new D185 duty on road imports. Finally, in Basse, shop owners are boycotting Salam, and in two weeks, Salam could not sell 2,000 bags. The consumer has spoken. Ironically, even the Gambian government sourced cement for the OIC road construction from Sococim in Senegal.

This suggests that the government is well aware that the bagging operators either cannot meet demand, can obtain better pricing from Senegal or do not trust the quality of the bagging operators’ products. Finally, Baboucarr Joof and his enablers conveniently omit that cement from ECOWAS states is cheaper in The Gambia than their domestic markets due to the ETLS protocol, which promotes exporting originated goods.

Monopolistic practices are detrimental to the economic welfare of Gambians. If an enterprise monopolises any sector of the economy, it creates an environment where price hikes and inferior

products are forced upon Gambian consumers. It is no secret that Hamidou is one of the wealthiest

businessmen in the Gambia, but he also started as an immigrant with humble roots selling bowls.

Now that he and his family have benefitted from The Gambian generosity, he is leveraging his connections to The President, H.E. Adama Barrow, and his ministers to monopolise the rice import, banana, and fuel. Now, he seeks to control the importation of cement into the Gambia to the detriment of Gambian consumers and entrepreneurs who invested heavily in the welfare of the Gambian and its workforce.

This cronyism is further exemplified by the fact that Gacem (non-Gambian ownership) also buys cement from Jah Oil, exploiting a loophole to benefit from their special investment certificate while charging D30 more for the same cement. Finally, if local bagging operators like Jah Oil sell the “superior” 42.5R grade at a lower price than the “inferior” 32.5R grade, why would anyone opt for the more expensive lower grade?

This underscores the importance of consumer choice and competition in the market. The Kickback Mafia of Ministers wields sole authority over who benefits from the special incentive certificate, effectively determining the winners and losers in various industries. This concentration of power has sparked concerns about a concerted effort against capitalism, as evidenced by recent disputes over fuel taxes, the cumbersome tagging of individual items, and continuous increases in port duties.

These policies have pushed consumers and businesses to seek alternatives abroad, raising questions about the country’s economic welfare.

The concept of protecting infant industries in the cement sector is flawed. Cement production has ancient origins, and companies like Jah Oil, Salam, and Gacem struggle with competitiveness due to their reliance on importing and re-bagging cement or importing all ingredients for final processing.

Salam, the only one involved in any value add, must still import all inputs, is plagued with constant quality issues and has the lowest capacity of the operators. Supporting industrial development is crucial, especially considering that The Gambia consistently imports more than 90% of goods consumed since 2017; it is essential to acknowledge the current reality. The policy changes sought by the cement-bagging

operators primarily benefit the elite and will do nothing to help our trade balance deficit as all the cement is still imported.

The current policy of protecting the cement sector through subsidies for companies that import and re-package cement (bagging companies) is flawed. These companies have benefited from tens of millions of dollars from handouts, investment certificates, duty waivers, and road import moratoriums, and they still haven’t increased production or lowered prices despite past government support.

In their attempts to distort the facts, the three bagging operators also claim to employ 5,000 people. Stand outside their bagging facilities for a day, and you can easily confirm their employment pool is less than 800. They like using terms like direct/indirect employment, which counts everyone in the value chain. This includes logistics providers like us and wholesalers and retailers. Regarding capacity, Jah Oil is frantically trying to secure financing to source new cement imports via vessels from Nigeria.

Logistic Industry: A robust logistics sector is essential for The Gambia’s economic well-being. It

facilitates trade, keeps prices competitive, and stimulates growth. Diversifying our supply chain is equally crucial and cannot be understated. During the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, the cement bagging companies stopped operating for nearly a year. However, thanks to our functioning logistics network, essential commodities like cement continued to enter the country via road networks. This experience underscores the importance of a solid and diversified logistics industry to prevent future disruptions and ensure The Gambia’s economic resilience:

• Dominant Gambian ownership: Over 95% of trucks serving the region are Gambian-owned, creating jobs and fostering local businesses.

• Revenue generation: Hundreds of daily crossings with high import duties contribute millions to

government coffers. Don’t be misled by claims of limited activity.

• Job creation: The industry directly employs over 1,500 families and supports numerous others in

retail, wholesale, and transportation services. Further, over 100,000 shop owners depend on the

cement business to provide for their families and cannot depend on Jah Oil to sell wholesale and

turn around and undercut them as a retailer.

• Economic impact: Efficient transport fuels exports of cement, agricultural goods, and other

products, benefiting producers and importers.

• Tax revenue: Each truck contributes significantly through fuel taxes, bridge tolls, and import

duties. A conservative estimate shows substantial daily revenue generation of more than D5 million.

We all agree on the need for a more self-reliant Gambia, less reliant on imports. To reduce reliance on imports, we must invest in critical infrastructure and promote export-oriented

businesses. Competition, not government handouts, will drive innovation, attract investment, and strengthen the Gambian economy for the benefit of all.

Let’s focus on policies that promote sustainable economic growth, job creation, and consumer welfare and dismiss the dumping of poor-quality products on our citizens. Finally, we welcome Hamidou Jah to join our association as the largest importer of cement in Gambia.

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