Cement Importers, Cement Manufacturers Contradict Each Other on Duty Increment

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By Assan Bah and Amadou Manjang

The Cement Importers and Traders Association (CITA) on one side and Jah Oil, Salam and GACEM group on the other hand have made conflicting statements on the issue of the increment of the tariff levied on the importation of cement from Senegal.

CITA group called the increment a target on their import businesses while Jah Oil, Salam and GACEM called it an important move to protect local cement industries in the Gambia.

CITA group imports bags of cement from Senegal using land into the Gambian markets. Jah Oil imports cement from Turkey, Egypt, Algeria, and Spain using vessels. They repackage and re-bag the cements before selling them. GACEM also imports cement from Spain, Algeria and Morocco before re-bagging them for sale.

New Import Duty and Reactions 

It was reported in April 2024 that the Government of the Gambia, through the Ministry of Trade, has introduced a new import duty on cement importation from Senegal through land. This did not go down well with members of CITA, who import cement through land from Senegal.

The import duty increased from D35 per bag to D180 per bag.

The Vice Chairperson of CITA, Babu Gai said the new tariff took them off guard. He claimed that members of CITA were not informed about the increment.

“On the 16th of April, we went to pay our usual fees, but we were told that the duty has been increased to D180 per bag. We got the information at the customs office,” Babu Gai said.

He stated that the new tariff is designed to target their businesses to favour those importing through vessels

“We see that our counterparts do not want the competition because they have tried by all means to stop us from importing cement,” Gai said.

Gai argued that apart from Salam, none of the cement companies are manufacturing cement in The Gambia 

“Jah Oil and Gacem only re-bag. They import the complete cement via vessels,” he said.

Gai argued there is no justification for the increment of import duty on cement transport via land.  

Ebrima Sinera, the Commercial Manager of Salam Company said the new tariff is necessary.

He is hopeful that Salam company, in the future, can sufficiently supply the Gambia market.

“The government is aware of our (Salam, Jah Oil and Gacem) capacity, and knows that we can supply the entire country with cement, and there will be no shortage.

“We are currently running on three hundred thousand (300,000) tons per year, but with the expansion, we will be manufacturing one million tons per year. We are currently producing thirty to forty thousand bags per day,’ Sinera said.

CITA’s Secretary Momodou Jobe alleged that Jah Oil, Salam and Gacem are using the government to close the businesses of other cement importers. 

“They [Jah Oil, Salam and Gacem] are accusing us of being mainly dominated by foreigners, but over three hundred (300) trucks are owned by Gambians. We can say 95% of us are Gambians,” Jobe added. 

Salam’s Ebrima Sinera countered the statement saying the information from CITA was false.

“The government saw it as its own interest and the interest of the nation to increase the import duty to protect the interest of the [local cement] industries and the Gambian people at large,” Ebrima Sinera said.

Sinera maintained that they import their raw materials to manufacture cement because the Gambia does not have them.

“The government’s decision to increase the import duty on cement is to protect its own interest because it is aware of our stocks in the market. So because of the foreign cement entering the country, the government had to defend its interest and the interest of the country,” Sinera said.

Momodou Hydara, the General Manager of Jah Oil Company said they do not influence the government’s decisions.

“We, as a company, have no say in what the government does and have no powers to influence their decision. If we had the powers, the ban would have never been lifted in the first place,” Hydara said.

He was referring to the moratorium imposed on cement importation during the era of the former regime which was lifted by the current government. Hydara said their importation cannot be compared to that of CITA’s.

Muhammed Lamin Darboe, Sales and Marketing Manager of GACEM said they operate based on the laws of the Gambia.

“But if we had the power to influence government’s decisions, the importation would never happen in the first place,” Darboe said.

He said they had previously engaged the Government of the Gambia not to lift the ban on importation of cement, but the Government lifted the ban. Darboe said the increment of import duty is necessary, adding that there is no reason why the government should not increase the tax on the importation of cement.

“You cannot compare the cement factories both re-bagging and manufacturing to those importing via lorries, because the benefits the government gains from us is more than that of the importers via the lorries,” he said.

Jah Oil, Salam, GACEM and Gambia Government 

Jah Oil, Salam and GACEM said their interest needs to be protected by the Government of The Gambia since they are bringing in a lot of revenue. Sinera, the Commercial Manager of Salam said the taxes they are paying to GRA and the electricity bill they are paying to NAWEC are contributing millions to the government’s coffer. He added that they have created employment opportunities for several Gambians.

Counting on the benefit of the local cement industry, Hydara said Jah Oil, Salam and GACEM together have over 5,000 employees. He said they aspire to create more employment opportunities for Gambians. CITA also claimed that they also create a lot of jobs for people and the new tariff is affecting them.

Jah Oil’s Hydara claimed that many of the lorry owners do not pay the right taxes at the borders. CITA importer group also claimed that the government will also lose the millions they pay to GRA for the importation of cement into the country.

“The government is also losing because every one hundred (100) lorries will bring Three Million Dalasi (D3,000,000) per day plus the fuel we buy from the petrol stations and the like,” Momodou Jobe of CITA said.

What is at stake for CITA?

According to CITA’s Secretary General, Momodou Jobe, the new tariff is indirectly telling them to close their businesses because they won’t be making any profits now. 

“If we are selling a bag at D375 and after making all our expenses from the processing factory to the import duties at the end of the day we will only make D5 per bag,” Momodou Jobe explained.

Jobe said they need to sell a bag of cement at D540 to make a profit, which he said is going to be expensive for the people to purchase.

CITA’s Treasurer Alhagie Mbye said some of them took loans or sold their lands to start up their businesses. He added that some of them have 10 to 20 lorries. He estimated that a lorry costs about 1.8 million dalasi.

“But with all these, the Government is not supporting us rather they want us to close our businesses,’ he said.

Mbye argued that the increment on the import duty is practically blocking them from importing cement after investing a huge sum of money into the business.  He claimed that the only difference between CITA and other cement companies is the process of re-bagging.

“To us, there are no local industries because these industries were supposed to manufacture from start to finish without importing the majority of their raw materials,” Mbye said.

He added: “It is true that we are importing our raw materials, but we are importing through the Gambia Ports Authority (GPA) where we are paying millions of Dalasi, which is to the benefit of the nation.”

Hydara of Jah Oil said those who import cement via land are mainly agents working for the Senegalese cement industries.

Gambia-Senegal and ECOWAS Trade Agreement 

CITA members argued that the government cannot directly tell them to stop importing cement from Senegal because the ECOWAS free trade agreement prohibits that.

“The only thing they can do is to make it so expensive that we won’t be able to sustain economically,” CITA’s Secretary Jobe said.

“We can say each day we are contributing up to 6 Million Dalasi to the Gambia government and if we stop, where will they find the revenue to replace this?” Jobe asked.

When asked if CITA would comply with the government’s new policy swiftly, he said they are engaging both governments of the Gambia and Senegal on the matter.

Jah Oil’s Hydara said: “We know that Senegal is an active member of ECOWAS, but they are not accepting any export from the Gambia to Senegal because they said they have factories to protect.” Hydara argued that there is no essence of importing cement across the border when you have factories in the country that can meet the consumption demand of the entire country. He added that Jah Oil alone can produce one hundred and ten thousand (110,000) bags or tons.

“The industries in the Gambia can meet the needs of the country without importing any cement,” Hydara said.

He stated that Senegal is an industrialised country and they are protecting their industries based on their interest and the Gambia should do the same.

“We (Gambians) are the only ones who can develop our country. No one will come from outside to develop it for us. Gambians need to be patriotic,” he said.

What next for the cement companies and importers?

Momodou Jobe, CITA’s Secretary said that they cannot sit back and watch their investments go down the drain. He added that the import increment should come from the National Assembly because the National Assembly is responsible for tax decisions. 

“We are currently engaging both governments (Gambia and Senegal) because both governments will be impacted by the decision,” he said.

“I believed they [CITA group] don’t want to work with us because the incentives are too much as many of them don’t pay the right taxes at the borders,’ Hydara of Jah Oil said.

“There is no need for further importation,” Sinera of GACEM said.

The Ministry of Trade and Regional Integration was contacted for comments. Our efforts were not successful.