Cement Importers Renew Appeal for Reduction of Import Duty

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By Assan Bah

Local Cement Importers and Traders Association has renewed its calls on the government to reconsider its decision on the import duty imposed on bagged cement coming from across the border and reduce the levy.

According to the Local Cement Importers, the policy which seeks to increase the import duty on imported cement from D30 to D180 per bag is regarded as a means of stopping cement importation from across the border, alleging the policy since coming into force last April, favours certain bagging companies in the country. 

Speaking at a recent press conference on the recent arrest of some of their members at the National Assembly grounds during the President’s State of Nation Address (SONA) for displaying their T-shirts and banners containing messages to the president, Alagie Mbye, an executive member of the Local Cement Importers Association, said “we used the opportunity yesterday at the National Assembly to pass our message to the president because we have tried by all means to meet him but could not.’’ 

He said during the process, two of their members were arrested by officers of the Police Invention Unit (PIU) and taken to Police Headquarters for questioning. 

“After their arrest, we [executive members] went to the Police headquarters where I was also arrested, but later released without my statement being taken. My two other colleagues were released on bail and are  currently reporting to the police. He called on the police to drop the case and set them free as citizens who only want to go back to their businesses. 

“We are not criminals. We only see that our business has been stopped for two months because of a policy which we believe should be reconsidered, and we saw it as an opportunity to pass our message to the president at the National Assembly,’’ Mbaye said. 

He said since the introduction of the policy, they have engaged the Gambia consumer, the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission; the Ministry of Trade, the Gambia Revenue Authority (GRA), and the National Assembly Select Committee on Trade, but they have not seen any meaningful solution from the authorities. 

“It is two months now that we have not operated our businesses and we are all responsible people with families. Since this policy came into place, the availability of cement in the country has drastically reduced particularly in the provinces and as a result, the price of cement has gone up,’’ he said. 

He called on the government to reconsider its decision on this new import duty increment. Mbye further questioned the claims of the availability of enough cement in the country. 

“We do not believe that there is enough cement in the market because if there was enough cement available in the country, we would not witness any shortage or frequent increment of cement prices. We want to appeal to the government to reconsider its decision on the new increment and remove the D180 import duty on imported cement. We are citizens of the country, and we see this increment as indirectly banning importation of cement from across the border. As we speak, cement is still being imported from Senegal by some of the bagging companies in the country for re-bagging. Monopolising the cement market could be detrimental to the citizenry as the prices will be uncontrollable,” he asserted.

Sheikh Cham, one of the arrested members of the local cement importers, said they had applied for a permit to protest three times, but the application was rejected by thePolice, adding that they went to the National Assembly grounds with their t-shirts and banners to make their demands and after some members requested for t-shirts, he brought some from his car to distribute among members and was arrested in the process, but they were later released on bail.

“I was confused with the questions I was asked during the screening process and one of the questions I was asked: “What is your political affiliation and what is your nationality?’’ Cham recalls.

He said cement is fundamental to every nation’s infrastructural development from road construction, to building homes, noting that increasing the import duty of cement from D30 to D180 is insensitive. He said the government is wrongly advised because this policy makes thousands of Gambian youth to lose their jobs. 

“Before this policy came into place, cement used to cost D375 per bag from across the country, but now it is sold for D525 in some parts of the country,’’ Cham said.

While expressing their disappointment with what he said were the utterances of the Trade Ministry, Cham said they will continue to engage the government and explore all other avenues to ensure there is free trade for all. 

“We want the government to ensure that both consumers and businesses are equally protected,” Cham said.