By Momodou Jarju
The Government of The Gambia has through the Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs, Mambury Njie, admitted that rice importers have betrayed the country for not reducing the price of rice after taxes have been waived for them in 2018.
Minister Njie told lawmakers in Banjul on Wednesday that The Gambia lost over three hundred million dalasis in 2019 as a result of waiving taxes on the importation of rice.
Member for Wuli West, Sedia Jatta in his supplementary question to the minister told him that the reason for waiving taxes on rice importation was never implemented because the price of rice was not lowered down, adding it instead boasted the profit of the importers.
Minister Njie responded that their policy is not price control and that’s where the problem lies, while admitting that the importers generate more profits.
Nonetheless, he said the Minister of Trade continuously called the importers and engaged them on the issue and told them that what they are doing is a betrayal.
“We came down to make sure that the most vulnerable will be able to afford the price of rice, but so far it did not happen. That’s a fact. But we are not in the price control regime, that’s the problem,” Njie said.
The idea of waiving taxes on rice importation was brought to the national assembly in 2018 by Mambury Njie’s predecessor, Amadou Sanneh ,who was axed by President Adama Barrow in what was his second major cabinet reshuffle in 2019.
Then minister Sanneh convinced lawmakers that if tax was waived on rice importation, there was hope it would result in the reduction of the price of a bag of rice.
Sadly, this never happened after the assembly approved the request. The prices of a bag of rice still remain where they used to be or more.
Minister Njie said it is unfair for the importers to continue maintaining the prices of rice which was not the anticipation from the government, when they waived the taxes to zero rated. He said his predecessor’s notion was justifiable and was made on reasonable intention to assist Gambians especially the most vulnerable.
Njie noted that the private sector should have had the morale and ethical behaviour to lower the price of rice in the country.
However, he noted that: “I would have never personally submitted that to the national assembly because it contradicts the liberalized price control regime.”
Earlier asking the minister was Member for Illiassa, Dembo K. M. Camara who asked him to inform lawmakers about the statistical data on rice duty from 2017-2018 and how much money was lost in 2019 due to levy waived on rice.
Minister Njie replied: “Duty collected on rice imports for 2017 announced to D192.4 million. However, the duty on rice in 2018 was zero rated, and hence there was no payment of duty on rice imports, whilst revenue lost to waiving taxes on rice amounts to D305.1 million in 2019.”
Speaking further, Njie said they will make sure as a government they work with the national assembly to ensure the price of rice is affordable in the country.
However, he maintained thus: “What can we do? I think we can brainstorm on that between the government and the national assembly to see because what we do not want is the most vulnerable to suffer. What can we do to make sure that at least there is price stability?”