The removal of customs duty on imported rice in Gambia done since 2017 is costing the Government over D332 million ($6,809,021) in tax revenue within three months, officials have said.
Rice is the stable food in Gambia and the country could only produce 45, 000 tones with an annual consumption demand of 165, 000 tones.
The revenue loss was revealed by Baboucarr Ceesay, an economist working with the Gambia Competition Commission consumer protection section, during a stakeholders meeting with major rice importers at held recently the Ministry of Trade in Banjul.
According to APA, the meeting was convened to look into the possibility of reductions in the prices of basic food commodities, especially rice.
The permanent secretary at the Trade ministry, Mrs Naffie Barry, said it was the government’s decision to explore ways of curtailing price of rice and other essential food items for the benefit of the population.
She announced that the new government in Banjul had abolished the 10 percent import duty on rice in January, in a bid to bring down the price of the staple food to a level affordable to the Gambian population.
The price reduction as a result of the 10 percent tax exemption was not implemented since then, so as to allow importers sell already imported stock, and that they were given three months to sell the taxed stock.
”Now the government wants to see the zero tax on rice be transformed into a reduction of prices for the Gambian consumers,” she stressed, adding that it wants to ensure a low cost of living for the citizenry.
During the meeting, officials acknowledged there had been a slight decrease in the price of the American rice brand, from D1080 ($22) to D1025 ($21), but argued that prices for a rice brand called ”Saddam”, as well as rice brands from Pakistan and India remain high.
Meanwhile, some of the major importers of food commodities said, despite the tax exemption, they were still spending a lot of money in the importation process including for clearing, handling and discharging of their goods at the port of Banjul.
”I had imported six to seven vessels last year, and sometimes my vessels were delayed at the port while priority was given to cement vessels. I paid a lot of money for the delayed vessels as well,” one Hassan Akar complained, while urging the government to look into those issues as well.
At the conclusion of the meeting, the rice dealers agreed to cooperate with the government in its drive to reduce the price of rice from now on, and vowed to import adequate stock for the upcoming holy month of Ramadan.
By Mustapha K Darboe