By; Landing Ceesay
It is at least a month since The Gambia experiences shortage of cement and a subsequent increase of the price of a bag of cement. A bag of cement cost D280 in 2020; but since the shortage began this year, its price has been hiked. A bag now costs D300, D325, D350 and even D400 at some locations within the Greater Banjul Area, as of 29th March 2021. The increase in the cost of one of the most highly sought commodities is entirely blamed on shortage, according to various players who make a living from works related to the sale and use of cement.
The scarcity which lead to the price hike affects scores of people from different walks of life, ranging from cement vendors; contractors; vendors of building materials; carpenters; masons; labourers; sand miners; truckers; property-owners constructing houses; and even donkey/horse-cart owners who transport.
Kerr Fatou gauged the opinions of the various players in the cement business as to what’s or are responsible for the shortage as well as the price hike.
Earning of many cement vendors depreciates
During Kerr Fatou’s tour of stores selling cement along the Coastal Road Highway, nearly all of them were almost empty. Some of them were having less than ten bags of cement in their shops. But only two of the store owners we visited granted us an interview on the impact of the shortage on their businesses.
A cement vendor Nasiru Jahateh, who usually orders more than five-hundred bags at once for retail said the shortage really affects his business as he couldn’t respond to the demands of his customers.
“Sometimes I will buy four hundred to six hundred bags of cement from the suppliers and sell it. But, right now my shop is empty. It is almost two months now, I don’t have cement to sell and my customers are always calling to ask me whether I have it or not,” he complained.
Now, Jahateh waits for his suppliers to contact him when the goods are available. But he said some of the suppliers sell it to them (vendors) for three hundred dalasi (D300) which will make the business very difficult for him.
“I am doing this business to help myself, my family and improve our living condition. I am in my mid-20s, I’m a youth, so I don’t want to fold my hands and sit without doing anything. So, the authorities should really help us and solve the shortage of cement in the country,” Nasiru appealed.
Another cement vendor affected by the scarcity, Modou Lamin Jarjue is thinking of quitting the business and focusing on something else to sustain his family because he can’t continue sitting without earning.
“I have a wife and two children at home even though I am just 28 years of age. I have responsibilities that I should take care of like any other family man. So, I am thinking of closing my cement shop and venture into another business, where I will get money even if it is as small as D500 a day is better than sitting here without selling anything,” Jarjue stated.
Professionals affected by the shortage
As cement remains one of the most important substantial materials in their job, its shortage negatively impacts the lives of masons and labourers whose daily wages depend on the availability of cement for erecting structures.
A mason who graduated from the Gambia Technical Training Institute (GTTI) recently, Kebba Darboe, lamented to Kerr Fatou that he started his first ever building contract a few days prior to the unavailability of cement and that it will affect the deadline for the completion of the project.
“I am new in the construction industry because I have just graduated from GTTI, but the shortage of cement is badly affecting my work. I told the owner of the house that I will complete his house before June or July this year, but that will not be possible now because I haven’t worked for two weeks now due to the shortage of cement in the country. So, the work will be longer than expected,” Darboe told Kerr Fatou.
Also a builder, Foday Ceesay, fears that the shortage might increase the burden of work on a mason as he or she might spend payment of a particular level without attaining it.
“If the work stops without reaching a certain level you agreed with the owner of the house as a family man after getting paid already, you end up spending the money without reaching that level. And if cement is available again while you are not having money to hire other builders to join you fast tract the construction to the agreed level, it is going disturb you [mason] a lot because the owner of the house might not give you another money to reach that level you agreed with him or her before the shortage,” he expressed.
Ceesay said cement is the most important thing in construction, without which there will be no construction; saying the shortage affects everyone in both the cement and construction industries.
Labourers at construction sites play a significant role in the erecting structures. They too, aren’t spared by the scarcity as many of them have been temporarily rendered jobless.
Mahammad Bojang, one of them whose livelihood is dependent on the wages he gets as a labourer told Kerr Fatou that he has been sitting for a week without working, which makes his survival tedious.
“I have not been working for a week. Sometimes even having breakfast is a problem for me. I have to rely on my little sister who sells breakfast to have something to eat in the morning,” he told this medium.
Other folks affected are those who earn from transporting cement and other building materials bought by people. They include motorists and donkey/horse-cart.
Donkey/horse-cart owners could not be available for an interview but a taxi baggage vehicle driver shared his experience with this medium based on anonymity. He said, prior to the shortage he used to make three to four trips a day, but now he sometimes sits without a single trip in three days which is unbearable for him as a family man.
“I have three children at home. They are all going to school, but these days my wife is the one who gives them money when they are going to school because I have no money to give them since the shortage of cement started,” he told Kerr Fatou.
Property-owners and construction companies
Others affected by the status quo include construction companies and the property-owners who are building houses either for themselves or for others.
A property-owner, Essa Dampha, bought 50 bags of cement for the construction of his house during the shortage. He explained to Kerr Fatou how that has cost him much more money than before.
“I bought 50 bags. After getting that 50 bags, I went round to look for cement. Even, if I see a truck carrying it, I will follow it to know where they are going and how they get the cement. So that I can have the opportunity to buy another 50 or 100 bags,” Essa stated.
Dampha said he was lucky to get the said 50 bags each for D300 but when he went to buy another 100 bags, each cost him more.
“After buying that 100 bags each for D320, I bought another 100 bags each for D325. I again bought 200 bags each cost me D385 including the fare to bring them home,” he told Kerr Fatou.
He believed he would have spent a lesser amount of money than what he spent if cement was available in much quantity.
Owner of a construction company currently contracted to build a structure, Dam Touray, told Kerr Fatou that they (the contractors) work against deadlines. So, the situation will really affect their business.
“The shortage of cement is affecting me because right now the contract given to me to build a house has stopped due to the lack of cement in the country. It is delaying our work and we are running against time right now,” he indicated.
Touray said one of the terrible impacts the cement shortage causes them is to spend on their families the money meant for the purchase of cement which could bring problems between them (contractors) and their clients.
“If you take the contract for three years with a balance of D3 million. Suddenly your cement is finished, and there is no cement in the country. Your work must stop, and if it stops, then as a family man you will use the money meant for construction to sustain your family’s needs. So, before you will realize anything, the D3 million you have taken is already exhausted, while the work is not completed. This is one of the terrible things the shortage of cement could cause us [the contractors],” Dam Touray told Kerr Fatou.
He said right now he is paying the staff of his construction company from the income he generates from the land dealings as he also sells land.
The impact on national economy
After construction works have stopped on a larger scale and professionals have cried the pain and fear of lack of income; how would that translate to the nation’s economy?
Economist and University lecturer, Dr. Momodou Mustapha Fanneh said the shortage of cement will slow down construction seriously because the price of the cement has been hiked by the sellers due to the limited supply and high demand.
“Economically, the shortage of cement will cause unemployment in the country, and those unemployed will have no money to take home for their families, that will really affect those families economically,” he said.
Economist Fanneh went on to tell Kerr Fatou that it will increase the budget of people building and prevent the sales of building materials.
“If you budgeted D1 million for building a house and during that budgeting you budgeted D250 for each bag of cement all of a sudden, the price of the cement increased to D350, then obviously you must spend more than D1 million you initially budgeted.
“The shortage of cement will not only affect the contractors or masons’ but also the shops that are selling building materials as well, will be affected. Who will buy their materials, if there is no cement available?” the university lecture observed.
Dr. Fanneh also said that if cement price is high, and construction stops, people who are into sand business will also be affected because they will have no one to buy their sand, and it will be difficult for those people to sustain themselves and their families.
He called on the government to find out those responsible for the price hike and impose severe penalties on them to deter them from such practices in future.
“Let the government make findings and know who are responsible for price hiking, if they caught anyone, let them fine that person with a huge amount of money. Because if they fine them with a small amount of money they will pay it and do a similar thing again in the future,” Dr. Fanneh told Kerr Fatou in an exclusive interview in his office.
Meanwhile, the Gambia Competition and Consumer Protection Commission [GCCPC], is the public body charged with the responsibility to promote and maintain competition by curbing practices that have an appreciable adverse effect on competition, by creating a level playing field within which businesses can thrive in a liberal and competitive market; undertake general studies on the state of competition in individual sectors of the economy; conduct investigations on anti-competitive business practices; policy advice to government on competition related issues, among others.
According to one of the officials at GCCPC, the institution has conducted a study on the price hike and delivered the document to the Ministry of Trade, Integration and Employment, when contacted by Kerr Fatou. The commission referred us to the Ministry.
Then, Kerr Fatou further contacted the director of industry at the ministry who required us to write a formal request for the document, which was submitted on the 25th March and made a follow-up. But our request is not granted at the time of publishing this story.