y Madi Jobarteh
I wish to first of all express deep concern over the news I am getting that some taxi drivers are being arrested or harassed by paramilitary personnel for staging a sit-down strike. If this is true, I wish to put it to the Minister of Interior and the IGP that their forces are directly violating the fundamental rights of drivers to protest. The Gambia Constitution and the Labour Act guarantee the right to protest and to engage in industrial action including collective bargaining respectively. Hence the drivers are within their rights to protest by sitting at home.
Secondly, our people must not allow our government to pit poor people against each other by claiming that since pump price has been reduced therefore drivers must also reduce taxi fares. This is unfair and unrealistic. The income that taxi drivers make is their source of living just like the salary Government officials receive is also their source of living. While pump price has been reduced yet no one has reduced the salary of Government workers and the rest of the population. Therefore why should we expect the salary of drivers should reduce just because the pump price is reduced?
We must bear in mind that to own a vehicle in the Gambia and use it for commercial purposes bears huge costs. Apart from the usual road tax, vehicle registration, license and insurance, commercial vehicle owners have to also maintain their vehicles at high cost. Apart from all of that, like everyone else taxi drivers have to also pay for other means of survival such as bills for education, healthcare and utility for their families. Yet the Government has not reduced these costs. How therefore would a reduced income for taxi drivers help them to fulfill their responsibilities to themselves and their families?
The professed economic doctrine of the Gambia is free market, hence we must not condone the practice of price controls. What we must demand is for the Government to create progressive and competitive economic policies that will ginger up our economy. We need an economy that creates jobs and opportunities. Until now the Gambia has one of the highest total tax rates in the world, while interest rates remain incredibly high. Yet our productive base is weak hence the lack of jobs and low incomes all over the place. Taxi drivers cannot therefore be scarified for the rest of the population to survive! That is injustice!
Furthermore the amount of waste in the Government itself is too high. The use of fleets of vehicle, foreign travels, rent and consumption of electricity and telephone calls just to name a few of expensive and wasteful spending within Government offices is incredibly high. Has the Government reduced these? No. So long as these are high then it means taxes and levies and rates will also be high. Hence the high fares in the Gambia are not the cause of the drivers but by Government itself. Let the cost cutting start from within the Government and then flow from the top to the little man and woman down the line.
Taxi drivers have a right to protest and the Government must respect and protect this right. Citizens must respect and protect the right of taxi drivers to protest. As a free market, prices must be left to market forces and not by the heavy hand of the Government.
If the Government cares about public transportation then let the Government build the necessary infrastructure and services for that purpose. Since the first republic, the Gambia Government has failed to create a robust pubic transport system. We had GPTC that was recklessly dismantled only to create GTSC some years back, yet no effort has been made to ensure a viable public transport system, which is an indispensable necessity for any serious Government and economy. Yet during all this time it was these commercial transport services that have been serving the country. Therefore we cannot strangulate their business and livelihoods by introducing price controls that do not favour them. If they found such measures untenable then they have a right to protest.
So citizens, let us not allow our imposed poverty and our poor salaries and incomes and the overall high cost of living caused by none other than the Government itself to make us suppress taxi drivers just for us to survive! Let us not be so myopic and naïve as to buy official narratives without proper scrutiny and assessment.
God Bless The Gambia.