There is hardly a more pertinent theme of discourse in town these days than the new tax regulations contained in the 2003 budget speech of finance minister Famara Jatta. In markets, street corners, bars, work places and homes, the concerns are the same for Gambians and non-Gambians alike. The new tax regulations are too hot for comfort.
Guineans, Senegalese, Mauritanians, Ghanaians and Nigerians who form the bulk of the foreign legion of traders and dealers are already leaving as a result of the increase in residential and work permit fees. There are conflicting figures about the number of foreigners who have already left to "escape" what even Gambians have described as "over-taxation" by the government.
In one day about 800 Guineans, mostly shop-owners and money-changers were confirmed to have wound up their enterprises and left the country because they felt they could not afford to pay what Budget 2003 was asking of them.
By Christmas, the figure was being put at 6,000, but there are indications that more foreigners mostly Guineans, Senegalese and Nigerians have left since the dawn of the New Year. By mid-January, media reports said the figure had risen to 9,230 although this could not be independently verified.
What is certain, nonetheless, is the fact that there has been a "mad rush" out of the country by non-Gambians, who felt that they were being unfairly targeted by the government, which has increased residential and occupational permit fees for Ecowas and non-Ecowas citizens.
Budget 2003 is unpopular among foreigners by virtue of the new regulations, which came into effect on New Year's Day. Alien identification cards for Ecowas citizens have now been increased from D55 to D1,000, while non-Ecowas aliens are ordered to pay Dl,500.
Residential permits, which used to cost D500, have been increased to D800. Aliens with dependents like wives and children above the age of 18 would find themselves paying such fees three or four times over.
The problem is compounded by the fact that the value of the national currency, the dalasi, has plummeted alarmingly over the past year. By New Year's Day, US$1 was exchanging at D24.60 while the British pound was trading at D38.65. This has led to the increase in the prices in the shops. Transport fares have also jumped due to the increase in the price of fuel.
Those who run retail and wholesale shops are also to pay income and municipal taxes. Since Guineans, Mauritanians, Senegalese, Nigerians...