Counting the Cost of Nawec’s Power Cuts: Local Businesses Bear the Brunt
Local businesses in and around the commercial districts of Senegambia and Brusubi have been struggling amid power outages that sometimes affect their operations for hours at a time.
King’s Bakery is one of the most popular bakery chains in The Gambia. Behind its main branch store situated near the Brusubi Turntable, the General Manager, Sheriff Bah inspects a huge standby Cat 110 Kva Diesel Generator. This serves as an alternative to the power cuts by the National Water and Electricity Company (NAWEC). But for a company that works round the clock to provide bakery needs to the customers, the cost of running the generator is high.
“When there is no light we have to use the generator which consumes a lot of fuel. So power outages cripple the business. The demand is high and in order to meet the demand we must be able to bake non-stop. But when there’s no power we have to rely on the generator and that’s not helping us because fuel is expensive,” Bah tells The Chronicle.
“If there’s no electricity let’s say for 12 hours, we spend more than D10, 000 on fuel because our machines are heavy-duty. The ovens also consume fuel.”
Supermarket products like diary and local chickens need constant cooling to keep them in good and saleable condition. Hewaal Food Supermarket in Bijilo has been experiencing power cuts especially over the past few weeks. Like King’s Bakery, the supermarket relies on a standby generator to keep business going. And this is an economic burden.
“NAWEC’s frequent power outages? We’re used to it now,” says the head of Hewaal Supermarket Ahmad Ceesay, giggling.
“If they have some measures to help, it will be good for us especially in this month of ramadan. We have dairy products and local chickens in the cooling systems that are perishable.”
Foreign exchange bureaus are at the heart of Gambia’s commerce. In a country where so many people depend on remittances for income, you can imagine how busy money transfer and forex bureaus are. But every transaction requires electricity supply.
URD Foreign Exchange situated in the middle of Serekunda is one of the busiest bureaus in the area. When there’s a power cut, the branch calls its other office located elsewhere to do the transaction via telephone and that takes longer. Because of that, it’s losing customers.
“Most customers do not have patience. You lose them because they don’t want to wait longer for a transaction or for power to come back. Even today I lost a customer because he couldn’t wait,” says Saja Camara, the head of URD Foreign Exchange.
“The power cuts cost us so much. We can’t continue like this.”
Camara bought three generators over the past few years and they all broke down. “We bought generators and they didn’t last. I’m tired of it now.”
Commercial tailors are some of the biggest victims of power cuts. With festivities all over the place, the demands for new clothes sewn by tailors are always high. But many of the tailors say they are being driven out of business by power cuts.
“It seriously affects our business. There are always customers but we can’t say the same when it comes to power supply. It costs so much when a tailor is unable to sew because of power cuts and he keeps on waiting and waiting for power to come back,” says Modou Gaye, a tailoring workshop owner in Wellingara.
“It is a bad experience because it sends away our customers. Some customers will come here crying because their festivities are drawing near and their clothes are not sewn, I can’t work because there’s no power. Some would insult you and call you names. A lot of them would collect their unfinished materials and leave and they’d go to another tailor. You’ll never see them again.”
NAWEC told The Chronicle that it was aware of the situation and was working tirelessly to resolve the issue. Its spokesperson Pierre Sylva attributed the problem to network capacity.
“The problem with our networks is they are not automated. When there is a problem the engineers would have to switch off power and then follow where the problem is,” he told The Chronicle.
According to him, NAWEC has already secured a World Bank project to upgrade the network to resolve the problem. “We are really working hard to make sure that the network is improved so that it can serve the required capacity to put everybody aboard. We do apologize for that and we are working towards solving it.”