By: Madi Jobarteh
The Government’s press release on July 1 that it has revoked all timber permits with a new regulation is nothing but a smokescreen to divert attention from the corruption involved in this business perpetrated by Government officials themselves. Now that they have been adequately exposed by both the media and the UN, the Government is acting smart by issuing this statement. I call on all Gambians to reject this press release until there is accountability first.
We do not need Ministers and the Government Spokesperson to defend anyone. Let there be a full and an independent investigation. That is the ethical, professional, and legal thing to do when such allegations erupt especially about a potential involvement of the President. The Voice newspaper report has provided vehicle and container numbers and names of persons involved in this alleged illegal trade purportedly in the President’s interest. This is serious.
Such information should not be brushed aside with mere high sounding and bombastic press releases and comments from Ministers and Ebrima Sankareh. What is expected is for the Government to be interested in knowing the names, vehicles and containers involved, and if the President is involved or linked to these trucks and containers or not. If not, the Government needs to also ascertain if these trucks, containers, and persons are engaged in illegal activity or not. This is what is expected and not a misleading and laughable press release.
Secondly, how come the Voice story came out on June 29 only to trigger a laughable press release from Sankareh a day later, July 1 to be followed by another press release from the same Sankareh on the same day announcing a revocation of all timber export permits? Why would these press releases and government action happen just 24 hours after a breaking story about the President’s complicity in illegal timber trade?
Clearly these press releases did not come out of the blue. We know that illegal timber trade has been going on in this country since the new Government came to power. We know that since June 8, the UN body responsible for forestry matters, CITES has suspended the Gambia’s license to trade in rosewood. The decision is in reaction to the failure of the Government to ensure legal trade.
In April 2022, Malagen, a reputable investigative news outlet also broke a story about this illegal timber trade in which it said, “The government is complicit. At the expense of lives and livelihoods, the presidency and environment ministry often waive the rules and authorize illegal export of timber in the name of ‘maximising revenue’ for the government.”
In July 2020, another reputable media organization, the BBC exposed massive illegal trade in timber in the Gambia. In a groundbreaking report, the BBC said, “figures obtained by BBC Africa Eye showed that China has imported more than 300,000 tonnes of West African rosewood (Pterocarpus erinaceus) from The Gambia since President Adama Barrow came to power in 2017.”
We know that in August 2018 both Barrow and Macky Sall made a joint statement before journalists in Dakar that their two governments are determined to combat timber trade in the Casamance region.
Now, given all of the above, the Gambia Government never felt compelled to issue a press release as they did on July 1 to tackle this illegal activity. But soon after the Voice newspaper linked the President to the trade, immediately a crude and insulting high velocity press release was dispatched by Ebrima Sankareh who is notorious for falsity and misinforming the public! But even before the Voice got to this stage, Malagen had first reported that the presidency and the Ministry of Environment were complicit.
Therefore, let the Gambia Government be serious and spill the beans. We need transparency, accountability, and probity. I stand with the Voice newspaper story until the Government institutes a full and independent enquiry on the illegal timber trade in the Gambia. Until then, President Adama Barrow and the former Minister of Environment Lamin Dibba and their officials have a case to answer.
For the Gambia, Our Homeland