By Tabora Bojang
At least 22 containers loaded with semi-processed timber purportedly belonging to a Gambian businessman have been intercepted and taken over by the state as the Ministry of Environment weighs on proffering charges against the suspect.
The Minister of Environment, Lamin Dibba, made the disclosure yesterday as he appeared before the National Assembly Select Committee on Environment, Sustainable Development and NGO Affairs.
Dibba added that intercepted containers were found at the Tallinding ‘Buffer Zone’ recreational ground loaded with Pterocarpus erinaceus locally known as “keno” and were ready to be transported to the Banjul ports for shipment, before his Ministry was tipped by some concerned citizens about the illegal plan.
He said this was confirmed following a swift investigation by the police and the department of forestry.
According to the minister, the containers are said to belong to one Mr Saikou Conteh, who claimed the products were the remnants of his last permit that he could not export and decided to park them at the park.
“But from experience and observation, we understand that assertion was not true because these [timber products] were parked into containers not long ago and some of them seem very new and fresh with signs of oozing gums. He [the suspect] is one of several unscrupulous businessmen who wanted to beat the system and according to our books he has not obtained any permit to carry on the activity and as such all the logs have been taken over in line with the Forest Act,” Dibba told the committee.
“We further directed that the matter be taken to the court for immediate action,” he said.
Minister Dibba also revealed that over 450 logs of wood have recently been confiscated by the state and stored in Farato following seizure in URR.
Dibba admitted that a major hindrance in the strive to curb illegal wood cutting is the lesser punitive measures on forestry laws, saying a task force has been constituted to review and recommend amendment of forestry laws to provide stronger legislation.
“The law states that the fines should not be more than D 30,000 but the problem we have is that most of these dealers are rich men and when they are fined D30,000 or below it becomes very easy for them to get their ways out,” he added.