The unlawful arrest and trumped up charges against Baboucarr Sey is a serious infringement of not only civil rights but also a direct threat to social and economic rights of Gambians. This case is reflective of the malpractices and the effect of the APRC Regime, which had almost totally denied Gambians our civil, political, economic and social rights. The situation in Kololi is about a piece of land that was under the ownership of the KMC. But in 2014, KMC sold this land to SWAMI International, an Indian estate developer through the facilitation of the Gambian-owned Global Properties Company. The sale of this public property was not conducted publicly as the members of the community were not consulted and involved. Yet within this land there is a football field that youths of the area utilize.
Understandably the community and the youth in particular could not raise any significant objections to the sale of this land during the dictatorship for obvious reasons. But clandestinely some of the youths would damage the fence that was erected by the company to show their opposition to the confiscation of their land. Therefore when we are supposed to have a democratic dispensation, Baboucarr Sey, who has never been involved in the demolition of the fence decided to convene a press conference in order to generate public awareness about the issue as well as inform the government so that they can look into the matter. To his amazement, the police invited him for questioning only to have him detained three weeks after the press conference and charged with an outrageous offence.
This matter is very significant in that it highlights the fact that during the past 22 years, public institutions and officers at central and local levels have conducted business transactions that were detrimental to local and national interests. In many cases these deals were conducted with private companies without the involvement of the concerned community. These public institutions and businesses were able to do these dubious business transactions under the cover of the Dictatorship.
One of the areas in which such dubious business transactions took place concerns land. The proliferation of private estate developers and even the manner of acquisition of land by SSHFC attest to that. Hence it is important that land issues be reviewed because in most cases private and community lands have been taken away for the selfish interest of businesses and public officials. Our communities have therefore been left empty as the unfortunate losers.
We must recognize that KMC is the local government for the Kanifing Municipality. According to the Local Government Act, KMC have duties to provide social goods and services to the community. Members of the community pay taxes to KMC, which are supposed to be ploughed back into the community. Yet over the years, it is clear that Kanifing Municipality, the largest and richest local government has provided minimal social goods and services in the region. In the area of the youth alone, there is no single standard stadium that KMC has built within the municipality.
It is said that KMC sold this land for 20 to 25 million dalasi yet there is nothing visible in Kololi that KMC has provided. If KMC could not develop this land on their own such that they have to sell it, then what we expect is for KMC to plough back this 20+ million dalasi or part of it into Kololi since they own the land. But KMC has not provided and developed a new football field for the youths but took the money away just like that. The necessary documents of this sale are not even public so that we might know if KMC and SWAMI International did agree on any arrangements for the provision of social and economic goods and services to the people. In short, where did KMC spend that money?
We all can recall that in 2015 KMC entered into a contract with an Italian company for 2.2 million Euros to fill the Bakoteh dumpsite. Yet until today no work has been done at that horrible site which continues to release hazardous fumes into the surrounding communities and making the people sick. This is also a matter of social rights as it deals with the health of the people. Until today, the relevant authorities have not called KMC to answer to these serious issues.
Hence what we expect is for the Gambia Government to look into these issues in order to protect the economic and social rights of citizens. The issue in Kololi is about social and economic rights of the citizens, which Baboucarr has spearheaded. It is unlawful therefore, when citizens are standing up peacefully to protect their fundamental rights that they are subjected to arrest. That is abuse, which we have fought against in the past.
I would therefore call on the National Assembly to summon the Mayor of KMC Yankuba Colley to answer to this matter. Why did KMC sell this land? Did they follow proper procedures in advertising and selling this land? Where is the money? What have they used the money for since they sold the land? What have they provided back to Kololi whose land was sold?
The Ministry of Regional Administration must also look into this matter and all other land issues in our various regions. Area councils and municipalities must be scrutinized to ensure that public lands are not sold to private companies at the detriment of the community. The Farato and Gunjur/Kartong issues are cases of similar nature.
During the past 22 years, Yahya Jammeh completely seized the social and economic rights of Gambians by directly and deliberately taking over local and national properties such as land, livestock, farms, forests and beaches. He had also closed down, interfered with or damaged several business activities and industries such as tourism, betting, foreign exchange, poultry, dairy, transportation, farming, horticulture and groceries. These have caused thousands of Gambians to become unemployed, redundant, impoverished and die! Hence what we expect the new government to do is to restore and protect our social and economic rights.
Baboucarr is not involved in any vandalism and he does not need a permit to organize a press conference. Hence Baboucarr has not broken any law to warrant his arrest, detention and charge. This is abuse of power and the Inspector General of Police must withdraw this case and set Baboucarr free.
God bless The Gambia.