By Oumie Mendy
Prominent activist Madi Jobarteh has called on the government to launch an independent investigation into the illegal timber trade.
The Gambia government issued a statement on Friday announcing the permanent revocation of all timber export and re-export permits hours after refuting an article published by The Voice newspaper alleging that President Barrow is involved in the trade.
But reacting to the government’s announced ban, Madi Jobarteh wrote: “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,” he said.
The Voice newspaper report, Jobarteh added, 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 whether 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,” he added.
In July 2020, he added, another reputable media organisation, the BBC exposed massive illegal trade in timber in the Gambia.
“In a ground-breaking 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 erinaceous) 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,” he added.
He said the Gambia Government should 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,” he said.