By Omar Bah
The Association of Wood Re-exporters and Forest Users in the Gambia have accused the ministry of forestry of sidelining them for the past two years despite contributing nearly D440 million to the economy in 2018/19 within six months. The country’s timber dealers have been faced with serious challenges over the years, especially those who transport timber through Foñi.
The Senegalese forces under Ecomig stationed in Foñi have confiscated more than 50 trucks since 2017. The association made these observations as it distributed hundred bags of sugar and rice to over 100 of its members recently.
Addressing journalists at his office the association’s chairperson, Lamin Barrow, said the ministry of forestry has decided to sideline the association from 2019.
“The association was formed to help the government realise the potentials in the timber trade and since this government came into office, we have contributed D430 million to the Central Bank. D180 million in 2018 and D250 million in 2019. How can any serious ministry ignore an association that contributes this amount of money to the government just like that?” Barrow said.
Mr Barrow said between 2010 and 2019 the association expended over D600, 000 to mitigate bushfire and tree planting campaigns.
“Whenever the ministry is going for tree planting, we give nothing less than D200, 000 as our contribution but for the past three years they have refused to engage us. So there is a gap between the ministry of forestry and I challenge Minister Lamin Dibba to understand that we are not competing or challenging his ministry,” he said.
He said the moment his association suggested for the services of the trade to be decentralized the ministry of forestry started holding back on engaging them.
“The association has insisted that all timber dealers should present D7 million bank guarantee to ensure we manage the forest well but the minister is now allocating permits anyhow he wants without following due procedure and he doesn’t want us to talk about these things,” Barrow said.
“I want to tell the president to understand that we are not enemies of his government. All we want is transparency and accountability from his forestry ministry,” he said.
When contacted for comments, the minister of forestry Lamin Dibba said: “Those times (2018\19) they are talking of was the time the government decided to lift a ban on the exportation of timber. That was the time we were working with them but when the ban was enforced, we stopped working with them. That is it. And on tree planting, of course they are right. When we are engaging in tree planting, we always ask them to get involved and I see no reason why we should not do so now.”