EDITORIAL: The People vs Golden Lead: A case of dollar diplomacy
Photo: Golden Lead Fish meal processing plant in Gunjur
In 2015, when the people of the sprawling coastal settlement of Gunjur were informed of the planned building of a ‘sardine’ processing plant just a few hundred metres off the beach front which will create jobs for the locals, the community leaders welcomed the new enterprise with open arms. The company made a pledge to the community to rebuild the gravel road linking the main settlement of Gunjur to the fishing village where the company would be built. A further promise was made that a fish market would also be built to provide a means for the local fisher folks to trade their catch. This,according to them, will be part of the company’s social cooperate responsibility to the community. Encouraged by the prospect of jobs for the locals, a reconstructed road, and a fish market, the community welcomed a family of Chinese investors to set up shop to “process sardines” for export. Fast forward to 2017, Golden Lead stands accused of serious environmental damage as a result of waste water pollution and breach of local environmental laws. It became clear that the company was also operating a Fishmeal processing plant as opposed to a sardine processing plant. Environmental activists, baffled by the immediate coloration of the nearby lagoon which is part of a protected bio-eco system for decades, discovered that the company has connected a waste pipeline from the factory which was emptying the plant’s waste water into the lagoon thereby killing aquatic life and destroying the ecosystem of the lagoon. Golden Lead legal woes: The National Environment Agency, notified of the activities of the company wasted no time in investigating the operations of the factory and subsequently ordering the company to stop operations immediately. This was followed by filling of a case against the company at the Brikama Magistrates Court in June 2017, charged on four counts of 1. Withholding information about management of waste, 2. Discharging substance of waste water into the sea, 3. Polluting the environment and 4. Failure to keep record of their company activities Golden Lead denied any wrongdoing. The National Environment Agency, that dragged the the company to court, has accused it of discharging waste water from their processing plant into the sea at the Gunjur beach, an act which was reportedly “unknown to the authorities”. NEA further accused the company of discharging waste water into the nearby lagoon and the sea through connected pipes without authority. The NEA also alleged that the Golden Lead has equally failed to keep records of its activities, products and waste which it was required to do by the environment laws of the country. Of course it was later reported by the Director of Press at the Office of the President of The Gambia that the matter in court between Golden Lead and NEA has been “settled out of court”. This prompted a consortium of environmental concerned groups in Gunjur, supported by the Gunjur Development Association (GDA) to file a civil law suit against Golden Lead at the High Court in Banjul. The suit which was first filed at the high court on 19th July 2017 continues to stall at the courts amid allegations of interference from some influential people with vested interest in the Golden Lead company.
Golden Lead’s Dollar diplomacy: In what appears to be a blatant move to garner support within the community of Gunjur, Golden Lead has been seen giving out bags of rice, sugar, oil and cows to community leaders.
A recent photo emerged suggesting that the company is also attempting to influence the local police by giving out bags of sugar and other condiments to the local police officers in Gunjur. The company has been seen sponsoring the annual “Gamo” of the coastal settlement, as well as local football competitions. Whatever the motive, the company appears to be winning support from local people given the recent grant of operational licence to them to discharge waste water into the sea. As we piece this together, three people have been invited for questioning and subsequently charged on three counts of “incitement to violence, criminal trespass and conspiracy to commit crime” in connection with the removal of waste pipes connect to the sea by Golden Lead to discharge factory waste water from Fishmeal processing. We believe these charges are not only outrageous, but totally and wholly bogus and must therefore be dropped unconditionally. Environmental activists mount more pressure: As Golden Lead continuesto use the cheque book to garner support, some local and diaspora based environmental activists are resisting the short term financial benefit of Golden Lead and are fighting to ensure that the environmental pollution and the pillage of the natural resources of the community by the Chinese owned Fishmeal factory stops. True to their word, a handful of concerned youths planned a peaceful protest against the continued operation of the company which ended in the arrest and detention of 6 youths. This has angered other concerned environmental groups and pressure groups within and outside the country to mobilise support and influence to campaign for the removal of Golden Lead on the shores of the coast of The Gambia. It is therefore welcome news that AfricaRising in collaborating with other concerned groups are showing solidarity with the people of Gunjur by joining a ‘beach clean up’ exercise on Friday 25th May in a show of defiance to the environmental degradation of Golden Lead company.
Golden Lead effects on Tourism: In 2017, Travel and Tourism contributed 5.4% to the GDP growth of The Gambia from 6.8% in 2016, compared to 23.6% in 2006. Therefore, in the face of an already falling contribution of travel and tourism in the GDP growth of The Gambia, pollution of the coastal environments, especially around the Kombo coast which holds the key to any future tourism development should be a cause for concern for everyone. Finally, we urge the government of The Gambia to look at the long term potential health implications of people over short term tax benefits of the operations of a Fishmeal processing plant with no regard to the environment. “Only when the last tree has died and the last river been poisoned and the last fish been caught will we realise we cannot eat money”.