Editorial: Gunjur vs Golden Lead at the High Court
The civil suit filed against Chinese owned Golden Lead fish processing factory by concerned environmental activists in Gunjur continues to gather dust on the shelves of the High Court of The Republic of The Gambia after adjournment upon adjournment.
The civil suit claiming damages of D15 million from Golden Lead failed to proceed to pre-trial. In July when the case was called for mention, presiding judge Amina Saho Ceesay adjourned the case for pre-trial in October.
The case was first filed against Golden Lead at the High Court in July 2017, two years and two months on, the case has not proceeded to the trial stage.The inordinate delay is frustrating environmental activists who view these delaying tactics as government’s inability to address concerns of citizens and interference in the justice system. When the case came up for mention on 8th June 2018, it was immediately adjourned to 17th and 20th July 2018 for pre-trial and hearing. Consequently, the case continued to be adjourned until July this year when it was once again adjourned for pre-trial and hearing in October.
Following the June 8th mention and adjournment, environmental activist Ahmed Manjang had this to say: “Another setback in the case involving the people of Gunjur and GL at the high court yesterday; 8/6/18. This is one delay too many. Meanwhile, GL and other Fishmeal companies along the Kombo coast continue to flaunt The Gambia's environmental laws. In any democratic society, this is just not acceptable, and the earlier our policymakers realise that; the better, because the locals are getting increasingly frustrated with lack of progress in this highly sensitive matter and that, is not suitable for national security”
According to competent sources at the High Court, in addition to interference by the central government in the case, the incompetence of the presiding judge meant that this case will never proceed to trial. “The presiding judge simply does not have the competence to deal with this case,” revealed our source.
Golden Lead legal woes
Golden Lead Fishmeal processing company was initially taken to court by the National Environment Agency (NEA) who were notified of the activities of the company that may be in breach of national environmental laws. NEA investigated the operations of the factory and subsequently ordered 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
NEA accused Golden Lead of discharging waste water from their processing plant into the sea at the Gunjur beach, an act which was reportedly “unknown to the authorities”. Interestingly the case at the Brikama magistrates court was “settled out of court” which prompted a consortium of environmental groups in Gunjur to file a civil law suit at the High Court in Banjul on 19th July 2017. The case has failed to reach pre-trial stage as we go to press with this editorial.
So what next for Gunjur environmentalists in the case against Golden Lead?
It is our fervent belief that the civil suit against Golden Lead for damages will not be decided in the High Courts of the Gambia given the conflict of interest, government interference and the gross incompetence and integrity of the judge assigned to the case. According to the Point Newspaper publication of December 18th, 2009, Justice Amina Saho was tried and jailed on alleged corruption charges. She was later pardoned and released from custody. She was said to have allegedly embezzled an amount of D2, 000.000 (two million Dalasi) and US$1000 between 2005 to 2009 while working for the government of former Gambian president, Yaya Jammeh.
Given the lack of progress in the pursuit of justice against a company bent on destroying the environment, and apparent conflict of interest from the Gambia government in the case, the Gunjur environmentalists should consider filing a case at the sub-regional ECOWAS court for damages caused to the environment by the activities of Golden Lead on Gunjur beach.