Information Minister, Demba Ali Jawo

The Gambia Government has publicly thrown its weight behind a Chinese owned fish processing factory accused of dumping toxic sewage into Gambian waters.

Golden Lead Import and Export Company in the coastal fishing village of Gunjur, Kombo South, is accused by environmental activist and residents of Gunjur of dumping waste into the sea which is causing intense bad odour and making people sick as well as destroying the country’s fish reserves and polluting the waters.

But Demba Ali Jawo, spokesman of the Government of the Gambia, said the sewage that is being dumped into the sea poses no environmental hazard either to the community or to the country’s flora and fauna.

Writing on his Facebook page, the Information minister said: “The government is of course as concerned as everyone else about any threat to the environment in Gunjur and everywhere else in the country. Therefore when people started raising concern about possible pollution of the environment by the discharge of the waste from the plant, the National Environment Agency (NEA) not only made sure that the plant properly treated the waste before it was discharged into the sea but the Agency also took samples of the treated waste to one of the most reputable labs in Africa, the Pasteur Institute in Dakar for testing, and the results showed that the treated waste was not toxic and therefore posed no environmental hazard either to the community or to the flora and fauna.

“However, the NEA did not only stop there but insisted that the waste pipe is extended to a minimum of 350 metres into the sea in order to minimize any possibility of the waste getting back on the beach, and we are made to understand that the pipe has gone well beyond that distance.

Activists said the sewage from Golden Lead is killing thousands of fish every day

“Therefore, the people of the community of Gunjur and its surroundings are being reassured by the government that there is no threat to the environment from the activities of Golden Lead plant and that the NEA and all those concerned will continue to monitor the situation to ensure that any possible breach of the status quo will be promptly addressed.”

The government has flipped flopped on its position since the environmental debate began. Last May, President Barrow publicly condemned the activists of Golden Lead accusing it of failing to correct waste management and disposal practices.

Writing on his Facebook page at the time, the President said: “I have followed developments relating to the environmental pollution of some of our coastal villages in the Gambia, particularly in the area of Gunjur Beach. My government officials have visited the Golden Lead Company in Gunjur and have concluded that the company has not respected proper environmental requirements as they are expected to under correct waste management and disposal practices.

“It has also been brought to my attention that there has been some illegal fishing in the area, with some fishermen using the wrong equipment. This is resulting in the catching and dumping of juvenile fish along the beach.
“Business practices must be environmentally friendly. We shall take all necessary action to ensure that current and future economic operators in the Gambia abide by the code of conduct expected of them.”

The Gambia Government’s decision to publicly back Golden Lead is likely to infuriate environmental activists and residents of Gunjur. Some weeks ago, frustrated with the damage to their coast line and bad odour from the fish plant, Gunjur residents took the law on to themselves and dug out the sewage pipes.

However, the pipes have were refitted by the company which has since continued with processing fish dumping sewage into the sea.