I read your report with interest. I think, as an investigative journalist, you should now get the information that the Fisheries Minister said was freely available and publish it as a follow up report.
In the interview the Minister said things he should not have been allowed to get away with. He knew the terms of reference. He was aware that you wanted to interview him about the pollution problems in the Gunjur / Kartong area in particular and about the Chinese Fish Factory in general yet he was unable to give specific answers to your questions and he did not bring any relevant files with him that he could consult.
Below I am quoting parts of your interview and interjecting my comments / questions in black.
And how much does it cost for one to secure a fishing license in Gambia?
I am sorry. I cannot give you this detail. I never expected to be interviewed in this rather impromptu hour. There is a tariff. I cannot tell you from the top of my head. I know that there are different categories of licenses depending on the size of your vessel etc, etc. But on the top of my head, I don’t have those details. He should have made himself aware of tariff structure, that is his job. He should have offered to email them to you on his return to the Ministry.
And is it true that the fee is exorbitant? It is not affordable. That the average Gambian fisherman might not be able to afford a fishing license in the Gambia? Is that true?
That’s not true. You know.. people must understand that the Gambia had the cheapest fishing license regime. We did a survey of The Gambia, Mauritania, Sierra Leone, Guinea Bissau, and Guinea to check how much people are paying. And we came back. We have only increased our tariffs by 35%. So, if anybody is telling you that we are charging exorbitant, that person is not giving you the right information. And I will encourage to ask for our tariff. You have somebody in Banjul. They can come to our Ministry, and get a tariff, and the regulation. That way, you will have right information. Standards of living and inflation in Mauritania, Sierra Leone, Guinea Bissau, and Guinea bear no relation to those in the Gambia. You have to compare like with like. A 35% increase is enormous for Gambians. Question: Are there two tiers of License Fees, one for Gambians and one for others in the Region? If not maybe there should be?
Request the Minister email you the full information on all current Tariffs and publish the documents in their entirety. If information is not clear, incorrect or confused then email the Minister and request clarification – and publish that two. Hold him to account, that is the job of an investigative journalist!
The information we received is that the Chinese company is responsible for the pollution. No private citizen has been blamed. They are calling out the Chinese company.
You see Pa, what is very interesting, I am telling you the facts. I am putting my integrity at stake. I challenge anybody to come. I will show you written information; written reports about what happened; I will show you our press release and what we said. Now, we cannot answer to any social media article because then we will not work. Did he show you the Press Release, the written reports? If so publish them. The people need to know what is going on.
call me, call my officials. There is no barrier. We have no hidden agenda. We are all working for our country. And we want the best for our country. And I think those, who are demonstrating want the best for the country.
Are you going to review the contracts that were signed between the former Jammeh government and the two companies: I mean the Chinese and Mauritanian companies? As the Minister in charge of Fisheries in the Gambia, are you going to look into the contracts that were signed?
No. I think you need to know what the process is about. It is not only my Ministry. These people went to physical planning, Local government etc, etc. And before they start operating, Environment will go there, and Environment would tell them before you start operating you have to do A, B, C Z. James Gomez is the Minsister of Fisheries. He only needs to know about that relatively small subject area. His portfolio is very manageable. It is his job to investigate the Contracts that were signed under Jammeh’s government and ensure they are fit for purpose in the New Gambia. He should investigate the whole issue fully and co-operate with his fellow Ministers in the other departments to ensure that our new government fully understands what was promised to the Chinese. If there is cause for concern then these should be addressed and rectified.
And what’s the factory in Kartong all about? What is the factory all about?
Well, this is a fishing factory too, which was built. In fact, I don’t have all the details. I understand that it was built by a Mauritanian, who I have not seen. You must remember that our government is only four months old.And as a government, we have to honor all the agreements that anybody had with the former government. The factory is there, but the factory is not operating because the factory first must have an environmental clearance from the Ministry of Environment to start operating. They haven’t got that yet. They are not operating. Pa, you are on the ground. You can plainly see whether the factory is operating or not. If it is, then it is your duty to say so. It is unbelievable that the Minister for Fisheries can say “ Idon’t have all the details”. How many other fish factories are there in the Gambia!!!! It is his job to know, to prioritise, to question all aspects pertaining to fishing in the Gambia. There are files, he should read them and get to grips with what is going on in the fishing industry. How can anyone, Minister or otherwise, make wise decisions or recommendations when they do not know what is going on because you “don’t have all the details”. That is unacceptable. Mr Gomez has been given the privilege of being appointed a Minister. That is a job title, he has work to do and he should get on and do it. Furthermore, it may be time now for the Minister to call the Mauritanian in for a meeting – after he has read all the files, spoken to his colleagues in other Departments and made himself fully aware of the situation. It is the job of government to govern.
Given what the country now knows about how Jammeh’s government operated, I am astounded that a Minister truly thinks “as a government, we have to honor all the agreements that anybody had with the former government”. It has been shown that under Jammeh all agreements were made for the personal benefit of the ex-President, his Ministers and cronies.
So Pa, I look forward to reading more from you about the whole issue of fishing in the Gambia. The subject is hugely important to the Gambia and Gambians. Food security lies at the heart of good government (or it should do!). Responsible husbandry and sustainability are paramount factors in food production. The government of the #New Gambia has a duty to the people who elected them. They have to govern for and on behalf of the people in an open, honest, transparent way. It is the job of good investigative journalists to hold them to account and ensure they do.
Written By Margaret Maybury