‘The difference between a politician and a statesman is that a politician thinks about the next election while the statesman thinks about the next generation.” James Freeman Clark.
Mr. President, I write you this letter, not knowing whether you will see or even read it. As a citizen and being my President, I feel obliged to petition you on one or two environmental issues which concern me, aware of not only your constitutional powers but also your influence and obligations towards us all. You are the Executive, the main implementer of our laws, policies and programmes, and also the numero uno defender of the human rights of the citizen. Of all of them, you alone carry with you the collective voice and mandate of all of the people. Of all of them, you alone have only one constituency, the whole of The Gambia. Thus, to you we have to raise our concerns, hoping and expecting that you would hear and act.
Mr. President, the first issue on my petition relates to Golden Lead, that Chinese company which is devastating the environment in Gunjur, its beaches and marine life of the ocean. I know Golden Lead provides employment to our youth and contributes to the GDP of the country. That is great. But business is not supposed to be a zero sum game, just the maximisation of profit as long as the rules of the games of free and open competition are observed. There should be more to business than just money or provision of employment. Business must have responsibility to the community in which it is, through the fulfilment of its Corporate Social Responsibility, a certain ‘integration of social and environmental concerns in business operations’. So Golden Lead has an obligation to protect the environment, the fauna and flora, and this should be non-negotiable. No business has a right to destroy the environment and a business which is involved in the processing of fish has no right to destroy marine lives.
Mr. President, last week the NEA issued Golden Lead a letter captioned ‘Renewal of Environmental Approval for Fish Meal Processing Plant…..’, outlining what it must and mustn’t do. Unfortunately, for the most part Golden Lead is expected to deliver on the stipulated conditions of its own ‘benevolence’. If Golden Lead has to ‘ensure’ that treated waste water in the final chamber is ‘chlorinated before discharge’ and that the discharge pipe shall extend 350 meters into the ocean, who then is actually in charge of monitoring this licence, its compliance by Golden Lead? We learned that few months ago NEA sued Golden Lead for non-compliance but when the damage has already been to the environment. While that court was on, we learned that the Ministry of Trade asked Golden Lead to continue its operation? Who is in charge, in reality?
Mr. President, I think the NEA should commission a study to know the impact of Golden Lead’s activities on the environment, especially on marine life. Golden Lead and any other business must see itself as a ‘social enterprise’ and its existence can only be justified in how it serves public or social purposes. If Golden Lead cannot contribute to or maximise the happiness of the people of Gunjur, but rather damages that happiness in the long run, then it needs to be warned to change its ways or cease operation. The present children of Gunjur have a right to live in a healthy environment and generations to come must be welcomed in such an environment.
Mr. President, the other health concern I have and would request you to urgently address is the dumpsite at Bakoteh which is not only an eyesore but also a very serious, dangerous health hazard. By way of a reminder, this dumpsite is directly opposite the SOS Children’s Village, that home of the most vulnerable of the most vulnerable of our society. But a great home away from home for these children. Imagine the lives of the children who have grown up in such a polluted, health threatening environment. Imagine the lives that children who live around and near the dumpsite are forced to endure, the thick smoke that darkens the skies, the stinky stench that pervades the air, the nauseating putrefaction that chokes the breathe. Your predecessors did not do much to either relocate the dumpsite or prevent people from dumping their garbage and all at this site. You now have the golden opportunity to take decisive, lasting actions on it, to protect the children’s right to the best attainable standard of health.
Mr. President, it is said that we do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children. We are thus under contract and obligation to take care of it with due diligence; to look after it as we would do our own lives; to leave it in better shape and content than we had it first. Are we keeping the environment safe, that posterity will be happy with us when we return what we are keeping in trust for them? Are we concerned about how we would be judged by posterity, what legacy we leave behind? These are some of the questions which should be exercising our minds as we work harder to create a child-friendly Gambia.
Mr. President, I petition you on these two issues affecting children or have the potential to affect posterity because there is the moral imperative for you to address them and because you have the legal obligation, the powers and the responsibility to resolve them. I petition you because I know that you want posterity to judge your Government kindly long after you have gone, that when business was concerned with only profit and bureaucracy crippled by apathy you rose up to defend the rights of the children and preserve the claims of posterity.
I pray to you Mr. President.