By Kebba Ansu Manneh
Faoumata Cisay, Strategic Content, Press and Media Coordinator US Embassy in Banjul has spoken for the first time on the controversy surrounding the acquisition of a 10acres of land allocated to the US Government to build a new state-of-the-art US Embassy complex, disclosing that the Embassy is currently following the due diligence procedures and will timely inform the public on how much US Government has paid for the land.
The Voice Newspaper contacted the American Embassy through its communication officer Fatoumata Cisay who disclosed that the United States and the Government of The Gambia signed an Agreement on October 6, 2022, as the first step toward the acquisition of property for a new U.S. Embassy.
In an interview through questions send to her, she noted that this Agreement allows the United States to conduct “due diligence” on the site, ensuring it meets all physical, legal, political, administrative, environmental, and technical requirements for the new embassy project.
“With the Agreement now signed, the detailed technical assessment work can begin to determine whether the site is suitable to meet our goal. Over the next 16 months, experts from The Gambia and the United States will thoroughly investigate and assess many factors, including the environmental impact. Many Gambian and American experts from numerous technical fields will be involved in the 16-month due diligence assessment phase,” Fatoumata Cisay disclosed.
She added: “The United States will work with the Gambian people to develop the location in a manner that respects the local environment, and, whenever possible, improves it. Our preference is to move forward and develop an environmentally sustainable project that protects and enhances wildlife habitats and becomes an example of global best practices. The land on which WALIC is currently located will be purchased by the United States at a fair price to be determined through negotiations with the Government of The Gambia.”
The US Embassy Communication official continued to disclose that the land on which WALIC is currently located will be purchased by the United States at a fair price to be determined through negotiations with the Government of The Gambia, adding that this will be known to the public who will consistently update with their promise of transparency with periodic updates.
However, Prominent Gambian Environmentalists and Conservationists have since denounced and condemned the move orchestrated by the Gambian Government to allocate 10 acres of land given to the US Government to build the new state of the US Embassy complex at Bijilo.
Among the Environmentalists and conservationists who raised the red flag includes Muhammed Hydara of the Gambia Environment Alliance (GEA), Dr. Ahmed Manjang, Famara Drammeh, and US-based Gambian Environmentalist Demba Baldeh, who all argued that the allocation of the WALIC and part of the Bijilo Forest Park for the building of the new US Embassy will pose threats to the lives and livelihoods of the flora and fauna that inhabit the only natural forest cover in the Greater Banjul Area.
Former Minister of Agriculture Solomon Owens has also recently added his voice to the debate, disclosing that the West African Livestock Innovation Center was created by an act of parliament and cannot be allocated to the US Government without going back to the parliament for any possible amendment without which he said the land use cannot be changed by the government.
The former Agriculture Minister who was speaking in an interview with the West Coast Radio- Coffee Time program with Peter Gomez recalled that ITC/WALIC was initiated by former President Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara and Professor Marking Tyre, a renowned Veterinarian through an Act of parliament in 1982, adding that with the professor Marking Tayell and difficulties in obtaining funds stakeholders decided to engage among themselves to draft Act through a Cabinet in transforming the ITC to ITC/WALIC in 2016.
“WALIC is an Act of the National Assembly and I think the Government should be aware that it cannot change its land use just like that. WALIC is an International Organisation, and they have diplomatic status and immunity, if the government wants to change its land use it must go back to its stakeholders that includes Senegal, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, and Sierra Leone and I don’t think they did that,” Former Agriculture Minister Solomon Owens told Coffee Time.
He added: AU-EBA and ECOWAP are also part of the governing council of WALIC and should all be informed of any change of land use and I don’t think they did that. Did they change the diplomatic status of WALIC, did they go back to the Cabinet with a cabinet paper to say we are changing the land use of WALIC? I don’t think so because that will mean we are terminating WALIC and I think the American Government should be aware of all these.”