By Mustapha Jallow
Gambian lawmaker, Bakary Camara, on Monday 9th February 2021, urged forestry officials to revise the Forestry Act and increase the fine imposed on individuals, who violate the law to minimum of fifty thousand dalasis (D50, 000) or a maximum of hundred thousand dalasis (D100, 000).
The National Assembly Member made the statement in the wake of the recent bush fire that claimed the life of an individual in Kiang Wurokono.
Camara, who is the National Assembly Member (NAM) for Kiang Central, said the fines levelled against individuals who violate the Forestry Act are small.
“The fine to me is very, very minimal. It is high time for us to amend and review the Forestry Act,” he said in an interview with this reporter at his residence in Wellingara.
In fact, the Kiang NAM revealed his plans to table a private members bill to make sure that anyone caught setting fire on the forest to face a minimum fine of D50, 000 or maximum D100, 000.
He added that once they implement this proposed law, there will be difference in the way people behave and the forests will be safe.
“When you look at the Forestry Act, it has empowered district chiefs to fine violators of the law, but the fines are very small. For example, somebody sets fire on the forest cover and at the end of the day; the person is fined to pay D3000, D2000 or lowest D1000. Usually, the violator will then pay on the spot,” he said.
According to him, any bush fire that occurred in the regions, there is somebody responsible for the fire, saying this normally happens between village A and village B. He stated his plans to engage village heads so that if fire breaks out between two villages, the alkalolu will be summoned, likewise the district chiefs to come and explain how it happened.
Camara said once these steps are taken, bush fires will be curbed. He also used the opportunity to advise his people to desist from setting the forests on fire because the damage cannot be quantified.
“I’m also appealing to forestry department to continue sensitising people. Also go back and revise the Forestry Act to make sure that we have very adequate laws in place and not only having laws in place, but implement and enforce them,” he said.
Camara emphasized on the importance of sensitisation, saying community members need it to understand the impact of bush fires.
“I’m also planning to go back and talk to my people and sensitise them because they really need adequate information about the impact of the bushfires and I think this will make a difference,” he said.
Commenting on the need to empower fire fighters, Kiang NAM said it is important for the region to have a fire station. He explained that when the Kiang electricity project was finalised two years ago, he asked the then interior minister in parliament whether there are plans to have a fire and rescue station in Kiang, now that the region is electrified.
Camara said the minister’s response was that they have secured a land in one of the villages in Kiang Central called Kwinella where they intended to establish a fire station.
“Since then, I have not seen any sign of work starting regarding a fire station in Kiang. So, what am suggesting or appealing to them is for the interior minister to see how best they can work on this as soon as possible because Jarra Soma to Kiang is far,” he said.
Camara explained that bush fire is not the only issues confronting their forests. He observed that during his tour last year, he noticed people were also engaged in cutting live trees. He said he had visited the environment minister and they hold talks on the matter.
When asked whether he had engaged the minister about the recent disaster that happened in his constituency, Camara responded in the negative.
“Well, I just returned few days ago from Kiang, probably tomorrow- 9th February, 2021- I will visit the minister again on the matter,” he promised.