A major fire incident gutted Gambia’s Fisheries Ministry on Monday; destroying office appliances, computers and files. As Pa Nderry MBai reports, investigations are underway to establish the cause of the fire.
James Gomez is Gambia’s Fisheries Minister. He was in his office when the fire engulfed the old colonial building.
“It is an accident because I was sitting in the office when I saw flames and cried out and people came; we all ran out of the building because it was an controllable fire; that’s what happened,” Fisheries Minister Gomez remarked in an interview with this medium.
The blaze which started at 11:00 AM Gambian time, had destroyed computers, government files and valuables. The cause of the fire is unknown.
“They are still investigating. We have been there today with the arms of government that are investigating. Initially they are looking at possible shock socket; power socket but we are not too sure,” Gomez added.
Gomez said the burnt government files were never digitally backed up. He added that the Accountant General has assured them that there were copies at the said Department of some of the financial records of the Fisheries Ministry. He also said the Justice Ministry had records of companies licensed to fish in The Gambia.
” Our files were never backed up. They were burnt to ashes during the fire incident,” he said.
Gomez said he was yet to be interviewed by the police. He had spoken to certain government investigative agencies with the exception of the police.
“I have spoken to the fire service, the National Disaster Agency (NDAM) and one security agency. I was never interviewed by the police,” he remarked.
Personnel of Gambia’s Fire and Ambulance services were dispatched on site to help put off the fire. Efforts to stop the fire was virtually impossible, as the building was completely ravaged.
Fisheries Minister Gomez has dismissed reports that the building was allegedly burn down by workers. He says those pointing accusing fingers against his Ministry are falsely making up allegations just for the sake of making it.
“But why should we burn down our building for any reason? We have working in that ministry, very honest and dedicated Gambians. And this is not an era that you can burn a building and hide anything. If there was anything to hide; our ministry is the most transparent ministry in the country,” Gomez remarked.
Gomez says his Ministry is among one of the most productive ministries in the country. He said some of the illegal fishing trawlers were recently apprehended and fined by the state. The ship owners were fined ten million Gambian dalasis for illegal fishing.
“I don’t stand for corruption. I am clean and I would head an institution that is corrupted. That is why I made it transparent that if anybody applies within five days, you know whether you get a license or not,” he said.
Gomez says illegal fishing is a global problem. He said The Gambian government had reached an agreement with an international organization to help track down trawlers engage in illegal fishing in Gambian waters. Ten trawlers were recently busted by the said organization, he said. The government had imposed a fine of over ten million dalasis against the ten trawlers, he added.
Gomez has denied claims suggesting that the government had licensed Chinese fishing trawlers to fish in Gambian waters to feed pigs in China. He said there is no iota of truth in such allegations. He also rebuffed claims on social media that there is a Chinese fishing company in Mandenari that is allegedly engaged in environmental pollution.
Retire Army captain Ebou Jallow is the former commander of Gambia’s Navy.
“That ministry going in flames, really it is going to put that surveillance program in jeopardy because we don’t know what records that are destroyed; we have no idea about what was going on that triggered the fire in the ministry,” Jallow said.
Jallow says maritime corruption is common in The Gambia.
“I can remember back in the 90s I was the head of the Gambia Navy and I know there was a lot of corruption at all levels; from the licensing stage to the surveillance program and eventually subsequently in the prosecution of illegal fishing activities; so, a lot of money is involved,” he added.
Jallow has called on the government to investigate the incident and bring the perpetrators to book.