On January 9, 2016, a newspaper in Beirut, Lebanon, The Daily Star, reported, “Sierra Leone agrees to take in Lebanon trash.” The report goes on to say that this comes after a nearly six months trash crisis in Lebanon. The country had apparently entered into contract with a company in the Netherlands, Howa BV to search for a dumping ground for its non recyclable waste. In other words, it useless trash.
It took this newspaper report in Lebanon for people of Sierra Leone to know that their government was about to enter into a secret agreement to bring roughly 200,000 tons of trash into the country from Lebanon. Otherwise, people in Sierra Leone would have never found out. If ever, they may have found out after the deal was done, every participant was enriched from the proceeds. Perhaps the poverty ridden masses would have found out after some mysterious illness overtook them.
In a letter from a Sierra Leone government official, dated January 7, 2016, Alhaji I.B. Kargbo, the Special Adviser to the President of Sierra Leone, advises the Netherlands Chamber of Commerce, with whom the agreement is to be signed,
If the Ministry of Trade and Industry, Foreign Affairs and the Office of the Chief of Staff agree on the legality of the transaction, then there will be no difficulty to sign an agreement between the government of Sierra Leone and your Chamber…It should be noted that the President, Dr. Ernest Koroma, has the final say on this matter.
Civil Society has no say
According to Alhaji Kargbo’s advise above, civil society, as stakeholders who pay the ultimate price should this turn out to be disastrous for health and lives, they are clearly being overlooked and dismissed as irrelevant in the matter.
Alhaji I.B. Kargbo, at the date of signing his letter of acceptance for the Lebanese trash, was holding the title of “Special Adviser to the President” as well as a newly “Elected Member of Parliament.” This shows that in Sierra Leone, it does not take a high level government official to enter into contracts that may potentially harm the people. Also as an Elected Member of Parliament, he is supposed to represent and serve the people, as such, overlooking the people’s relevance in his dealings of this sort is injurious and a disservice to them.
As a preemptive defense, Alhaji Kargbo states in his letter, that the trash “…should not be of any toxic nature…be part of development of fertilization for agricultural purpose.”
He also stated in a BBC radio interview that the purpose of the trash was for his Dutch business contact to set up a fertilizer plant in Sierra Leone.
If this were true, it makes one wonder:
- What should come first: the fertilizer plant or the trash?
- Why isn’t there any record of exchanges regarding a fertilizer plant but there is an exchange for trash transfer?
- Is it in the terms of reference of the “special adviser” to the President to broker such deals?
Apparently, this is how all “investment” contracts are entered into in Sierra Leone. It does not have to be in the job description of the contracting official. The evidence of this danger is in numerous parts of the country, where mining and non-food agricultural land grabs are taking place. People in those regions are enduring a plethora of injustices from effects of contracts that they were never part of making.
This is a country that has never figured out what to do with its own trash
But our government officials want us to believe that we have room to accept thousands of tons of trash from other countries, in the name of “developing agricultural fertilizer;” when in fact the Lebanese news paper report indicates that specialists have declared the Lebanese waste “infectious and compacted.”
The worst danger is the fact that this deal, and others like it, are motivated by financial incentives. The Lebanese are ready to pay millions of dollars to get rid of their trash, and a few individuals in Sierra Leone stand to gain a great deal. Alhaji I.B. Kargbo may become a scapegoat and released from his post to shut us up and defuse any tension at this particular moment.
However, this deal might go through at a later date, after a more discrete transaction can be brokered. There are many more officials in Sierra Leone government who are, at any point in time, striking deals just like this. We often find out when out of no where, our people start dying like flies from a mysterious foreign disease they cannot pronounce.
There must be an uproar of civil society. Why do we only rise up when the issue is “politics?”
The people of Sierra Leone must demand transparency and detail information about all such contract deals for which the people are the ultimate victims.