Sierra Leone Telegraph: 10 January 2016
Newspaper reports published in Lebanon yesterday, 9th January 2016, about an alleged agreement between the governments of Sierra Leone and Lebanon, for the importation and dumping of Lebanese domestic and industrial waste into Sierra Leone, have caused a huge scare among Sierra Leoneans at home and abroad.
According to reports, the agreement has been approved by State House in Freetown and awaiting endorsement by parliament.
The cities of Lebanon are being crippled by mounting domestic waste that is clogging the streets. Waste disposal sites in the cities are no longer able to cope with the processing of the country’s massive tons of rubbish that are being dumped on pavements and side roads.
Has Sierra Leone become the dumping ground for Lebanese trash in return for dirty cash?
According to Lebanese reports, an official of the Koroma government has signed an agreement on behalf of State house for the Lebanese rubbish to be shipped to Freetown, where it will be processed and disposed of. (Photo: Rubbish dumped on Lebanese streets).
It is not clear how much the government of Sierra Leone will receive in return for dumping Lebanese rubbish in a city that is already being described as an environmental disaster, and one of the filthiest in the world.
Sierra Leone, the capital in particular, cannot cope with the management and disposal of its own domestic waste, causing serious public health hazards.
Thousands of Sierra Leoneans die every year of diseases such as cholera and typhoid, commonly linked to poor sanitation in the country. There is a large number of undocumented deaths from cancer causing fumes and smoke, generated by waste dumping sites in Freetown.
Waste disposal sites in the capital, such as Bomeh at Kingtom and Bai Bureh Road in the eastern area of Kissy, have for many years reached their full capacity. Tons of dangerous rubbish deposited everyday at these sites, are being illegally burned in violation of environmental laws. (Photo below: Rubbish dumped on streets of Lebanon heading for Freetown?)
But burning is the only option available to the cash strapped Freetown City Council, in trying to cope with the disposal of the huge amount of rubbish collected every day, that could fill the size of two football pitches.
Critics say that the government of Sierra Leone has failed to develop and implement an effective waste management programme. (Photo: Freetown’s mountain of rubbish).
Its contract with a private company to collect and dispose domestic waste has for several years been the subject of serious debate, as major streets across the city are littered with piles of uncollected rubbish.
Many streets have been reduced from two lanes to one lane. Drivers are being forced to make dangerous manoeuvres to avoid accidents.
This Lebanese waste dumping saga is just one in a series of similar allegations of rogue officials attempting to illegally import dangerous waste and substances into Sierra Leone, or exported out of the country.
Last year, a large consignment of human tissues and bloods were intercepted by police at the country’s international airport at Lungi, ready to be air freighted out of the country.
The government said at the time that it will conduct a full enquiry and those responsible brought to justice.
But nothing has been heard about the outcome of that investigation, though the government confirmed in a statement that, it had an agreement with a laboratory in South Africa to send Ebola blood samples and tissues to South Africa. This did not end suspicions of conspiracy and cover up.
Last night, the Sierra Leone Telegraph contacted the newly appointed Attorney General of Sierra Leone, Joseph Kamara (Photo), who is the former head of the country’s Anti-Corruption Commission, for comment on the alleged Beirut – Freetown waste dumping agreement. This is the government’s official response:
“The attention of government has been drawn to an article published on 9th January, 2016, in the As – Safir newspaper of Lebanon, in which it is claimed that the Lebanese foreign ministry has received a letter from the authorities in Sierra Leone, indicating the country’s willingness to accept waste from Lebanon on the condition that it is free of toxins.
“The said letter is allegedly signed by an adviser to his Excellency the president. The newspaper further stated that approval remains at a preliminary stage until the president and government of Sierra Leone confirm the deal.
“Since this matter is currently the subject of an active debate, it is incumbent on government to clear the air by issuing this disclaimer.
“Government wants to make it abundantly clear that it has not agreed to accept waste from Lebanon and has not authorised any official of state to convey approval to that effect.
“Government is fully aware of the danger posed by hazardous and non – hazardous waste and gives the full assurance that it will never expose the public to such long – term risks to health and the environment. (Photo: Coping with domestic waste in Freetown).
“His Excellency the president has instructed the office of national security and the Sierra Leone police to conduct criminal investigations into the circumstances surrounding this matter, and the public will be apprised of the outcome.
“Meanwhile, the minister of foreign affairs and international cooperation has also been instructed by his excellency, to ascertain through diplomatic channels in Lebanon the origin of this proposed transaction.” (End).
The Lebanese Daily Star this morning reported that; “Sierra Leone denied Sunday that, it has agreed to accept Lebanon’s waste as part of a controversial waste plan approved by Cabinet last month, the African nation’s consulate said.”
Will the government of Sierra Leone make good on its promise to conduct a thorough investigation into this affair; publish its findings and bring those responsible to justice? (photo: Worrying evidence of large areas of waste dumping sites in Freetown that have been sinking for many years).
Attorney General and Minister of Justice Joseph Kamara must ensure that these allegations are quickly and thoroughly investigated in a transparent and open manner, so that suspicions of conspiracy and cover-up can be quelled.
Any pretense at carrying out an enquiry, or an investigation that takes two years to complete, can only add to the government’s already poor record of keeping to its promises, and will further dent the image and credibility of State House.
With Sierra Leone regarded as one of the most corrupt nations in the World, it would do the government a lot of good, if it can honestly and robustly get to the bottom of this story, and bring those officials responsible to justice. There must be no cover up.