6 March 2013

Gambia: RAPEL Forum Ends

The Alliance of Environmentalist Parliamentarians and Locally Elected Representatives of West African Coastal Countries (RAPEL) Tuesday wrapped-up a two-day forum on the environmental governance of the coastal and marine area of West Africa.

The forum was held at the Sun Swing Hotel (formerly Jerma) in Kololi.

Speaking at the opening ceremony on Monday, the minister of the Environment, Parks and Wildlife, Fatou Ndey Gaye, commended the parliamentarians for their efforts in protecting the environment. She urged them to engage the staff of the Department of Forestry and other agencies who are involved in climate change issues in the country.

"Gambians are now very much involved in climate change issues and as National Assembly Select Committee on Environment, you need to be active politically, if you are to achieve RAPEL objectives," she said.

For his part, Hon. Netty Baldeh, National Assembly member for Tumana Constituency, who is also the president and chairman of RAPEL Gambia Chapter, explained that the alliance was established to bring the National Networks of Parliamentarians and Locally Elected Representatives for the protection of the environment, in the coastal countries of West Africa.

He added that the network is open to technical partners grouped together within the Regional Marine and Coastal Conservation Programme (PRCM): IUCN, WWF, Wetlands International, FIBA and SRFC.

He further explained that the aim of the network is to build the capacities of parliamentarians and locally elected representatives to more effectively discuss issues of the environment in parliaments.

Hon. Baldeh also told the gathering that the principal objective of the Network is to help to enhance environmental governance of the coastal and marine areas of West Africa.

He added: "For this purpose, it would enhance the knowledge and build the capacities of its members in the field of environment and natural resource management, through the dissemination of appropriate information and training; and participate in the construction and sharing of a long-term vision for the coastal and marine areas of West Africa."

He noted that the degradation of the environment in West African countries is more pronounced in coastal areas due to the strong pressure on the environment from natural causes and human activity.

Hon. Baldeh also remarked that the continuous warming of the earth over the past few decades and the resulting rise in sea levels are responsible for recurring phenomena of flooding and coastal erosion.

He continued: "Generally speaking, the countries concerned acknowledged the seriousness of the problem and have carried out numerous environmental protection operations at state level and as part of sub-regional cooperation (ECOWAS, UEOMA, SRFC etc.). The results, however, remain very limited, and the West African coastal and marine area continues to suffer degradation.

"Parliamentarians from several countries have expressed the desire to strengthen the role of the Assemblies, to increase transparency and efficiency in accomplishing their missions. They are, in fact, the depositaries of the popular will and ensure the prerogatives of budgetary resource allocation, the voting of laws, control of the action of the executive and ratification of the International Conservations. Hence the necessity of strengthening the role of national representations in drawing up environmental policies and controlling their implementation."

According to Hon. Baldeh, other actors in the field have also been given the mandate to play this role with the framework of the decentralisation processes underway throughout the region. In most of the countries concerned, he said, the environment is part of the jurisdictions transferred to the local authorities whilst the locally elected representatives take part in the management of the natural resources on their territory, in preserving the setting quality of life of the people they represent, by budgetary allocations and recourse to decentralised cooperation.

He reiterated that that due to the interconnections between countries, migration, the continuity of ecosystems and globalisation challenges, the partners in the PRCM decided to federate national efforts by supporting the creation of a Network of Environmentalist Parliamentarians and Locally Elected Representatives in West Africa.

Hon. Baldeh added that this initiative in fact constituted the natural prolongation of the setting-up of National Environment Networks in certain Parliaments (Senegal and Guinea Bissau in particular).

Other speakers included Racine Kane, chief of mission UICN/Senegal; Ahmed Senhoury, director of PRCM; and Mamadou Lamine Thiam, president of APPEL.

Hon. Netty Baldeh elected as chairman of the Regional Network

Meanwhile, members of RAPEL on Tuesday unanimously elected Hon. Netty Baldeh as chairman of the Regional Network. He replaces Mamadou Lamine Thiam, chairman of the Regional Network of Senegal.

Other executive members of the Network who were elected at the forum are; Mamadou Lamine Thiam, Senegal; Cheikh Khalifa, Mauritania; Eunice Silva, Cape Verde; Cipriano Cassama, Guinea Bissau; Soundouno, Guinea Conakry; Albert Tarawallie, Sierra Leone; Hon. Sirra Ndiaye, Senegal; Senateur Haimoude Ahmed Verkane, Mauritania; Hon. Ousman Bah, The Gambia; Ibrahima Barry, Guinea Conakry; Lamine Drame, Senegal; Alfonso DA Fonseca, Cape Verde; and Daniel Souleyman Mballo, Guinea Bissau.

The election was held at the conference hall of Sun Swing Hotel.

In an interview with the Daily Observer, Hon. Baldeh said that it was a brilliant move, adding that they have been very active in the Network for a long time through the support of His Excellency Sheikh Professor Dr. Alhaji Yahya AJJ Jammeh who is an environmentalist, as evident in his sustainable agricultural work.

He explained that the term limit for his position at the Bureau is two years, which can be renewed at each Ordinary General Meeting. He stated that in the event that a member of the Bureau (other than the chairman) resigns or loses his/her job during their term in office, the remaining members of the Bureau will provide a replacement until the next renewal of the Bureau and if it is the chairman, the vice chairman acts as interim chairman.

Hon. Baldeh also revealed that the Network meets twice a year and provides the needed support to the countries for the running of the national networks and capacity building.

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