Environmental lawlessness in Ghana. Is the EPA compromised?
by K. Opong
Bribery and corruption have become the norm rather than the exception in Ghana and their impact on quality of life does not bode well for anybody in the country. The canker of corruption has permeated almost the entire spectrum of life in the West African nation to the extent that as we speak Ghana is rated the second most corrupt country in Africa.
In the Summer of 2015, a gas explosion in the center of the City of Accra claimed several lives. Shortly after the Kwame Nkrumah Circle explosion and floods, sporadic explosions caused by gas and petroleum occurred in several places in the city and other parts of the country. Fire officials and detectives did not have to look anywhere else to identify the sources of disasters but the mushrooming gasoline stations in the city and various parts of the country. And in most cases the gas stations are sited illegally in residential areas and places not earmarked for such development.
One would assume that these occurrences would awaken authorities not only to investigate, but also to enact measures and guidelines for the construction of fuel stations across the country. Rather the unfortunate incidents in the country precipitated and facilitated the construction of more fuel stations, and with impunity, especially in Accra. As recent as November 2015, residents of an Ashongman residential area in Accra mounted a protest to stop work on a fuel station being built in the neighborhood. The ongoing fuel station shares a common wall not only with homes, but a hospital under construction. Construction had mainly been going on in the night and away from the scrutinizing and preying eyes of affected residents. Similar episodes are experienced in Adenta, Accra, and elsewhere. A similar project is going on at Anyaa, a suburb of Accra. Within a radius of less than quarter of a mile, there are five fuel stations, three of them operational. The ongoing project is being built by or belongs to the Excel Oil Company Limited and is sandwiched between two residential homes and adjacent to a kenkey-making home.
Not even the warning and alarm raised by the kenkey owner and broadcast by Peace FM in Accra could yield any positive safety results. The EPA met with representatives of Excel Fuel Station September 4, 2015 and ordered them to stop work till the problem is resolved. The agency further placed a STOP WORK notice on the construction site September 16, 2015, but this warning was treated with impunity and work continued. When the Sowutuom Municipal Assembly which has jurisdiction over Anyaa was contacted, the MCE informed the affected neighbors that it has issued permission based on the assessment of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). However, the EPA denied. Another complaint was made to the EPA September 28, 2015 upon which a meeting was called by all directly involved early October 2015 but the Excel Oil Company did not honor the meeting. At the meeting, it was unearthed that the Excel Oil Company had forged documents, specifically, the signatures – thumbprints – of two of the immediate neighbors as having no problem with the fuel station construction. Another person, who wrote as a neighbor in support of the fuel station, was found to live further away from the construction site. In any country with effective laws, these false and fraudulent maneuvers would have permanently shut down the construction and the criminals prosecuted.
Perhaps, in Ghana, some forgeries do not constitute crimes. A person with interest in the Fuel Station had the courage to call the caretaker of a next door neighbor to tell him that “no one in Ghana can STOP the project.” And like the proverbial blind person who threatens to throw a stone at you (because he’s standing on one), the project is currently ongoing with tanks already buried underground. Another stakeholder texted the same caretaker with the teasing and tantalizing message “please yourself”. Perhaps Ghana has no laws on harassment and intimidation! As a result of the last meeting, the EPA on October 5, 2015 issued a stern warning ( ref: GAR/AW/CE661 of “ENFORCEMENT NOTICE: SECTION 13 OF THE ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY ACT, 1994 (ACT 499_ – COMPLAINT ON THE SITING OF EXCEL FUEL SERVICE STATION AT ANYAA IN THE GA CENTRAL MUNICIPALITY signed by its Director, Accra West Region, and copied to the Hon. Minister, Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation, The Executive Director, EPA, The Municipal Chief Executive, Ga Central Municipal Assembly, Sowutuom, The Municipal Director, Town and Country Planning Department, Ga Central Municipal Assembly, Sowutuom, The Commander in Charge, Anyaa Police Station Anyaa Market, The Director, Legal Department, EPA Head Office, Accra, The Director, Standards, Compliance and Enforcement Department, EPA Head Officer, Accra. Immediately after, a combined task force of the Anyaa Police and the EPA stormed the construction site and seized equipment. However, at the time of going to press, construction has resumed with alarming speed. Petition letters to the Ga Central Municipal Assembly, Sowutuom, NADMO, besides the EPA have yielded no results and the fuel station is near completion.
On November, 25, 2015 the Regional Director of the EPA made a U-turn and informed the caretaker that, further scoping has shown that there is a safe distance between the affected neighbors and the Fuel Station. The shift of the posts to aid the project leaves much to be desire, in terms of the EPA’s own permit procedures. The questions that the EPA needs to answer include, but not limited to:What constitutes a safe distance between a fuel station and a private property? Why weren’t initial scoping and survey done to ascertain “safe” proximity? Are there penalties in the laws of Ghana for signature/thumbprint forgery and fraud? Was the EPA pressured or impressed upon to bend the laws for the powerful or highly connected? In a country where bribery and corruption – with its component of lawlessness -has become a societal staple, it is the ordinary person that pays the ultimate price.
Meanwhile a Chrysler sedan with a GJ (or GT) prefixing a five digit registration number has been sighted several times at the construction site. Would that be the major stakeholder of the Fuel station who crowed that no one in Ghana could stop him?