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Opinions of Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Columnist: Frankly Speaking

Do I need legislation to stay clean?

In 1989 while I lived in Denmark, I was on a public bus one day when some pupils aged between 10 and 11 years joined it from one bus stop. Two of them, boys, were eating some sweets and biscuits which they unwrapped after they had boarded the bus. When they finished eating the sweets and biscuits one of the boys put his wrappers in his school bag, while the other one without a bag put his wrappers into his pockets. I got down where they two boys also got down. I engaged them in a conversation through which I asked them where they were taking the wrappers of the sweets and biscuits. To my surprise, they both, almost simultaneously told me they would put them in any bin they found on the way otherwise they would carry them home and bin them. My mind quickly jumped to Ghana where both children and adults throw rubbish anywhere without any regards to the effects of their actions. Even in the cities like Accra, Kumasi, and others, I have seen supposed gentlemen driving posh cars but throwing sweet and biscuit wrappers and other rubbish from their cars unto the street without any shame. Throughout my one-year stay in Denmark, it became clear to me that the mentality of the Danish people about healthy living and environmental pollution was an inbuilt system of the society, hence children are taught from that early age to keep their environment clean. As I was growing in my Holy City of Breman Asikuma, there were these men in brown khaki trousers and white shirts who usually came to our house and other houses in my area. When they arrived, they would watch where we kept our rubbish, inspect our bathroom, and looked deeply into our water containers. If these men, whom I later got to know them as ‘tankas’(that is, Town Council Sanitary Inspectors) found any dirty environment or mosquito larva in water containers, the household was summoned and the next few days those in the house would appear in court, where they were usually fined. From time to time both men and women living in Breman Asikuma would organise themselves, weed around the outskirts of their respective streets, clean the public toilets, and desilt any chocked gutters. There were no fun fares which accompanied these events because we the inhabitants saw the exercise as our way of keeping our surroundings clean and live healthily. Even when the district council did not have ‘tankas’ any more, people kept undertaking these communal labour at their own discretion and at times most convenient for many of the people. Somewhere early last year, there were pictures of Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, Asantehene, with shovel desilting gutters in Kumasi. Though I applauded Otumfuo for living his royalty and doing what ordinary people do. But I was at the same time worried. I wondered how many times Otumfuo would join the people to clean the streets and whether that was right. So it was no more news to me when I gain saw pictures of Otumfuo desilting Kumasi gutters together with government ministers and officials last Saturday under the banner of National Sanitation Day instituted by the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development. Promoting national sanitation is no doubt, a good idea, but do we need legislation before we clean our communities? Why have we come to this stage as a nation, where our environment continuously become dirty and no one cares until everybody is compulsorily led by ministers of states to do a clean-up exercise? And who says Saturdays are the best days for all Ghanaians to engage in such exercise? At least, from Tema, we hear a very sound argument raised by traders who say Saturdays are their best working day and would prefer to undertake their cleaning on Fridays. Interestingly, the Municipal Chief Executive does not have an independent assessment of his own area and therefore has told the traders that because it is a national day the whole of Ghana must stand still with everybody engaged in the cleaning exercise. Will the Mfantseman Assembly in the Central Region close the Mankesim Market on every first Saturday of the month to stop people who travel from many parts of the country to trade at that market because it is a national exercise? Can the assembly forgo the revenue it generates from the market on Saturdays? And could anyone tell me what the effect of such an exercise be on many of the traders and their families? As a nation, we don’t need knee-jerk policies from ministers of state who want to have one kind of fun fare or another associated with anything that they do. Getting front-page pictures in national newspapers, and prominent television footages of ministers and their deputies travelling to cities to desilt gutters will not solve our sanitation problem. Despite the Accra Mayor, Oko Vanderpuye, using the day to turn himself into a traffic warden, policeman, prosecutor, and a judge arresting drivers and giving them instant punishment for not parking their vehicles to join national cleaning exercise, Accra is still dirty with chocked gutters. The real problem is that our district, municipal, and metropolitan assemblies are not living up to their responsibilities. Community sanitation is a decentralised function of the assemblies, and it is up to each assembly to have by-laws on it and not the Minister of Local Government. Why have the assemblies failed to ensure that communities in their localities are cleaned? In some instances, even in Oko’s Accra, being the national capital, one sees gutters desilted and the rubbish and sand taken from such gutters left on roadsides until they find themselves back into the same gutters. The assemblies are blaming central government for not releasing the requisite funds to them, and this must be a concern for the Minister of Local Government, to enable the assemblies to undertake their responsibilities of cleaning their communities. The minister must find ways of releasing to the assemblies the needed funds, otherwise no matter what kind of legislation he introduces, our towns and cities would continue to be engulfed with filth. Let’s stop romanticising and creating fun fares in the name of national sanitation day when the real need is an effective and sustained civic education programme which will inculcate in communities and people the needed communal spirit and patriotism which some of us grew up to meet in our communities. I definitely don’t need any legislation to keep my environment clean because I already do it at my own expense, and I am sure many Ghanaians wouldn’t need legislation to do that. Let’s be real and stop these fun fares, photo-shoot activities, and knee-jerk policies.