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Opinions of Saturday, 15 September 2018

Columnist: Nii Otu Quaye

Mother Ghana suffocates in filth and unsanitary conditions

In our upbringing, we were taught two fundamental tenets: make looking up to our Maker and cleanliness our first order of business. In our early schooling, the looking-up-to-God prong was resonated in the Ga hymn, “ Kl??, Kl?? l? mikw?? Ny??m? n?, nos?? l? mab?i nitsum?..., “ literally meaning, “we first look up to God, and then start working.” In practical terms, the latter was unfailingly expressed through daily assembly of all and sundry to worship before classes and other activities. Correspondingly, the cleanliness regimen behoved us to maintain our dormitories, campuses, and environments cleanly and orderly everyday. The idea was to indelibly etch the traits in us through adulthood and beyond.

Looking at us through those lenses, I truly cannot tell how well we have done in the “Kl??, Kl?? l? mikw?? Ny??m? n?” segment,

but, I am confident to say, albeit regrettably shamefully, that we flunk the cleanliness prong beyond measure. Day in and day out, we see heaped rubbish in our neighbourhoods, gutters, and beaches, at times, sprinkled with defecation, with some perpetrators “doing it” live. One such observation, the incitant of this article, was a recent report by Joy on Line, tersely featuring

(1) an unbelievable heart-wrecking heaped rubbish in the Accra James Town neighbourhood where President Nana Akuffo Addo had, two years prior, delivered his historic promise to “make Accra the cleanest city in Africa;” and

(2) live defecation at a beach in Teshie.

Inextricably linked to the cleanliness menace is drainage. Major components of the heaped rubbish include electronic waste (highly toxic) and plastic (non-biodegradable) water bottles. Until the late 80s, the use of plastic-bottled water was virtually unknown in Ghana. Anybody could drink directly from any public tap-borne water faucet with absolutely no health issues. Now, we cannot drink tap-borne water, even in our homes, because it is not healthy. The norm thus has become drinking bottled water, after which we indiscriminately discard the non-biodegradables bottles anywhere.

Exacerbating the situation, our drainage system, virtually non-existent. .Where it exists, it is woefully inefficient, often replete with stinking rubbish of every kind, including the littered plastic bottles, clogging it. Additionally, rampant irresponsible felling of trees and erection of unlawful structures impede water flow, causing massive flood, destroying property, human lives, and livestock when it rains.

I am not sure what we, as Ghanaians, feel: but I will tell you how I feel; irate is an understatement, especially when I see the rubbish, the defecation, and the flooding. Specifically, they symbolize an unspeakable abdication of our stewardship over this speechless kind Mother Country, a constant reminder of the Lord’s anguish about the gambling in the Temple. Simply put, my wits are shattered as to why and how we allow this menace could continue to plague the only Country we that truly can call our Home.

In an October 17, 2009 article, titled, “Our Sanitation, Drainage, and Sewerage System,” I spelt out the magnitude of the problems and some possible solutions. Thankfully, many equally concerned Ghanaians provided priceless comments, optimistically expecting that, with the revenue drawn from our blessed oil production, our leaders would seriously tighten our belts, make eradication of the menace an utmost priority, and decisively tackle it squarely.

Having seen nothing done about the situation for nearly a decade now, I feel compelled by series of pertinent clips circulated on the web, the impeccable cleanliness we see and enjoy in other countries, and the Joy on Line report to revisit the issue and refer our leaders to the comments on the October 17 article, pleading with President Nana Akufo Addo to prioritize and eradicate the plague posed by the inter-twined sewerage, sanitation, and drainage debacle. At the very least, the benefits of expeditiously tackling the menace are unquantifiable— improvement of living standards and health; preservation of property and enhancement of their values; respectability for our country in the eyes of the world; tourism, investment, employment, and the list goes on ad infinitum. Moreover, it will greatly enhance the President’s credibility and respectability regarding the James Town promise, while also demonstrating to the World that our politics is not the usual “politics,” only making empty promises for votes, but more importantly, one that walks the talk.

Make no mistake, like many other problems challenging the country, the menace detailed here is systemic, for which we all--the public, businesses, traditional leaders, and the Government--are responsible and must work together swiftly to greatly mitigate, even if not totally eradicate, them. They are addressed seriatim.

THE PUBLIC: We, the members of the public, are major contributors to all the regressive practices that grade us poorly on sanitation, sewerage, and drainage. Primarily, we build houses and run businesses with inadequate toilet facilities, often making the irresponsible defecation inevitable, especially when visitors come to the cities. Second, not only do we build on bare grounds with no grass coverings on our premises, promoting sand erosion that clog drainage, but, by reckless felling of trees and putting up illegal structures everywhere, we exacerbate the flooding problems. Thirdly, because we all participate in discarding rubbish everywhere, we often lack the moral will and ability to stop others when they do the same.

It must quickly be noted, though, that our culpability in some of these matters are shared with the government and the traditional leaders who shirk their responsibilities by, inter alia, failing to create supplementary public toilet facilities; the epidemic of squattering and hustling; provide refuse receptacles with decent emptying regimens to avoid overflow of garbage; and provide necessary modern waste and sewerage management systems.

THE CHIEFS. Historically, the Chiefs have been the custodians of the lands, civility, orderliness, and welfare. Specifically, prior to colonialism and the ensuing superimposition of the central administration, the Chiefs had the resources and powers for effectuating these roles. They could sanction people who flouted the customs and practices; irresponsibly dispose of garbage; or fail to participate in community cleaning exercises. These ranged from public censure to fine, scolding, or even banishment.

With the advent of the Central Administration, much of these powers have been excised. Nonetheless, the Chiefs are not totally powerless because they still can work with their traditional leaders and asafoiatsemei to effectuate some of these services, including by engaging people in communal projects and curbing squattering.

Furthermore, the Chiefs are constitutionally endowed as the custodians of the lands, and empowered to act collectively through the Regional and National Houses of Chiefs. As such, they can perform all their traditional services pursuant to their Constitutional authority, individually, or collectively calling for the Government’s assistance through the Regional or National Houses of Chiefs, as particular challenges necessitate. Their apparent failure to do these is inexplicable, and it is hereby respectfully suggested that they perform such gracious functions as custodial stewards, and as such functions could be critical in helping to retain, preserve, and enhance their continuing relevance to our governance.

THE GOVERNMENT: No one can reasonably expect the Government to build a toilet, gutter, or refuse dump for his or her house or business. However, everyone can rightfully expect the government to build such facilities in parks and other public places; after all, it collects taxes and has myriad sources of revenue for the public’s welfare.

Even where individuals and businesses provide infrastructure and facilities for their buildings, it is axiomatic that infrastructures and facilities needed to supplement are inevitable, woefully non-existent, and unaffordable by them. While private entrepreneurs could do some, it would be a stretch to expect that, not only because of the affordability factor, but also because of the profit-making consciousness undergirding such pursuits.

Thus, the Government, tracking the public corporations model used by President Kwame Nkrumah, can and should publicly create or subsidize creation of modern infrastructures and facilities for keeping trash and emptying trash receptacles; and for managing our sewerage and possibly relaying them to processing plants as is done in the more advanced countries. The brilliance of Nkrumah’s model was in the rationale: certain services needed to be done by the government because, if left with private entrepreneurs, they would be done only selectively in rich neighbourhoods where the entrepreneurs would make profit, leaving the poorer places in neglect. Through civic education, it should use the media to rehash the cleanliness tenet and encourage everyone to effectuate it.

Moreover, as the lawmaker in the country, it should make laws that would ensure that each house built and each business registered have the requisite permits assuring that they are adequately equipped and resourced with the necessary toilet facilities and covered purgeable gutters, and regularly emptied rubbish receptacles. Moreover, the Government should eschew the present culture by which, for lack of vigilant enforcement, people, with impunity, disregard the zoning laws; and, instead, should ensure enforcement by punishing officers that fail to effectuate the law.

President Nkrumah’s glowing accomplishments should be a great motivator here. Specifically, notwithstanding questions with few of his policies, praises for him are eternal because most of his stellar accomplishments stare at us every day. Big praises are due Prime Minister Busia and President Akuffo Addo too, more so, because, even with the brevity of their regime, two years, they initiated a robust sewerage project that would have put Ghana on track, but for the abrupt 1972 coup. General Acheampong’s operation feed yourself program warded off and averted hunger, to some extent, and as well deserves adulation in the annals of our history.

It is fervently believed that if any of our other governments had tackled the menace, that government could have likewise earned a place in the annals of history. By the same token, President Nana Akufo Addo and Vice President Bawumia will be etched in our annals if they prioritize and decisively tackle the menace.

While hoping that they be favored by the grace to grab the golden opportunity for it, I appeal for all to work by our respective duties and means detailed herein, for which the Government, should lead by:

1.Revamping and endowing our laws on sanitation, sewerage, and drainage with teeth really bite. For the drainage piece, the zoning laws must be refined with stern measures against people who recklessly build and unlawfully put up structures.

2.Injecting meaning and practical efficiency into the laws by putting in place the necessary infrastructures and facilities to supplement those extant to curb, dissuade, and deincentivize tendencies of irresponsible rubbish-heaping and defecation. This should include relaying of pipes seamlessly moving sewerage into processing plants as done in advanced countries, and instituting efficient garbage receptacle programs, backed by an efficient emptying system and ultimate dumping technologically-driven sites.

3.Subsidizing robust programs and facilities as President Nkrumah did with the doctrine of public corporations, and/or promoting privatization with full accountability. For the latter, some reasonable tax incentives should be afforded, especially for those that serve the poorer areas.

4.Partner with the traditional authorities more meaningfully to make them practically, not just ceremonially, relevant to the needs of modern government.

Let’s in unison stand and face the challenge swiftly, squarely, and pointedly. Together, we can!

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