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Opinions of Thursday, 17 August 2006

Columnist: Bannerman, Nii Lantey Okunka

Solving The Filth Situation In Ghana


There is no doubt that Ghana abound with challenges. However, wherever there are challenges, opportunities also abound. Where there are opportunities, creativity becomes a premium. Sometimes, it seems pretty obvious what the solutions are or ought to be. However commonsense, like Oxygen, if lacking, can create indolence. Solutions, apparently, are not as obvious as some of us assume. These days, you can’t raise a problem without being asked to provide solutions. It is as if you have to cook the soup, pound the fufu and also spoon feed these folks. Yet, suggesting solutions without power in Ghana does not mean much. Let me try to offer some solutions to the filth jamboree in Ghana. Hopefully those who continue to ask will act now.

To cure and prevent filth, we must first attack the mental attitude that tolerates and engages in nurturing it. We must challenge each other to do better. If you see your friend messing around with filth, engage him or her. If you don’t tolerate it, it won’t happen. We cannot assume that once we sell food near the gutter and continue to survive, it is ok. Some also assume that filth does not kill. If it did, we will all be dead by now. So, it is ok to dump filth wherever we can or want. If there are no consequences for our actions, why must we bother? If it is not broken why fix it? To cure this mentality, we have to switch into what is and could happen, as oppose to what has or will not happen.

Indeed, a lot of what is happening has not been documented to make the case for a switch. Even with known filth addled diseases like malaria, dysentery, cholera, guinea worm and other skin diseases, a lot more proselytizing needs to be done. My work in the rural areas this summer tells me that our people need copious information to make the changes that we expect. The good news is that most of them are very receptive. To work on the mindset, we need public outreach big time. I believe that the best way of killing the mentality of filth tolerance is through education. Mass education based on facts and figures. A bombardment of our airwaves with rich information about the cost and benefits of filth management may also help. Until we are able to convince our people that filth has serious consequences, they will continue to live with it. We must SAY NO to filth!

Since cleanliness is next to Godliness, may I recommend that all pastors and preachers be politely asked to included the concept of cleanliness in every sermon? I mean if 65% of Ghanaians are Christians, what better way to reach them? If folks don’t believe their town council man, they can at least trust their pastor who takes in their collection religiously on Sunday. We can also use the mosque to preach the same message. I don’t know about fetish priest and what they can teach but if they want to join the feast, surely include them. Indeed, the teaching of cleanliness could be made a condition for keeping the tax free status of these religious or quasi religious institutions. Let them teach the kids in Sunday school about cleanliness. If a kid comes in there dirty, or has saws, have a warm word with the parents and get the situation taken care of. Charity begins at home and I have a haunch that kids who wear dirty clothes to public event are more likely to be dirty at home. This does not mean that those who wear nice clothes in public are clean either. We all know of the minimum duality of the typical Ghanaian if not human being.

Another strategy that will work in the long run is to take this campaign to the classrooms. We must include personal and public hygiene in the curriculum of our schools all the way up to the university. Students must be encouraged to indulge in volunteer work and other initiatives that help to not only clean the filth but also educate those that create and live by it. When we were kids, we had something called inspection at school. The teachers checked your finger nails, singlet, school uniform, hair and shoes every morning. God forbid that any of these were dirty! You will not only get a good spanking publicly but your parents will know about it too. While I don’t like the corporal punishment part of it, I think something similar with much more creative rewards and discouragement is called for. Indeed, we can use rewards and discouragement at the local and national level too. What is wrong with having a local or national award for the cleanest neighborhood or city? Maybe coming out with a list of best cities to live in may also help. Incentives!

Folks, whatever happened to our universities and even secondary schools? Why have we not made Waste Management a course in our schools and institutions of higher learning? Look, as our population grows, so will filth generation. This weak system of channeling everything into the sea in the coastal areas is at a tipping point. What about the hinterlands? How do they manage filth? We cannot go forward without innovative and creative ways to manage human waste. Now is the time to introduce courses and certification in these areas. We must make an industry out of waste management. The private sector must join this fight as well. There is nothing shameful about making money out of waste management. Here again, we need strong and visionary leadership in bringing about the initiatives and changes that we hope to see. We need a vision!

As we continue to educate and inform our people, we must enforce the laws strictly. If there are no laws on the books, enact them. For example, why can’t we fine those that litter the country with sachet water remnants? Some of us have said that we can even create jobs doing so. Hire energetic young folks and pay them on commission basis. For every arrest that they make, they get a certain percentage. What is so difficult about this? Yes, it will not cure it all but it will quickly send a message. Until we show our people that we are dead serious, nothing much will change. A well organized group working the streets of Accra will easily bring this scourge to a screeching halt. Revenue coming out of these fines can be used to maintain the outreach program and also maintain the streets and neighborhoods. Put trash cans at key places to help!

All passenger or civilian vehicles must have plastic bags within for garbage disposal. Any car that allows it inhabitants to throw thrash out of the window must be fined. Subsequent offenses should lead to impounding for some time. This is why we need a database for vehicle and driver management. The owner of any impounded vehicle must also be made to pay for storage overnight. Anything that will make car owners pay attention must be done! Surcharge on bottles and other plastic containers may also help in forcing buyers or collectors to return used bottle that may otherwise turn into litter. Indeed, companies that profit from the water business must be taxed to help clean up the mess. They cannot profit while we clean up. A special tax must be in place.

Often, the piling up of filth occurs because the infrastructure to deal with it is absent. I am talking about working public lavatories or dustbins. If for example, you go to Tema DVM and they tell you that they have no public facility, where do they expect you to ease yourself? Of course free range is what comes to mind right? Just like the man told me at the Tema DMV, “master unless you go for bush”. Was that my first choice? Of course not! It that a viable option for some? Absolutely yes! Just imagine the risk of soiling yourself due to over indulgence in Kokonte and some highly spiced soup. This phenomenon that I speak about also applies to a good bit of our buildings in Ghana. Let us make sure that all our work places have functioning toilets and garbage collection points. Discipline employees who refuse to comply with personal hygiene and office cleanliness. Duck their pay if you have to. By any means necessary we must make cleanliness a way of life.

We need a well trained thrash collection team armed with the necessary knowledge and more importantly, appropriate technology. There is no need to get fancy here. Just get these folks the right tools and let them go to work. We must have disciplined collections. The trucks must show up as promised and hopefully, we can separate recyclables trash from the rest. Use private contractors if possible. Of course the collection regime can provide vital information on malpractices leading to the invocation of law enforcement.

Most building in Accra do not have toilet facilities. To add insult to injury, property owners are renting rooms instead of the whole house. This practice is ascending due to enormous profits and high cost of rent. The end result is that, a house holding about 15 to 20 people may not have toilet facilities at all or even if it does, it cannot serve the group. We need housing policy that requires that all buildings must have adequate toilet facilities. To make this a reality, no building plan without adequate toilet facilities must be approved. If and when property owners violate this policy, we should have code enforcers take them to court. In fact, code enforcers, working with the police and court system must be able to shut down an entire property if it violates building codes. While we are at it, we should also make provision for handicap folks who use these facilities. Again, we can create jobs by training code enforces who make sure that building codes are enforced in the interest of both landlord and tenant. Don’t forget that we can also place public toilets at key places. For example, the ministries can benefit from public toilets that charge a few.

The lack of capital infrastructure also contributes to filth. For example, the whole of Dansoman is believed to be without a sewer system. I am sure the latter holds true for significant parts of Accra and other regions. The fact that people still carry night soil on their heads for a living authenticate the claim that we don’t have a viable sewer system. Now, not only must we correct this grave mistake, but also, all new areas slated for residential or commercial development must be required to have sewer and thrash collection systems. Again this should be a precondition for approving building permits. One way of doing this is to add the cost of the sewer system onto the sale of lands. Truthfully, property taxes must help to maintain these sewer and garbage systems once we put them in place. The noxious mentality that citizens will get something by not paying anything must be attacked and killed. As it stands, only 1.4 million Ghanaians pay taxes. We can’t borrow our way to development. So the only way out is to shift cost onto those who use the service. Of course, the flip side of this is that once citizens pay their taxes, services must be provided flawlessly.

In the end, solutions to the filth problem lie squarely in the hands of the citizens. If the citizens take matters into their hands and team up with law enforcement, we will make some strides. Citizens must organize themselves into various civic and commercial groups aimed at defeating the mismanagement of filth. Of course for law enforcement to act, leadership must make this a priority. The leaders of the country must empower law enforcement to assist citizens in enforcing the laws. For citizens to act effectively, knowing right from wrong, they must be informed. To create the expectation that we desire, we must infuse our citizens with a dose of knowledge and a sense of control if not ownership.

The court system must also stand up to the task. As you can see, it will take a multi prong approach to solve this problem. Some of the solutions are long term and others short term. Whatever they are, these solutions will not amount to anything if we don’t draw up a plan and execute it flawlessly. If we don’t plan to fail then we better not fail to plan. If the people of Ghana do not change, one person at a time, one household at a time, not much will change. If we get off our rump and act, we can solve this problem. The people must rise and demand action through the institutions that they create and support. They must challenge the authorities to bring about the much needed change. The people must find their own leaders to help them create and maintain a regime of cleanliness. Everyone is a leader in his own neighborhood and must exercise that leadership role or expect no better. I can’t do it for you and you can’t do it for me but if we do it for ourselves, progress will result.

Viva Ghana!

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.