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Opinions of Saturday, 22 May 2021

Columnist: Samuel Yaw Agyemang-Badu

The rise of private environmental sanitation and waste management companies killing environmental health departments?

Ghana's improved sanitation coverage has not exceeded 15% for a long time Ghana's improved sanitation coverage has not exceeded 15% for a long time

I hope Ghanaians in the past centuries and during the colonial days, witnessed the era of Health Inspectors aka Tankas/Samansaman as they were popularly called, (which means Town Council/Summon Summon in the Twi local dialect) in our communities and houses, who were under the Ministry of Health (MOH) with the establishment of the new Schools of Hygiene (SOH) and the training of health inspectors before they were transferred to Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development (MLGRD) (Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies – MMDAs) in 1994 by the National Democratic Congress (NDC) Government led by the late Former President Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings.

I strongly believed and hope Ghanaians are possibly witnessing the same Health Inspectors (now Environmental Health Officers) from 1994 under the MMDAs till date, 2021 and their performance as Preventive Health Officers then under the Ministry of Health and now under MMDAs.

Respectfully, let us frankly ask ourselves as Ghanaians, whether there are major positive changes that we do appreciate, with regards to Health Inspectors or Tankas/Samansaman (now Environmental Health Officers) since they were transferred from MOH to the MMDAs of the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development. During the days of Health Inspectors or Tankas/Samansaman under the MOH, these Preventive Health Officers were fully resourced, equipped and recognized under the Ministry of Health than now that they are working under auspices of MMDAs across the country.

These Preventive Health (Sanitation) Officers had the powers at their disposal to arrest and deal with anybody under every Sector including the MMDAs they are currently working under as their administrative employer. Sadly, however, since the unfortunate and unplanned transfer of the Health Inspectors (Tankas/Samansaman) to the MMDAs in 1994, those powers they had then, do not exist and not at their disposal compare to their era under the MOH, so, therefore, these Officers cannot arrest, prosecute and deal with their Bosses (MMDAs) or landlords as was being done before and as a result, the proactive work of Health Inspectors (Tankas/Samansaman) of the olden days died off the very day they were transferred to MLGRD (MMDAs), resulting in the dire consequences and filth that has engulfed the society of Ghanaian communities today.

Ironically and the last stroll that brings Carmel’s back is the inception of Private Environmental Sanitation and Waste Management Companies in the Environmental Health and Sanitation Sector through public-private partnership (PPP) in 2006 that birthed Private Environmental Sanitation and Waste Management Companies such as Zoomlion Ghana Limited as subsidiary of the Jospong Group of Companies, has further crippled the work of the Preventive Health (Sanitation) Officers aka Health Inspectors (Tankas/Samansaman) across the MMDAs, though these private companies were to complement and partner the work of the Health Inspectors (Tankas/Samansaman) to ensure we have high standards of Environmental Health and Sanitation in Ghana. Before the establishment of these private companies, the Environmental Health Officers had sanitary labourers under their supervision at the various MMDAs to ensure that our communities and Assemblies were cleaned on daily basis as well as the embarkment of their daily routine premises/house to house inspection in all communities and houses across the country with the aim of detecting public health/statutory nuisances and call for their abatement in our various homes to strictly ensure that Ghanaians has serene, clean and conducive environment and premises free of filth at all times, safe environment for human habitation, improved standards of sanitation in and around the communities (homes) and public places, in order to prevent environmental and sanitation-related diseases such as cholera, typhoid, dysentery, malaria, etc. for a healthy lives of the Ghanaian populace as enshrined in the Public Health Act 2012 (Act 851) and the Criminal and Other Offences Act 29,1960).

To add insult to injury, the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development (MLGRD) (Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies–MMDAs) is a political appointment ministry/agencies and therefore, essential Services like Environmental Health, Sanitation and Waste Management should not have even been transferred to such Ministry/MMDAs from the Ministry of Health (MOH).
In countries where the systems are working and well planned such as in Europe, Environmental Health and Sanitation Services are under the City Councils which are devoid of the political terrain as we are practising and witnessing in Ghana. Interestingly moreover, in other parts of the world, Environmental Health Officers are still under the Ministry of Health, performing the same duties as their qualified and licensed Colleagues’ Officers in Ghana, however, those abroad such as Europe have been given the necessary powers and authority to enable them to work as expected as the nation’s Preventive Health (Sanitation) Officers, So how can these same preventive health professionals (Officers) in this country be placed under major Political Ministries such as the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development, Ministry of Sanitation and Water Resources etc. and still are under-resourced and not recognized but we expect them to perform excellently???? How can they execute creditably with so many interferences from politicians amidst attitude from the Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies in this era of gross indiscipline by Ghanaians towards Environmental Health and Sanitation in the country without effective enforcement of the Environmental Health and Sanitation Acts and Bye-laws due to Gross Political Interference????

Unfortunately, with this PPP arrangement, Government of the day has always as their cherished, comfortable norm and practice, award contracts on Environmental Health and Sanitation in MMDAs to these private companies who are now almost doing everything that formerly the Preventive Health (Sanitation) Officers (Environmental Health Officers) were doing. This gloomy development has relegated the qualified and licensed Environmental Health Officers by the Allied Health Professions Council (AHPC), Ghana across the MMDAs in the country to the mere background. Currently, at the mention of Environmental Health and Sanitation, these Private Environmental Sanitation and Waste Management Companies most especially Zoomlion Ghana Limited a subsidiary of the Jospong Group of Companies, is the body/authority that comes to mind/scene to respond to the issues whilst the Government’s owned trained and licensed Environmental Health Officers are nowhere to be found and nobody seems to know that such a key health professional even exists. Despite this unfortunate situation, the unrecognized Environmental Health Officers are the only Preventive Health Practitioners mandated by law to ensure our communities, streets and homes are clean through the inspection of their routine premises, this the private Environmental Sanitation and Waste Management Companies have no mandate to do. So, the burning question is, which of these two bodies must be resourced and empowered if we really want our communities and the country to become the cleanest in Africa????

It saddened my heart and soul as a qualified and licensed Environmental Health Practitioner and academia, when Ghanaians are rather calling for the return of Health Inspectors (Tankas/Samansaman) of the olden days, while these Environmental Health Officers or Tankas/Samansaman People are in the Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies (MMDAs) across the country. So, I asked, what is the big deal then, if these Preventive Health (Sanitation) Officers are fully recognized and resourced to work in keeping our communities and vicinities clean for public health and safety if we really aspire to see Ghana the cleanest country in the African continent????

It is important to note with all seriousness and the attention needed that, not until Government and the MMDAs in power re-visit the olden days' Health Inspectors (Tankas/Samansaman) and accord them their long-lost glory, power and authority to work without fear or favour in carrying out their legally mandated duties enshrined in our Laws/Acts, Ghana cannot achieve the cleanest country in the African continent.