Relegating the Environment Protection Agency to the Lands Ministry may cripple its efficiency and credibility to the International Community

By Ishmael Kindama Dumbuya

The present Political Administration of President Julius Maada Bio had placed environmental issues at the top most level in the country as stated in the New Direction manifesto. During his first State opening of the fifth Parliament, President Maada Bio announced that the Environment Protection Agency will be returned back to the Ministry of Lands Housing and the Environment with the creation of a “Board” directly responsible to the Lands Ministry as previously enacted in the 2008 EPASL Act.

The present Administrative structure of the Environment Protection Agency of Sierra Leone as enshrined in the 2010 Act as amended allows the Agency to operate under the direct supervision of the President with an Executive Chairperson who serves as the Chairman of the Board of Directors as well as Administrative Head of the Agency thereby reducing the functions of the Director of the Agency. Under this dispensation, the EPASL is not under any direct control by the Lands Ministry despite many years of evolution from this Ministry.

With an independent Board of Directors and an Executive Chairperson only appointed by the President, the environment regulating Agency has performed tremendously well over the years in the country especially in ensuring that environmental issues are communicated and compliance in the country. The Agency had been regarded by many people both at home and abroad as a key outfit among the many governmental institutions in the country.

Because of the current dispensation and administration in fighting environmental issues in the country, the international Community like the European Union and the United Nations Development Programme to name but a few have repost trust and confidence in the structural design of the environment regulatory agency. Over the past years, these institutions have served as the main outside supporters of the Environment Protection Agency in ensuring that it performed its functions efficiently in the country.

However, during the past years, Sierra Leone has demonstrated to the world about its strong commitment to environmental governance and protection especially through elevating the Agency responsible for environmental issues to the office of the President and relegating this back to the Ministry of Lands and the Environment with the supervision of the Ministry will send the wrong messages to the development partners. It is not a hidden secret of how some of the Ministries operate in the country. With lots of bureaucracies in implementing governments functions, the work of managing and regulating environment issues will be greatly hampered within the Lands Ministry and ultimately give a shining day for people and companies destroying in the environment either in mining or other activities.

It is however not appropriate for an Agency like the Environment Protection Agency to operate entirely under the Ministry of Lands for many important reasons. Some people argued that the Ministry of Lands hadn’t got what it takes to manage the environment in the country despite previously establishing the National Commission on Environment and Forestry (NaCEF). Even with the present status of the Environment Protection Agency which many people see as trying under the Office of the President is still yet to tackle environmental issues in the country with an incredible percentage more or less taking it back to a Ministry that only or largely depends on quarterly subventions for its operations.

One of the very important promises President Maada Bio had made is the issue of reviewing the 2010 Act of the Agency. Clearly and honestly speaking, many people see the present nomenclature of the 2010 Act of the EPASL as only giving too much power to the position of Executive Chairperson and leaving the position of the Director of the Agency with lesser powers to execute. This is not about the present administration but what needed to be made clear is the separation of functions of the Chairperson of the Board to that of the Director of the Agency. It has been argued by many that it could be absurd for a Board Chair to also serve as an Executive Chair of the Agency which definitely relate to the British Parliamentary system of government where a Minister can take a decision at the Ministry and also vote on an issue in the Parliament.

In his ponder my Thoughts Article published recently on national newspapers, Andrew Keili with reputable environmental experience wrote the following about the Environment Protection Agency, and I quote as such; “The government may need reminding that the functions carried out by EPA were before 2007 carried out unsuccessfully by the Lands Ministry. The Lands Ministry itself has for a long time faced challenges of its own and is one of the biggest defaulters on environmental issues as they have done a poor job of managing the indiscipline in the land market”.

Mr. Keili wrote that “whatever its faults, the EPA had over the years increased environmental compliance with Environment Impacts Assessment by various industrial establishments. The agency has good technical staff who may be averse to working under government conditions and being subject to one particular Ministry may compromise its objectivity and reduce the level of external funding”.

According to Andrew Keili, “the issue of revisiting the Act, its governance and management, fees and fiscal independence are issues that can be addressed” but that “one however cautions about starving a regulatory Agency of funding. Government Ministries are replete with inefficient regulatory agencies like the Factory Inspectorate! Furthermore the mandate of handling environmental issues in Sierra Leone is dispersed amongst several MDAs now and there are several of them that are part of the problem. The government needs to put its thinking cap on for addressing issues of the environment”.

Madam Cecilia Mattia from the National Advocacy on Conservation and the Environment (NACE) is not in support of the EPASL going back to the Ministry of Lands. She said in an interview that.” taking the environment Protection Agency to the Lands Ministry will be detrimental to environmental management in the country”. Madam Cecilia said that it will not be effective and further suggested that all “what the SLPP government need to do is ensure there is a total reform into the management of the Agency as well as a well structured amendment of the EPASL Act rather relegates the Agency back to the Lands Ministry”. She notes that a Land Ministry with hectic and bureaucratic operations will definitely cripples the workflow of an agency that was even perceived by many people as vibrant and on the limelight of solving environmental issues in the country.

One thing must be made clear here. Ever since the establishment of the Environment Protection Agency of Sierra Leone in 2010, some Officials of the Ministry of Lands and the Environment were never happy for this. They have demonstrated that in many instances by not even attending activities they were invited o attend. I can still remember in many harmonization meetings organized by the Agency, only officials of the Ministries of Agriculture Forestry and Food Security, Tourism, Fisheries etc will attend but those of the Lands will never show up for reasons best known to them even if the meetings are organized or held at their door steps at the Youyi Building.

Candidly speaking, the Environment Protection Agency should not be the right outfit to formulate policies on the environment and at the same time implements these policies. There should be definitely a Ministry responsible for such. In the past, since the Lands and Environment Ministry cannot formulate or table Bills in Parliament, many environmental policies and issues were deterred even at the international level unless sometimes with the help of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The Environment Protection Agency is not a small entity to be relegated into a small unit at the Ministry of Lands Housing and the Environment. It could be noted that fighting environmental issues is not an activity that solely lies on a single Ministry or Entity. It is supposed to be done with the concerted effort of all government institutions on the environment.

In this regard, it will be prudent to establish a whole new Commission responsible for Environment Natural Resources and Disaster Management directly responsible to the President with the Ministry of Lands and the Environment serving as its Ministry for policy formulation. If the National Commission on Environment Natural Resources and Disaster Management is established, all staff and officials of the Environment Protection Agency, the National Protected Area Authority and those at the Disaster Management at the Office of National Security.

President Julius Maada Bio can do this and help reduce the many offices created in the country over the last years. As we speak, there are many governmental institutions all working towards environment protection and management in the country with sometimes conflicting mandates. Besides the Environment Protection Agency of Sierra Leone, there the National Protected Area Authority (NPAA) under the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, the Metrological Department which manages Climate Change issues under the Ministry of Transport and Aviation, the National Mineral Agency under the Mines Ministry which issues licenses to mining Companies to operate, the Disaster Management at the Office of National Resources. If all these entities are harmonized to operate as one, it will save the government lots of monies on staff and efficiently ensure there is a smooth operation simply because it will know which Mining Company to issue mining license to and which area to be preserved as a national reserve.

Posted by on 5:49 pm. Filed under Breaking News, ENVIRONMENT, NEWS, OTHER NEWS, THE ENVIRONMENT. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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