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Ghana - 16 August, 2022
I do not know if I am the only one having this pain in my heart about the impunity with which our environment and its natural resources are being destroyed lately. I, therefore, take the opportunity to share some insights on global environmental trends, destructive trends in Ghana and propose some solutions in this two-part epistle.
For Part 1, I share insights on the level of impunity within our environmental regulatory space and the pain of seeing increasing environmental degradation all around us now. The pain is about the complete absence of attachment, care, commitment, compassion, fervour, patriotism, vigilance etc. in the exploitation of these resources in the Ghanaian environment, both under official regulated and un-official and unregulated exploitation schemes. Under officially regulated schemes in exploitation, one expects supervision by the state machinery to ensure that the exploitation is under strict control and under the approved operational plan.
My worry is the manner in which state officers/ employees renege on their duty as the front-line citizens of the state and fail to act responsibly as state agents to protect the state. Many of them do not even visit the sites of operations; do not ensure the inflow of financial resources into state coffers; betray the state and conduct themselves in ways to cheat the state by signing private certificates for exploitation to benefit themselves and their assigns; do not follow laid down rules and procedures for exploitation and channel funds that should go to state coffers to their own private and cronies accounts. Some of these unpatriotic officers who have been employed to protect the state, receive salaries from the state but work for themselves. Some even go to the extent of conniving and teaching foreigners how to circumvent and cheat the system by exposing loopholes.
Under the un-official and unregulated schemes, the exploitation is uncontrolled. This is the situation where individuals flout laid down rules of engagement in the exploitation of state natural resources and plunder the resources which belong to the people of the community and the country with reckless abandon, using all kinds of methods many of which are harmful to the environment and/or destructive in their operations on natural environments, with no regard to environmental concerns or are completely oblivious of the consequences that come in the trail of their exploitation.
These activities border on degradation, pollution, and disturbance of otherwise perfectly balanced and functioning natural ecosystems that contribute to human wellbeing. These actions consequently upset the availability of the goods and services that promote good health, good drinking water, congenial atmosphere, food and nutritional security, cultural and family cohesion, and above all economic well-being and poverty reduction. This is the category that includes galamsey operators, illegal chainsaw operators, sand and stone mining contractors. Fishers who use unapproved fishing gears and other methods such as ‘akadja’, dynamite, and other chemicals, belong to this category.
They exploit nature, ostensibly to enrich themselves, but end up creating ecological disasters. This is another area of worry for me. Our beautiful country is under siege. We are witnessing an unprecedented environmental catastrophe that keeps increasing by the day and we are all just watching and doing very little to counter it. We are watching because we think it is somebody else’s business or duty to address and correct or preferably ‘right’ things. That attitude will destroy our country if it persists. We are clearly in a crisis now and there must be urgent action to deal with it immediately before it becomes completely entrenched and become the way of doing things in Ghana.
I feel that something has to change. Our view of our environment must be directed properly. It is like overhauling our resource exploitation procedures to relate to the current understanding of global changes. As I write this piece, I try to peep into the future to imagine how the generation coming after us will fare when they get confronted with the environmental mess and indiscipline we are leaving behind. It does not bode well for us as a nation at all. It will be selfish on our part to assume innocence and not to recognize that it is our generation that has created this mess and therefore makes it our responsibility to clean up.
By Alfred Oteng-Yeboah, a retired Professor at the Department of Plant and Environmental Biology, University of Ghana, LEGON. For Feedback, Telephone: +233244772256