The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has completed a financial viability and strategic plan that will enable it to operate as an autonomous body come January 2016.
The autonomy will enable the environmental impact regulator to employ requisite staff to fill the under-staffed agency, pay enhanced salaries to forestall high attrition, as well as operate more efficiently to the benefit of its clients.
Assistant Director at the EPA, Mr Badu Yeboah, told the media in Accra that the autonomy would enable the agency not only to employ the full complement of staff, but would also be able to open offices closer to communities.
He was addressing the media at a sensitisation seminar organised by the Private Enterprise Foundation to acquaint the media of its advocacy for the streamlining the permits, licences and certification regime in the country for commercial entities.
Mr Yeboah stated that the EPA already had 17 zonal offices across the country, including four opened in 2013 and 13 this year.
Public policy on employment/wage
The move to become autonomous is part of a larger government policy to wean some agencies off government payroll in order to rationalise and bring down the public sector wage bill which currently saps about 60 per cent of domestic tax revenues.
Other agencies in the picture include the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority, the Ghana Civil Aviation Authority and the Volta River Authority.
Compensation of employees which comprises wages and salaries, allowances, pensions, gratuities and social security contributions by the government for this year is estimated at GH¢12.3 billion, representing 9.1 per cent of GDP, according to the 2015 Budget.
Of this amount, the payment of wages, salaries and allowances is estimated at GH¢10.29 billion (7.6 per cent of GDP).
The new salary scheme, according to the government, had a cumulative overrun in the wage bill of amounting to GH¢1.9 billion. In addition, there is also over GH¢3 billion overrun in arrears for the last three years.
Already, the government, in pursuance of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) conditionality, has put a freeze on employment into all public sector services (excluding education and health) and a non-replacement of departing public sector employees in overstaffed areas.
It is expected that such autonomy for viable agencies such as the EPA is the way forward for increasing employment to the public sector and cutting government expenditure on wages and salaries.
Currently, the EPA employs less than 400 staff, representing just four per cent of the ideal 10,000 staff it should have nationwide. The agency hopes to increase intake significantly after going autonomous.
The EPA has accepted the invitation to be on the government’s e-payment portal, a system that would make its application for permits much easier as it would be electronic (online). Already, the EPA has electronic systems for receiving applications but payments remain manual, received by banks.
It is also collaborating with the Ghana Investment Promotion Centre (GIPC) to be on a one-stop single window with other permit/licencing agencies such as the Minerals Commission, some Metropolitan Assemblies, the Bank of Ghana and the Registrar General’s Department.
But conditions prevalent in other licencing, permit granting and certification agencies are a far cry from the strides the EPA is making.
Under-resourced permit agencies
The Ghana National Fire Service (GNFS), for instance, has only 50 office and factory fire safety inspectors for the entire nation, instead of two such officers for every district. The office and factories inspectorate department is also expected to have eight officers for each district. Currently, they have 27 inspectors only in six regions.
The Town and Country Planning Department is also challenged and that affects its work. It is represented only in 114 of the metropolitan, municipal and district assemblies (MMDAs), out of the 216 in the country with a total of about 80 technical staff. This ideal number is five technical staff for every district.
In spite of these challenges, the poor allocation of budget to the agencies further aggravates their predicaments.
For instance, the factories inspectorate department collects on the average GH¢120,000 a year, but is allocated only GH¢5,000 for its operations. These allocations are also drowned in the Consolidated Fund with nightmarish access to it.
The Chief Executive Officer of the Private Enterprise Federation (PEF), Nana Osei-Bonsu, insists that the fees which the agencies collect for issuing permits and certificates represented user fees which the government should allow the agencies to retain completely.
“We think that these are user fees and not revenues and the agencies should be allowed to retain them so that they can work efficiently,” Nana Osei-Bonsu stated.
PEF, which is collaborating with the Business Advocacy Challenge Fund (BUSAC) to streamline the permits regime, said not only did businesses pay arbitrary fees, set without consultations with the private sector, but the scanty budget releases to them delays their delivery.
“The private sector can be more competitive if these agencies are adequately resourced to deliver,” he stated, adding that the private sector would not hesitate to pay a little higher for those services, provided that would enable the agencies to perform satisfactorily.