I guess that for the long-suffering staff of the Department of Parks and Gardens, this year has started exceptionally well.
The Department has received a New Year gift package from the Ministry of Local Government, Decentralisation and Rural Development, its sector Ministry.
Last week, the Ministry presented to the Department a package that reportedly included: a tipper truck (to replace a 30-year old one!); a Land Cruiser Prado; a pick-up truck; three desktop computers and two laptops; 29 lawn mowers; 24 chainsaw machines; 24 grass shapers; four polytanks and 11 ladders.
However, I believe that it’s not only the staff who will be celebrating. I imagine that others, counting yours truly too, who have been canvassing in support of reviving the long-neglected Department, will also share in the joy. This column has highlighted a number of times the need for the Department to be rescued from its woes, to be funded so that it can do the work it was established to do.
Equally importantly, the Department needs to be assisted so that it can help place Accra on the exclusive list of cities that have earned the coveted accolade ‘Flower City’, a city of blooms.
There’s no reason why the city can’t achieve what President Nana Akufo-Addo promised in 2017: that Accra will become the neatest, cleanest city in Africa by the end of his first term in office.
If it wasn’t possible in the first term, what stops the dream from being realised in the President’s second term? Secondly, to me, that aim should be complemented by a second one: making Accra a city of flowers, a floral or horticultural pacesetter.
Thankfully, in a follow-up interview published in the Daily Graphic of January 19, the acting Director of the Department, Rev Charles Ayitey Okine, has indicated that having received a survival boon from their ministry, from next month they will swing into serious action not only in the capital, but nationwide.
He gave assurance that the Department will be helping to realise the President’s aspiration of making Accra the cleanest city in Africa.
Rev Okine particularly commended Local Government Minister Dan Botwe and his deputies “for their effort to revamp the department to deliver on its mandate and be visible (emphasis added).
“He said in the past, the department wrote proposals for budgetary allocations, but they never materialized, until the assumption of office of
Mr Botwe and his team, when the department received all the necessary resources and equipment to enable it to work efficiently and effectively ….” The Ministry has also set up a task force to help solve the Department’s land encroachment and other problems.
Consequently, Rev Okine added: “The morale of staff had been boosted to work hard, adding that this year, Ghanaians would feel the presence of the department, not only in Accra, but also across the country.”
Among its plans, communities are to be assisted to create recreational parks, which could also host events.
According to its website, the Department, established in 1961, was given ministerial status in 1965, and known as the Ministry of Parks and Gardens and Tourism. However, it seems that successive governments were never sure of its relevance, as it was put under different ministries at various times.
Its changing supervisory ministries perhaps reflects the unfortunate view in some quarters that the Department is not an essential part of governance.
Clearly that misguided perspective didn’t help the country. The embarrassingly unkempt look of our city and town environs – overgrown medians and road shoulders; weeds everywhere; the absence of flowers – said it all: the decision-makers didn’t care.
Yet, among other things, the Department’s Vision statement aims to achieve “higher standards in environmental beautification (and) horticultural policy development”. Also, it identifies its Mission as facilitating “the rapid development of the horticultural potential of Ghana”.
Other countries export flowers. Why can’t Ghana cultivate a flower industry to create jobs as well as earn foreign exchange?
Among its functions, the Department aims:
• To develop and promote effective landscape beautification in Ghana’s cities, towns and in individual homes.
• To maintain and sustain all landscaped areas on roads medians, road shoulders and all roundabouts in cities and towns.
Alongside its other notable duties, it has responsibility for the maintenance of prestige areas, including the Castle gardens, State House gardens, Flagstaff House and Peduase Lodge. It’s also in charge of the Guest House at the famous Aburi Botanical Gardens, a premier tourist attraction.
With plans and duties such as those described above, why has the survival of the Department been so overlooked all these years?
I think that the Department should also have a key role in the ‘Make Accra Work’ and ‘Operation Clean your frontage’ initiatives launched by Greater-Accra Regional Minister Henry Quartey. Earlier this week, at a meeting with stakeholders, Mr Quartey announced that implementation of the ‘Clean Your Frontage’ bye-law is to start on February 1.
I believe that the contribution to general well-being of a refreshing, pleasant ambiance can’t be underrated. Visitors to the western world, and other advanced countries, return with enthusiastic memories of the parks, gardens and pleasantly floral environment there. Surely, they didn’t achieve that by magic!
A country with a functioning, funded Department of Parks and Gardens, fully appreciated by political decision-makers, would show evidence of that through an environment of well-tended flowers and greenery; public spaces.
Fortunately, after the years of frustrations, as narrated by the acting Director, the Department now has a Minister and a Ministry showing that they do care.
My prayer is that the Ministry will continue the support it has demonstrated by the initial assistance. Hopefully, it marks definitively the start of a long-overdue new lease on life for this important but long overlooked department.
I look forward to its promised visibility soon, evidence that, as in the past, Ghana does indeed have a blooming Department of Parks and Gardens.