Former President Jerry John Rawlings has advocated the formation of responsible community vigilante groups to deal with the insanitary canker that has engulfed the nation.
“No one supports people parading as vigilantes. However, the need for responsible citizen vigilantes to protect the environment is an absolute necessity; an absolute must, especially against the random and persistent dumping of refuse along roadsides.
“There is no reason such vigilantes cannot be mobilised to play a responsible supportive role to the security agencies,” he said, adding that “even before the security agencies get there, citizens should have disciplined the errant community members”.
Speaking as the special guest at the 12th edition of the Jospong and Zoomlion Group’s annual thanksgiving service in Accra last Friday, the former President said the issue of sanitation was no longer about education, which had gone on for a while, since there were now many universities educating Ghanaians.
The special service, which was attended by ministers of state, Members of Parliament (MPs) and the clergy, was on the theme: “The Lord has done great things for us”.
Special guests who graced the service included the Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and Majority Leader in Parliament, Mr Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu; the Minority Leader, Mr Haruna Iddrisu, and the deputy ministers of Communications and Sanitation and Water Resources, Mr George Andah and Mr Michael Gyato, respectively.
Also present were senior officers of the security services, chief executives of metropolitan, municipal and district assemblies, senior members of the clergy and traditional rulers, including the Osu Mantse, Nii Kwabena Bone V.
Leading the worship segment was the wife of the Executive Chairman of Jospong, Mrs Cynthia Araba Siaw Agyepong, while renowned musicians, such as Elder Kwasi Mireku, Joe Mettle, Evangelist Diana Asamoah, among others, also performed.
Former President Rawlings said: “As we go into the New Year, every Ghanaian must commit to keep the environment clean by employing good disposal habits, serving as good citizens by policing our communities and standing up to errant ones who refuse to adhere to basic sanitary behaviour.”
While calling for a social sense of responsibility in managing the insanitary conditions, the former President said: “This kind of behaviour takes us very close to the edge of tension and anger.”
Former President Rawlings reminisced over what pertained years ago when sanitary inspectors, referred to as ‘Tankas’ [Town Council], hurled people to court for failing to keep their surroundings clean.
“Then traditional leaders also played their role. The social sense of responsibility in our communities was so high. If you misbehaved, chiefs, queenmothers and the elders could discipline you.
“In those days, people didn’t defecate along the beaches and all over the place; people didn’t piss left and right. But I guess as soon as we won independence and we were in a hurry to probably make the presence of the state felt and we had to establish arms of the courts around the country and policemen. So with that it is like our chiefs, opinion leaders have now lost that traditional power they had to talk to us and hold us socially responsible because the government is there to do it,” he said.
Lauding President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo for setting up a ministry responsible for sanitation, Mr Rawlings said: “The opening up of waste management operations to other businesses will, in the medium to long term, create a more efficient and effective waste management climate in the country.”
Former President Rawlings, however, said there was something he would have done in addition, which he knew would have made people unhappy, but he would still have gone ahead and done it because no one had “the right to do some of the things we do when it comes to the issue of the environment and refuse disposal”.
“It is uncivilised for us to continue the way we are going. No matter how successful or how many Jospongs and how many others will be brought on board, if we cannot dump our refuse responsibly in a place that is carved out for it, they cannot help us clean this environment. No number of ministries that will be established will help us live in a very civilised manner.
“What is worse is that our irresponsibility on a global scale is leading to global warming. From 1.5 degrees, global warming was headed for three degrees,” he said.
He commended the Jospong Group of Companies for its integrated waste management solutions and the employment of more than 200,000 Ghanaians, the introduction of the 'borla' taxi, the establishment of a waste treatment plant and for bringing an end to ‘Lavender Hill’.
“I remember someone saying: ‘Oh he was just a kiosk man’. When just a kiosk man can do things like these, you have to respect it.
“God has given him some talents and I am grateful that we have such people. He picked on the worst kind of job in this country and has almost made a success of it,” he added.
He explained that Mr Joseph Siaw Agyepong, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Jospong Group, had almost made a success of managing waste because “we haven’t quite cleared the refuse in the environment. Nothing portends how civilised or uncivilised a human community is or can be if you are not handling refuse collection responsibly”.
“We would have been much worse if people like him were not playing the role he has played so far,” he said.
He said hitherto he got angry at the mention of the name Zoomlion, asking how many people would do that kind of demeaning sanitary job “because I heard that a huge percentage of district assemblies’ budget had been carved out to them alone and there were no competitors. And I thought some of that money could have been carved out to other private entrepreneurs to ensure that there was competition”.
Mr Agyepong said the thanksgiving service was a tradition that had come to stay and that in Accra alone 10 zonal and 249 district centres across the country were holding the service simultaneously.
He added that currently the group had 2,000 management staff who were supervising more than 50,000 employees.
Additionally, it had created more than 2,000 work forces and had gone international with a presence in Angola, Zambia, Sierra Leone and Togo.
Giving thanks to God for the achievements of the companies, Mr Agyepong said all successes had been chalked up through sowing in tears.
He paid tribute to successive governments and Presidents who had supported him over the years.