A workshop to help improve how environment-related complaints are received, managed and resolved took place on 26-27 September in Koforidua. With ARAP’s support, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was able to engage with representatives from 19 public institutions - including district assemblies - that have shared responsibilities for the overall safeguarding of the environment and handling complaints from the public.
The first of its kind, this EU-funded workshop was an opportunity to address several issues, including the overwhelming number of complaints being received, the necessity for a coordinated response, and the lack of resourcing. It was the occasion for participants to identify ways to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of complaints management by institutions in the environmental governance sector.
The role of the EPA is of particular relevance in such matters, considering its vision ‘for a country where all sections of the community value the environment and strive to attain environmentally sustainable development’, and its mandate to ‘continually improve and conserve the country’s environment’. While citizens can play an important role in Ghana’s anti-corruption and good governance efforts, it is indeed crucial to make sure that their voice is heard in the pursuit of a safe and thriving environment.
An important step was to identify the existing challenges to managing environment-related complaints. This revealed a set of institutional and administrative bottlenecks, such as the lack of an effective triage system to handle complaints, the need for up-to-date equipment and tools, and in some cases conflicting mandates and responsibilities.
Participants agreed that the lack of coordination among stakeholders obstructs the resolution of complaints. This is especially the case due to the multidimensional nature of environment-related violations, requiring action and over sight by several institutions. Inter-agency coordination is also needed in the allocation of permits for example, to ensure that applicants are indeed suitable.
The event provided an opportunity for participants to then focus on solutions to the identified causes and problems. This included reflecting on success stories of collaboration in environmental complaints management to help determine what works. Discussions included the role of public education and communication to improve complaints management.
The importance of educating citizens about environmental regulations and ensuring they know how to submit good quality complaints was recognised, as well as the need for officials to communicate information about the complaints process, such as appropriate avenues for reporting and relevant agencies’ mandates.
Next steps were established at the workshop, including strengthening institutional collaborations, the potential development of EPA guidelines for local collaboration, and involving the National Development Planning Commission in future meetings, as land use planning is a major source of complaints and grievances. Proposed activities for ARAP’s support to the EPA were also identified, all to help compliment Ghana's ongoing efforts to improve good governance in the environment sector.