In the second-hand clothing market at Madina in Accra, vendors are not just chasing customers. They are chasing away houseflies, too.
The flies are mainly from one place—the market’s refuse collection point located right behind the used clothing market.
Fowls and a mentally unstable man scavenge the mountain of refuse on the ground: the fowls, anything that could fill their belly; and the man, cans, and plastics.
It has been so for weeks, The Fourth Estate learnt. And this is the situation in many markets and public places in towns and cities across the country.
In order to deal with situations like this, the Akufo-Addo administration imposed 10 pesewas tax on each litre of fuel as a Sanitation and Pollution Levy.
The levy came into effect in 2021, and the government made over GH¢264 million as revenue from it.
A right to information (RTI) request filed by The Fourth Estate to the Ministry of Finance on the disbursements of funds collected from this levy revealed that the ministry disbursed GH¢156 million out of the amount to only one company.
All the money disbursed went to only one company, Sewerage Systems GH. Ltd, a subsidiary of the Jospong Group.
The Ministry of Finance says the funds were used to pay arrears of management fees for the company’s liquid waste treatment facility in Accra.
Auditor-General on Sewerage Systems GH. Ltd
The Auditor-General, in its 2020 report, had directed Sewerage Systems GH. Ltd (SSGL) to refund GH¢95 million, which the company had received from the District Assemblies Common Fund (DACF) to the state.
The Auditor-General ordered the Administrator of the DACF, Irene Naa Torshie Addo, to recover the funds, which were used for the construction of the waste treatment plant owned by the Sewerage Systems Ghana Limited.
SSGL had been receiving the payment since 2016 without any legal backing, the Auditor-General said. In its report on the 2020 Management and Utilization of the District Assemblies Common Fund and other Statutory Funds, the Auditor General said the payments were illegal and unconstitutional.
“We could not establish the basis for the payment of the GH₵95 million as support to a private entity with no government ownership. We were also of the view that Article 252 (3) of the 1992 Constitution does not permit the allocation of the Common Fund to private entities and would be a loss to the Assemblies if not recovered,” it explained.
The report said the only justification for the payments was a letter from the office of the President and dated June 15, 2016.
That letter did not authorize the payment of monies to the Jospong subsidiary. It rather stated, “the intention of Cabinet to provide a credit guarantee for the completion of the Accra Waste Treatment Plant, Mudor Faecal and the old Lavender.”
It is not clear whether the government took any steps to recover the illegal payments to the company. What The Fourth Estate has discovered is that the government has paid even more money to the company.
How the GH₵156m was disbursed
The Ministry of Finance says it disbursed the funds to the Jospong Subsidiary, Sewerage System GH. Ltd (SSGL), in two tranches.
Information from the ministry shows the first disbursement of Gh¢100 million was made to the company on November 11, 2021, and the second, GH¢56.2 million was paid on December 4, 2021.
This information is contained in the ministry’s RTI response to The Fourth Estate, signed by Charles Adu Boahen, the Minister of State.
The letter, however, said the amount was released based on a request from the Minister of Local Government, Decentralisation and Rural Development, Dan Botwe.
In Mr Botwe’s letter, dated November 4, 2021, he requested the following to be paid to the company in compliance with a cabinet decision:
- Arrears of management fees, totaling GH¢ 112 million for the Mudor Plant from January 1, 2017, to September 30, 2020 (at GH¢2.5 million per month).
- Arrears of management fees, totaling GH¢36,540,000 000 for the Mudor Waste Treatment Plant from October 1, 2020, to June 2021 (GH¢4,060, 000 per month)
- Management fees of GH¢7.2 million as the net increase from October 1, 2020, to June 2021.
According to Mr Botwe, the arrears were a result of the non-payment of fees to Sewerage Systems GH Ltd for the management service agreement between his ministry and the company.
“Cabinet at its ninth meeting on 24th June 2021 authorised the payment of new monthly fees payable to each of the two plants…The Office of the Attorney General and Ministry of Justice subsequently in their letter on 1st September to the Ministry, communicated the effective dates for the payment of the arrears,” Mr Botwe said in the letter requesting the payments.
While the government paid over Gh¢156 million to one of the Zoomlion/Jospong Group of companies, Sewerage Systems GH. Ltd, across the country, refuse is piling up by the roadside, markets and other public places.
The Fourth Estate can confirm that Zoomlion and the Jospong Group have multiple sanitation contracts with all the metropolitan, municipal and district assemblies in Ghana, as well as some ministries.
Payments are made to the company by the District Assemblies Common Fund Secretariat in Accra.
What the Sanitation and Pollution Levy was meant for
When the Minister of Finance, Ken Ofori-Atta, appeared before Parliament to make a case for the sanitation levy, he convinced the lawmakers that funds from the levy would be used in five thematic areas:
- Improve air quality in urban areas of the country and combat pollution.
- Design, construct and re-engineer solid and liquid waste.
- Waste treatment and disposal facilities, including compost production Meas, recycling facilities, landfill sites, medical and other specialized waste treatment facilities.
- Construct sanitation facilities to accelerate the elimination of open defecation.
- Support disinfestation, disinfection and fumigation of public spaces, schools, lorry parks, health centres and markets.
- Provide dedicated support for the maintenance and management of major landfill sites and other waste treatment plants and facilities across the country.
However, it has become obvious that the government so far disbursed to only one company that had been flagged by the Auditor-General even before the levy came into effect.
Waste management in markets
In April and August 2022, The Fourth Estate went around some parts of Greater Accra and Central regions to survey the waste management situation in markets and lorry parks.
In the Ashaiman market, insects perched on a colourful display of apples, pears, carrots, bananas and mangos. Sellers fanned the top of the arrangement, hoping the wind will blow them away.
About 40 metres away, the market’s refuse container was overflowing with a heap of refuse around it. The situation compelled the vendors in the market to leave parcels of refuse around the damaged refuse container.
“The container is damaged that is why we leave waste around it”, Janet, a fruit vendor in the Ashaiman market, told The Fourth Estate.
They expect that the market should have at least one refuse container at designated refuse collection points which could be carried on time when full at no cost to the traders.
The lifting of the communal containers is paid for by the district assemblies in a contract with Zoomlion known as the Sanitation Improvement Package (SIP). But the traders had given up and had to find other means of disposing off waste.
“We pay to Gh¢2 per 25Kg bag of refuse to motorcycle riders to dispose off our refuse,” Mama Grace, a smoked-fish vendor said.
At the Kasoa old and new markets, there were no refuse containers. But at least six heaps of refuse were dotted across the markets.
“This is the situation here. Sometimes the refuse can be in the market for about a month before they would come and collect it. We pray that they clear this refuse. It is a nuisance,” Kofi Gyan, a hawker in the market said.
The script was not different at the Mallam Market, which is approximately 32 kilometres from the Kasoa Market.
The refuse container had reached its limits. Traders who didn’t want to add to the overflowing mess from the container found an abandoned uncompleted building close to the market, where they threw their waste. Overtime, it became a breath-taking mound of garbage.
Traders told The Fourth Estate that it took weeks to empty the sanitation container.
Similar scenes were witnessed at Agbogbloshie, Accra’s biggest foodstuff market, where thousands of food vendors storm every day for their supply of foodstuff, fruits, vegetables, fish and other edibles.
At the Tema Station, one of the busiest lorry parks in the heart of Accra, the garbage container was full. Its patrons were forced to throw the refuse beside the sanitation container.
The man in charge, who declined to give his name, said it had been more than six months since the last fumigation.
The lucky ones
If there were exceptions, it was the Dome and Kaneshie markets.
Hours before The Fourth Estate arrived, the container had been emptied but a long delay in fulfilling that obligation had resulted in an assembly of maggots.
The worms were flowing from sacks and polythene bags of waste on the ground.
Unlike Tema Station which had seen some fumigation in the past, the attendant said the place had not been fumigated since he had been there.
Here, there was a refuse container at the collection point. The environment was well kept, every parcel of refuse was sent directly into the container. There was no refuse on the ground. Traders said the container was replaced every morning.
“The container gets full every day because this collection point serves the market and Kaneshie main lorry station, so the car comes every morning to take it,” the attendant said.
The Greater Accra area generates over 3000 metric tonnes of refuse every day.
However, only about 10% of that is collected, according to city authorities.
Air quality in Accra
Meanwhile, a three-year data from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) indicates that air quality in Accra is below the agency’s expectation.
The EPA’s air quality monitoring in 2017, 2018 and 2019, in parts of Accra, shows that the level of air pollutants exceeded World Health Organisation recommended limits when measuring small particulate matter concentration (PM10) and (PM 2.5).
In response to The Fourth Estate RTI request, the Executive Director of the EPA, Henry Kwabena Kokofu, said the 2020 and 2021 monitoring reports were not ready.
According to the World Health Organisation, at least 28,000 people in Ghana died from air pollution-related causes in 2015.
“Current air quality conditions present an unacceptable health burden for the population of Greater Accra Metropolitan Area (GAMA) and are not in line with international guidelines for air quality,” a World Bank 2021 Report on Strengthening Air Quality Management in Accra, Ghana, said.
In the Greater Accra Region, the EPA estimates that in 2015, 2,800 lives were lost due to the effects of air pollution.
This number is projected to increase to approximately 4,600 by 2030 if no action is taken to reduce current and projected future levels of air pollution, the agency warns.
The acting Director of Environmental Quality Standards of the EPA, Emmanuel Appoh, told The Fourth Estate although the level of pollution had been reducing since 2006, it was still below the country’s acceptable limits.
According to the 2021 Population and Housing Census, 17.7% representing about 5.5 million people in Ghana still engaged in open defecation.
If the government’s investment in waste and management in Ghana from the sanitation levy is anything to go by, then Ghana is far from attaining the UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDGs) 6, which among other things aims at reducing pollution, dumping of hazardous waste and increasing access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and ending open defecation by 2030.
The writer of this report, Prosper Prince Midedzi was a Fellow of the maiden edition of the Next Generation Investigative Journalism Fellowship at the Media Foundation for West Africa.