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The challenge of enforcing Environmental Protection policies in Freetown today

17 August 2017 at 18:06 | 1763 views

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The challenge of enforcing Environmental Protection policies in Freetown today

By Dr. Kayode Robbin-Coker, Chelmsford, UK.

In the last few days Sierra Leone’s President Ernest Bai Koroma has invoked Military Aid to Civil Community (MAC-C) in the wake of the mudslide in Regent and flooding disasters in various parts of Freetown which resulted in the death of hundreds of people with thousands more rendered homeless. It’s a pragmatic and appropriate response to the tragic happenings, and there’s no doubt that the military’s role in the rescue operations has been both timely and effective. However, planning for the future in the wake of these most recent environmental catastrophes must now start immediately and that planning will require a more strategic role for the military beyond occasional MAC-C invocations.

The greatest threat to Sierra Leone right now is posed by the largely man-made degradation of the environment. We therefore need the National Protected Area Authority (NPAA) – as currently constituted or even better, strengthened with new appointees who have requisite knowledge, experience and capability to lead on such an important body – to now seriously and urgently set about enforcing those regulations relating to "no human activity" in the designated areas which are central to its terms of reference.

“Human activity” in those TOR is defined as “including but not limited to logging, hunting, fishing, domestic animal rearing, building construction, mining and quarrying.” It is generally acknowledged that these edicts are routinely flouted and that the erecting of buildings without permission in such zones is a major contributory factor to the recent mudslide and flooding disasters.

We have seen in the past that attempts to enforce NPAA rules are met with vigilante responses which even resulted, some years ago, in the gruesome murder of Enforcement Agent Kenneth Moore (RIP). More recently an enforcement base office was set up (in Regent of all places) which was promptly burnt down by "persons unknown". So we must be clear - for enforcement to work there is a need for a dedicated armed Enforcement Unit to back up the NPAA teams going into these areas of operation. For that we need to go beyond the temporary recourse to MAC-C: we need one or more units of the RSLMF to be reassigned as armed backup to the NPAA for now and the foreseeable future.

The arrangements for military support to the NPAA can work on the basis of fixed term "tour of duty" slots as happens with service in international peacekeeping missions. But at any one time that the NPAA is going on enforcement duties they should have that armed and disciplined backup to hand as standard. A special allowance should be paid to reassigned military personnel as an incentive to carry out these support roles with vigour and integrity. Similarly the NPAA staff in the field must be incentivised so they prosecute their roles assiduously. The police and the judiciary must also play their part in bringing malefactors to justice and using the full force of the law to back up the enforcement proceedings. Make no mistake, this is a war and Sierra Leone is losing it at the moment.

Last but not least, these proposals for making the NPAA work effectively must be accompanied by a government strategy for relocation of citizens from areas designated as "no human activity" zones. That’s obviously the elephant in the room and a subject that needs to be considered on its own.

May the souls of Kenneth Moore and all the victims of these preventable tragedies rest in peace. The most appropriate memorial to their demise is for us to say "Never Again" and really mean it this time.

The author, Dr. Kayode Robbin-Coker

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