Natural Resources Ministry defends co-opting of staff from agencies

The Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment has defended its decision to co-opt staff from its agencies and stressed that 98 percent of its staffing needs have been filled and that an international consultant has been hired to look at ways of strengthening the EPA, improve cost recovery and bolster staff retention.

This response from the Ministry came yesterday following the publication by this newspaper of an article titled, ‘Natural Resources Ministry co-opting of EPA staff jeopardizing programmes.’ The article speaks to the 2012 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Annual Report in which a number of revelations were made regarding staffing issues. According to the article, a number of staff was assigned by the MNRE to its Head Office, leaving short-staffed agencies under its purview, such as the EPA.

According to the report, six staff members from the EPA’s core programme were assigned by the MNRE to its Head Office, the National Parks Commission, and the Pick-it-Up Campaign. The report said that as a result, the Natural Resources Management Division functioned for an entire year without a director and a special projects officer.

It said that similarly, the Education, Information and Training Division operated without its sole senior environmental officer and one of its four environmental officers.

The report said that for the year under review there was no movement on the agency’s proposal to split the Environmental Management Division (EMD) into two divisions, each to be managed by a director. It said too that the EMD as a result continued to grapple with an increasingly excessive workload throughout the year exacerbated by frequent staff turnover.

The report noted too that the EPA grappled with the challenge of completing its work-plan for the year in face of the late receipt of its subvention due to a lengthy delay in the passing of the 2012 National Budget. It said a total subvention of $160,920,000 was received for the year, with $31,000,000 of this amount coming from the Environmental Trust Fund.

 

Achievements and challenges

However, the Ministry yesterday defended its position saying that there have been both achievements and challenges for the year under review.

“The Agency wishes to clarify a number of subject matters which the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) 2012 Annual Report has highlighted,” the Ministry said in a statement. It said that the Annual Report served as a reporting mechanism against its work programme which identified both achievements and challenges for the year 2012. “In light of the aforesaid, the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment (MNRE) has recognised the challenges and has since implemented and recommended a series of actions to address these matters,” it said.

“With regard to staffing, the Agency wishes to advise that at present, 98 percent of the staff positions under its various programmes have been filled,” the statement from the Ministry said.

The Ministry said that the former Director of the Natural Resource Management Division (NRMD) is currently the Commissioner of the Protected Areas Commission (PAC) while the Coordinator of the Pick-it-up Campaign is currently housed at the Ministry to better facilitate coordination among its sister agencies.

“As it relates to the current Environmental Management Division, MNRE has since given its no objection to split the Division into 1) Permitting, and 2) Compliance Divisions, both of which have independent Directors and staff to manage their affairs. In addition, the MNRE and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in August 2013 signed a grant agreement for the drafting of the Agency’s Compliance and Environmental Regula-tions in support of the EPA’s Act (1996) to give the Compliance Division more teeth and to strengthen the overall capacity of the EPA,” the Ministry said.

It said that it has recognised and recommended that there is a need for an in-house Legal Officer because of the number of cases engaging legal attention in the Courts. “As such, the Ministry has given the Agency permission to recruit a Legal Officer who has already been hired thus strengthening the capacity of EPA to take actions against persons who infringe the EPA Act,” it said.

“The newspaper article reported on the Agency conducting extensive monitoring assessments in 2012, which have only continued to increase in 2013. As a result, the Ministry has endorsed the proposal for the EPA to establish a Water Quality Unit for which new testing instruments are being procured,” said the Ministry in the statement.

“The Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment has recognised that there is an increasing demand for the services of the EPA and that it has been somewhat lacking in capacity to effectively achieve its mandate,” it said. “For that reason, MNRE has since engaged with the EPA and an international consultant to draft a proposal to 1) investigate means to strengthen the EPA, 2) improve cost recovery mechanisms, and 3) improve staff retention,” the Ministry said.

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