The way Georgetown is run never ceases to amaze. There is Chief Engineer Colvern Venture only this week again exhorting citizens not to dump garbage in the drains and waterways. Now this appeal is not new; it has been a regular feature of council communications for decades. One might have thought that it would have occurred to the city bureaucracy by now that entreaties are a waste of time; many inhabitants of the capital simply turn a deaf ear.

At least one lesson appears to have been learnt from our bitter experience of regular flooding, although that is only after the passage of many years. Reporters learnt from Mr Venture on Monday that all the pumps in and around the city were operational, something which could not have been relied upon in the past. He also said that the council was working with the Ministry of Agriculture to reduce the risk of flooding now that the rains were expected.

One can only hope that this unaccustomed industry on the part of the City Engineer’s Department did not come about solely in anticipation of the visit by the President of Ghana, and that it represents a precedent which will be followed even when no foreign dignitaries grace these shores.

Certainly some cleaning up was done prior to the visit, and no one will complain about that. But it was what the City Engineer had to say in relation to the council’s efforts which spoke volumes. He related how the city workers had undertaken cleaning along Lombard Street on Saturday and Sunday, but yet when they returned on Monday, garbage could be seen again along the roadways and in the drains which then had to be removed once more.

He described the challenge of what they had to deal with in some instances, considering “the things that we have to take out from the drain or the culverts.” He said they were “kind of surprised to see what is in it; we might clear a specific area within a week and we have to go back again.”

Flood weary residents might be surprised that Mr Venture is surprised. Few can forget the nightmare that was the Great Flood, and that all the reports following it concurred that one of the factors contributing to its scale was the dumping of refuse in the waterways. Since that time – and it was all of fourteen years ago – the City Council has failed to institute the kind of measures which might produce a revolution in the habits of the citizenry.

It is certainly true that not all areas are equal where what is often called fly-tipping is concerned. In residential areas usually serviced by the private contractors Puran Bros and Cevons, and where more-or-less all residents own a bin, dumping is not a problem. However, in less favoured parts of the capital – and the areas in the vicinity of the Sussex Street Canal are a case in point – the issue takes on an entirely different dimension. It is not altogether clear whether rubbish is collected in some wards of the city on the same regular basis as it is in other parts, or even if it is, whether all the residents there are in possession of a garbage receptacle.

There may, in fact, be quite a few people in Georgetown who simply cannot afford to acquire a bin, while there may be others who have moved into the city from rural areas where there were no organised garbage arrangements, and who were simply accustomed to disposing of their waste wherever they could.

That said, it must be acknowledged that that there are some members of what might be considered privileged groups who are guilty of fly-tipping. Despite the fact, for example, that the business areas have regular garbage collections, some businesspeople pay derelict individuals to dump their rubbish. One presumes they generate more waste than can be catered for by council collections, and that rather than pay one of the private contractors to move the extra refuse, they pay a pittance to a street dweller to dispose of it in any empty space, or in a canal, etc. One such site in the business district, for example, was an abandoned garage, which even though it was cleaned up, still became the fly-tipping spot of choice for certain retailers or entrepreneurs.

The Chief Engineer had far worse cases with which to regale the media. There were areas like Hincks Street within the vicinity of GTM, he said, where they found that “persons actually have their waste pipe from the toilets … flushing into the drainage system instead of the sewer system, and those are the challenges [that] whenever we have floods and so, our workers have to face.”

That is nothing short of a scandal. It might be added that it is not just his workers who have to face the “challenges” as he puts it, but the whole population. That is a central area traversed by thousands of people every week, and they will all be at risk. Clearly the city authorities have to take action to see that the guilty parties are charged, since given the health hazard this insanitary diversion represents, it must be illegal.

But this is the whole problem with how the city has been managed over the years: no sanctions for infractions of key bye-laws have been enforced. Surely it is not beyond the wit of the City Constabulary to catch the business owners who are guilty of fly-tipping, and not retreat to the lame excuse that they can catch the drug addicts, for example, who are paid to do it, but that this will not enable them to ensnare the perpetrators. Of course they could catch the perpetrators if they applied a bit of time, effort and imagination, because if they can’t they are accepting the wages paid by local taxpayers under false pretences.

And then there are the wards where the canals and waterways are perennially choked with rubbish. The Councillors representing those wards need to talk to community leaders in the first instance, to identify the problems in relation to garbage disposal and collection, and in the second, to work out approaches to address these. This will inevitably take longer, but here too there will have to come a stage where sanctions must be applied – and there will be specific instances where they should be applied immediately. 

 “I am calling on the residents out there and persons within the city to desist from disposing of their waste…in the drains and waterways,” appealed the Chief Engineer a few days ago. He should not waste any more time “calling on” people; action is what is needed, not words. 

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