The tragic consequences of the weekend's flooding in some parts of Accra have turned the heat on building inspectors and planning officers, with a ministerial promise of sanctions and massive demolition of wrongly sited structures.
Outraged by the loss of seven lives and many homes to the floods, the Minister of Local Government, Rural Development and Environment, Mr Stephen Asamoah-Boateng, has directed district chief executives (DCEs) to deal with their planning officers and building inspectors who condoned and connived with developers to build on waterways and at unauthorised places.
Responding to concerns raised about the inability of district assemblies to enforce building regulations, he made it clear that the time to act was now to avoid what he called the preventable death of people during heavy rains, particularly in parts of Accra.
The minister further directed that sanctioning the offending officials should begin with the Accra Metropolitan Assembly and the Ga West District Assembly whose areas of jurisdiction were hit by the weekend's floods.
He recalled Cabinet's concern about the growing laxity in the enforcement of planning and building regulations by metropolitan, municipal and district assemblies (MMDAs) and indicated that the tendency had given rise to substandard and poorly constructed houses/structures, often at flood-prone and other environmentally sensitive areas, without regard to planning and building regulations.
Mr Asamoah-Boateng said in order to have a proper grasp of the situation on the ground, he had directed the Town and Country Planning Department and National Disaster Management Organisation (NADMO) to undertake an assessment of the floods which hit parts of Accra at the weekend in order to recommend appropriate remedies to the government.
He promised that the outcome of the assessment would be accorded top priority by the government.
“If the findings of the two organisations implicate district planning officers and building inspectors in their statutory functions, they will be sanctioned,” he warned, and hinted that developers who put up structures on waterways and at unauthorised places would not be compensated in the event that those structures were pulled down.
The ministry, he stated, would impose severe sanctions on any staff member of the MMDAs for any lapses, acts of omission or commission in the performance of his or her duties.
Similarly, Mr Asamoah-Boateng said any MMDA which failed in its duties would be held accountable for any lapses as a result of ineffective management, control and enforcement of planning and building regulations.
When he was reminded that in the past similar directives had not been respected, including one from the then Ministry of Works and Housing that structures on waterways, including a church building at Kpehe, were to be demolished, the minister said, “I am going to act this time round and those who build in flood-prone areas will receive no compensation in the event of the demolition of the structures, while officers who sanctioned those structures will be penalised.”
“Until the government is firm in dealing with recalcitrant developers, nobody will respect the laws,” he added.
He extended his condolences to the families of those who lost their lives during the floods at the weekend.
The Local Government Act 1993, Act 462, expressly confers development planning, management and control of responsibilities and functions on MMDAs and makes specific provisions for the enforcement and control of physical development within their jurisdictions.
The DCE for Ga West, Mr Eric Busby Quartey-Papafio, admitted difficulties in trying to deal with the menace of unauthorised structures in the district.
He said the district had become a major development pole in the Greater Accra Region because the area had large tracts of land which were attracting developers to the area, saying that development was overstretching the resources of the district and making the monitoring of the activities of developers cumbersome.
Mr Quartey-Papafio said an attempt to outwit the task force of the assembly, the developers, particularly the illegal ones, had decided to undertake their projects during the weekends.
Meanwhile, the Greater Accra Regional Co-ordinator of NADMO, Mr Ben Brown, has said the organisation would need about ¢1.5 billion for the upkeep of people who were displaced during last Saturday's rainfall.
The money, according to him, would be used to provide food, medical services, water, security and sanitary facilities, as well as provide support, for those who lost their relatives and family members.
The death toll has risen to seven but at the weekend it was said that five persons, a man and four women, had lost their lives during the rains when they were swept away by torrential floods at Mallam, New Gbawe and Kwashibu, all suburbs of Accra.
Story by Emmanuel Bonney