One of the main challenges bedeviling the smooth operations of the country's Factories Inspectorate Division (FID) has to do with poor government funding.
The FID, mandated to inspect factories, shops and offices with the aim of safeguarding the health, welfare and safety of persons employed within or around the premises and issue licenses for the operation of business in such premises, often compromises its duty due to a lack of adequate funding, leading to disasters such as the collapsed Melcom shopping mall.
Economic Tribune's investigations revealed that budgetary allocations for the FID for 2012 were a mere GHC1, 700, even though user fees paid by applicants to the department exceeded GHC12, 000.
Compounding the challenge of inadequate funding, it was not until July that funds from government, in the budgetary allocation for the year, were released thereby hampering the timely issuance of certificates for approved applications.
“We often use our own money for our inspection rounds and have to wait for long periods to be reimbursed because our budgetary allocations do not arrive early,” an officer disclosed to Economic Tribune, who asked not to be named because she does not speak for her organisation.
Some businesses operating in Accra disclosed that their application for the Factories, Shops and Offices Certificate often took months to obtain. A certificate is valid for a year and expires on December 31, 2012 each year notwithstanding when it was issued or renewed.
Ideally, it takes about 14 working days for the entire process of application to issuance of the certificate to be completed; however, this is subject to how soon queries and recommendations raised by the directorate are dealt with by the applicant. A certificate is required before a business commences, however, if business has already commenced, an applicant may still make an application for a certificate.
The application process itself is not complicated. The application form costs GHC 5.00 and processing fee is GHC 150.00 and an applicant has to complete the form, which can be obtained from the Regional office of the Factories, Offices and Shops Inspectorate and submit same with a building or structural plan of the premises which are then reviewed by the inspectorate.
When an application is made under a situation where the business had already commenced, the inspectorate inspects the property and if necessary makes recommendations for structural changes before business can continue.
When all necessary recommendations have been made the application is then forwarded to the head office for a certificate to be issued.
The Private Enterprises Foundation (PEF), earlier this year, with support from Business Sector Advocacy Challenge (BUSAC) Funds commissioned a study into cross-sectoral licensing and permits requirements as an advocacy action to help regulators become more efficient and proactive in the delivery of their services to business operators, so as to remove the negative impact on the operations of the business community.
The study identified a number of challenges and lapses including the fact that the FID has no online application system thus making its procedure cumbersome.
It also has inadequate offices across the country to undertake timely inspections at the local levels, which is compounded by inadequate personnel to conduct inspection of applicant's premises
There was also periodic loss of documentations due to improper record keeping, as well as, limited contacts between the inspectorate and other agencies, and virtually no public education or awareness creation.
The PEF study recommended that, importantly, the department should be allowed to keep a percentage of the user fees paid by applicants to enhance internal operations in order to provide better and expedited services to the business community but not pay 100 percent of the user fees into the consolidated fund. Secondly, review of fees should be done in consultation with stakeholders.
It also recommended a general use of technology to speed up service delivery and creation of a one stop shop portal; precisely, online application or e-application platform, the creation of data base for research and analysis, and the need for an electronic notification system of application status.
There also should be the creation of more offices in the regions and districts to conduct inspections at the local level, while the Agency must adopt a Career development programme to attract young professionals.
The PEF study also noted that the FID needs to embark on numerous public education, publicity, and training of applicants on the various application procedures so as to eliminate confusions and other reasons for compromising on adherence to safety standards, thereby exposing workers and other users of the premises to avoidable dangers.