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close this bookSustaining the Future. Economic, Social, and Environmental Change in Sub-Saharan Africa (UNU, 1996, 365 p.)
close this folderPart 5: Environment and development in Ghana
close this folderInstitutional issues on the environment and resource management with reference to Ghana
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentEarly developments
View the documentThe Stockholm Conference and after
View the documentThe Environmental Action Plan (EAP)
View the documentInstitutional problems and issues
View the documentThe implementation of the Environmental Action Plan
View the documentConclusion
View the documentReferences


Early developments
The Stockholm Conference and after
The Environmental Action Plan (EAP)
Institutional problems and issues
The implementation of the Environmental Action Plan


George Benneh


Environment and resources are two sides of the same coin that is required for development. It is impossible, over the long term, to manage one without the other. The term "environmental resources" is appropriate in discussions on the problems of managing development on a sustainable basis. The wide spectrum of environmental resources and the complex relationships that link them in structure and functioning over time and in space make their management difficult, particularly with respect to organization for conservation.

The successful management of environmental resources in any country depends to a large extent on the effectiveness of the institutional arrangements put in place by government for their management. These institutional arrangements refer to the types of organizational units involved, such as ministries, agencies, and committees, and to the responsibilities and authorities of these units, and the relationships between them. Because the management of environmental resources cuts across all sectors of government, it also requires the active coordination and participation of virtually all segments of government.

There is no common institutional framework or formula for managing environmental resources in African countries because situations differ. Indeed, the institutional framework for addressing environmental concerns in a particular country may also change with time, depending on the perception of the government of the scope and seriousness of these concerns. This is exemplified by the case of Ghana.

Early developments

In Ghana, concern about the land and environmental degradation has been expressed since the early decades of the twentieth century, notably since the 1930s (Agyepong 1987; Benneh et al. 1990). Legislation to protect specific aspects and components of the land were put in place in the early years of the century. For instance, in 1901, the Wild Animals Preservation Ordinance was passed, followed by the Rivers Ordinance in 1903. Forest reservation was initiated in 1907, followed a year later by the establishment of the Forestry Department. The Mining Rights Regulations Ordinance was introduced in 1925. Severe degradational problems in the northern savannas led to the institution of land planning and soil erosion measures in those areas. These introduced conservational practices in the agricultural use of land, water, and grazing resources. Planning and execution involved the Departments of Agriculture and Forestry and the local people. The Land Planning and Soil Erosion Ordinance was passed in 1953, and amended in 1957, to create permanent committees of the areas designated for planning (Benneh 1985).

The institutional arrangements that have developed over the years charge government departments or committees with responsibility for specific resources. This was the case with the Forestry Department and the Geological Survey Department. The Land Survey Department was established in 1919, the Soil Survey Division, now the Soil Research Institute, came into existence in 1947, and the Game and Wildlife Department was established in 1961. Between the early 1950s and the beginning of the 1970s, several enactments empowered various official agencies to exercise executive responsibilities as far as the care and protection of the environment and resources were concerned. In addition, a number of research institutes were established. The responsibilities for environmental resources were therefore widely distributed, with no one agency having an oversight of the wider environment or significant portions of it.

This sectoral arrangement of institutional responsibilities has been characteristic of the management of the environment and resources in the country. Twenty-two departments, commissions, corporations, and institutes have been identified in Ghana as having responsibility for land and other resources management (Benneh et al. 1990). Responsibilities range from policy formulation, survey and evaluation, planning, production, conservation, research, and training to monitoring.

The problems of achieving an ecologically and environmentally comprehensive perspective on resources and the resource processes in these circumstances are many and have impeded optimal management.

The Stockholm Conference and after

The United Nations Conference on the Environment in Stockholm in 1972 created a situation where the environment emerged as a global issue, and the social and economic implications of resource use, environment, and development became a major concern for many governments.

National and global strategies have been widely discussed and formulated since 1972, as evidenced in the two landmark reports The World Conservation Strategy (IUCN 1980) and Our Common Future (WCED 1987). The United Nations Environment Programme was set up after the conference as the global environmental conscience.

These emerging concerns found clear expression in the establishment of departments and other institutions of the environment and natural resources in a number of countries. These institutions were vested with legislation to provide wide overviews and functions involving environmental impact procedures, standard setting, monitoring, and training programmes. Ghana was one of the first of the developing countries to set up an environmental institution. The Environmental Protection Council (EPC) was established in 1974 by National Redemption Council Decree 23 under the supervision of the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning.

The functions of the EPC contained in its mandate were:

to advise the government generally on all environmental matters relating to the social and economic life of Ghana;

to coordinate the activities of all bodies concerned with environmental matters and to serve as a channel of communication between these bodies and the government;

to conduct and promote investigations, studies, surveys, research, analyses, including the training of personnel, relating to the improvement of Ghana's environment and the maintenance of sound ecological systems;

to serve as the official national body for cooperating and liaising with national and international organizations on environmental matters;

to undertake such studies and submit such reports and recommendations with respect to environmental matters as the government may request;

to embark upon general environmental educational programmes for the purpose of creating enlightened public opinion regarding the environment;

without prejudice to the economic and social advancement of Ghana, to ensure the observance of proper safeguards in the planning and execution of all development projects, including those already in existence, that are likely to interfere with the quality of the environment; and

to perform functions as the government may assign to the Council of all or any of the foregoing functions.

The membership of the EPC was drawn from ministries, universities, research institutions, public boards, and the general public. The EPC was to operate through specialized committees in the exercise of its functions. It was also to seek advice and to consult any public body in the discharge of its functions. Through the supervising ministry, legislative instruments and regulations may be made for the purpose of giving effect to the provisions of the decree establishing the EPC. In 1976, an amendment was made to the decree empowering the EPC to request information and enter premises to undertake inspection for the purposes of giving effect to the decree, backed by fines and imprisonment terms.

The ministerial location of the EPC varied with its perceived role. Its original location in the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning was changed to that of Health in 1981, and a year later it was reassigned to the Ministry of Local Government. The roles shifted from an emphasis on planning, to health (sanitation), and to local issues. Problems still existed in developing the relevant concepts and the institutional framework to take in the functions of a single agency charged with overseeing the varied facets of the environment. Environmental management continued to be ad hoc and sectoral through the specialized committees of the EPC, e.g. natural ecosystems, human settlements, industrial pollution, water, and hazardous chemicals. The environmental problems persisted and increased in occurrence and intensity. Notable were deforestation, soil erosion, water and air pollution, and urban waste disposal. Decisions reached by the committees could not be effectively implemented, and the EPC had to rely on the goodwill and understanding of the ministries and agencies concerned.

The EPC sometimes found itself in a situation where it had to take over the responsibilities of other institutions owing to the inability of these agencies to perform their assigned roles effectively. The EPC was then accused of taking on too much. This situation arose because, as environmental problems increased, the general public tended to look to the Council to resolve these problems.

With the EPC shying away from accusations of taking over the role of others, a situation was created where some problems that did not fall within the sphere of responsibility of any one body were left unattended to. In addition, and with time, the mandate of sectoral agencies proved inadequate to cope with the increasing problems resulting from increasing development and also from inadequate personnel, equipment, and enforcement powers.

The Environmental Action Plan (EAP)

Beginning in the early 1980s, especially following a severe drought in 1983 that affected the whole country and resulted in widespread bush fires, the protectionist and sector-oriented approach to environmental management with limited scope began to change as the state of the natural resource base deteriorated rapidly and began to pose a problem for the future prospects of development. The EPC initiated and led the way in the preparation of a number of plans and programmes, including the National Oil Spill Contingency Plan (1985), the National Plan of Action to Combat Desertification (1986), the Draft National Conservation Strategy (1987), and the National Environmental Protection Programme (1987). The new approach was aided by the launching of the World Conservation Strategy in 1980 by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) in which the term "sustainable development" was used.

One major principle of sustainable development was to provide a framework for integrating development and conservation, in terms of laws, institutions, and policies. Following on these developments, one of the specialized committees of the EPC, the Natural Ecosystems Committee, initiated moves in 1986 to prepare a National Conservation Strategy for Ghana. To do this a national conference on the theme "Resource Conservation for Ghana's Sustainable Development" was organized in 1987. The conference brought together scientists, planners, economists, and decision makers to discuss how Ghana's development could be made sustainable. After the conference, the ideas gathered were to be used for the preparation of the National Conservation Strategy.

During this period the country had embarked on its Economic Recovery Programme (ERP), beginning in 1983, to reverse the economic decline of the country. The key factors accounting for the initial achievements of the ERP included the exploitation of the natural resource systems of the country. The environmental degradation that accompanied the economic growth and exploitation of the natural resources imposed costs on the economy of the country. This led the government to direct the EPC in March 1988 to set up a "think tank" "to develop environmental issues for incorporation into the second phase of the ERP." The work of the "think tank" was followed by the setting up of sectoral working groups on land, forestry and wildlife, water management, marine and coastal ecosystems, mining, manufacturing industries, and hazardous chemicals, and human settlements to address in detail the issues identified in the think tank's report and the proceedings of the 1987 national conference. These, together with the issues identified during a series of regional and district forums on the environment in 1987, led to the preparation of an Environmental Action Plan (EAP) for Ghana (EPC 1991), which was to address the nation's environmental problems in a comprehensive and integrated manner. It was to provide a technical, institutional, and legal framework for dealing with the problems of land and water degradation, diminishing forest and wildlife resources, and problems associated with mineral extraction and other industrial activities (fig. 17.1).

The concept of sustainable development runs through the Plan, which integrates the previous ad hoc programmes, which were sectoral in nature, into a comprehensive strategy addressing all issues of concern not only to Ghanaians but also to the international environmental movement at large. The Plan seeks to redirect national development into more environmentally sustainable programmes and practices through the following:

the protection and preservation of the resource base;

prior assessment of the potential environmental impacts of development projects;

alternative or multi-purpose uses of land and water resources;

the promotion of popular participation in planning, evaluating, and implementing environmental and development strategies.

The Plan sets out an environmental policy for Ghana and makes the attainment of a high-quality environment a key element in the country's economic and social development. It also provides guidance and sets out an action-oriented strategy that specifies the role of sectoral ministries, agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and indeed of every Ghanaian in its implementation. It is recognized that the realization of the objectives in the EAP and the national environmental policy can be attained only through collaboration and cooperation among institutions with responsibility for various aspects of resource management and environmental protection.

Fig. 17.1 An integrative institutional framework for environmental management and policy (Source: EPC 1991)

Institutional problems and issues

During the EAP preparation process, a number of institutional issues were identified in six areas: land management, water resource management, marine and coastal ecosystems, mining industry and hazardous chemicals, human settlements, and forest and wildlife.

In the area of land management, the institutional issues were that:

- there were a multiplicity of land management agencies, in fact as many as 22 with varying responsibilities;

- the coordinating management functions among agencies were not clear because they saw themselves as autonomous units, each with a specific mandate under different ministries; and

- each agency saw the problems or potentialities of the environment from its professional technical point of view and in terms of its mandate.

In the water resource management sector the major problems were:

- the improper definition of areas of responsibility, resulting in overlapping of efforts and different standards of measurement and analysis;

- the lack of an organization responsible for the overall management of water resources - functions were diffused among a number of agencies with respect to the abstraction of water and the discharge of effluents, and many of the water agencies dealt with individual aspects of water use to serve individual sectors of the economy.

In the marine and coastal ecosystems area, the issues were mainly a lack of the necessary manpower, equipment, and training in existing agencies.

In the mining industry and hazardous chemicals, problems were:

- an absence of an appropriate legislative framework for hazardous chemicals - there was a need for clear-cut arrangements for the enactment and enforcement of laws of the environment and a need for a dispute settlement procedure;

- weak institutional strength in terms of staffing, training, equipment, and logistical and financial support.

In the human settlement sector the issues were that the overall direction and integration of human settlement policy were inadequate to ensure consistency in the training of personnel and execution of policy with regard to population distribution and the provision of infrastructure and services.

In the forest and wildlife sector, training in modern techniques was recognized as an important requirement.

The implementation of the Environmental Action Plan

The above institutional problems and issues were to be addressed by the Environmental Protection Council (EPC), which is responsible for coordination of action by various individuals and organizations, monitoring action, and reporting to government. Generally, this role of the EPC is undisputed and there is broad public acceptance of the authority of the EPC, even though it has been argued that it needs to be given enforcement powers in order to prosecute.

The role of the EPC in the implementation of the EAP has remained unchanged. However, the focus of its operations, based on the provisions of the national environmental policy and related policy orientations, has shifted from an emphasis on environmental protection to environmental resource management. The need for effective management of the environment is a recurrent theme of the EAP. In the light of this, the EPC has been given increased functions, which include the following:

to issue environmental permits and pollution abatement notices for controlling the volume, types, constituents, and effects of waste discharges, emissions, deposits, or other sources of pollutants and of substances that are hazardous or potentially dangerous to the quality of the environment or any segment of the environment;

to issue notices in the form of directives, procedures, or warnings to such bodies as it may determine for the purpose of controlling the volume, intensity, and quality of noise in the environment;

to ensure compliance with any laid down environmental impact assessment procedures in the planning and execution of development projects, including compliance in respect of existing projects;

to impose and collect environmental protection levies in accordance with the Act or regulations made under the Act setting up the EPC.

To reflect these changes and to invest the EPC with more powers, the Council has been redesignated as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) within the new Ministry of Environment, Science and Technology.

In order to resolve the institutional issues, the Ghana Environmental Resource Management System (GERMS) has been made part of the implementation programme of the Environmental Action Plan. The proposed system would ensure that there is no duplication of roles. The system envisages the development of an Environmental Information System (EIS) incorporating topographic, land capability, and current land-use information, the processing of meteorological information, and the determination of land ownership on the scale of 1: 250,000. GERMS will involve communities and government institutions in the planning, implementation, and monitoring of the sustainable use of environmental resources.

GERMS will provide a framework for policy formulation, planning, monitoring, problem solving, and implementation. Because most environmental concerns are intersectoral in nature and decisions involve choices between alternatives and possibly conflicting courses of action that carry costs and benefits, the management system should ensure that all possible options are considered, as well as the technical, economic, financial, social, or political implications of issues, by the various sectoral agencies involved to reflect national, district, or community development priorities.

GERMS is to create intersectoral linkages to bring together sectoral agencies and communities whose activities impinge on the environment. There are four intersectoral networks: built environment, natural resources, mining, and education. These networks will be supported by specialists in the areas of environmental economics, environmental impact assessment, environmental quality, and data management. The EPA therefore provides a forum for detailed discussions of environmental issues prior to making recommendations to government decision makers.

At the local level, district assemblies, which are the district planning authorities, together with district environmental management committees will provide a firm basis for local management of the environment. This is in line with the government's decentralization programme, which allows district, municipal, and metropolitan assemblies to have a central role in ensuring the protection and management of the environment.


Ghana's current institutional arrangements for the management of resources and the environment emphasize participatory planning involving local communities and institutions, non-governmental organizations, and decentralized sectoral organizations. Technical implementation will be undertaken by the technical departments. The Environmental Protection Agency provides coordinating and monitoring functions, which is a desirable departure from the sectorally segmented approaches in the past. Already a lot of education to increase awareness of the nature of the resource and environmental problems has been undertaken with favourable indications that the new philosophy and approach will succeed in minimizing the problems.


Agyepong, G. T. 1987. Perspectives on Land Resource Planningfor Conservafion in Ghana. Report of National Conference on Resource Conservation for Ghana's Sustainable Development, EPC, Accra, 28-30 April.

Benneh G. 1985. Population, disease and rural development programme in the

Upper East Rcgion of Ghana. In: J. 1. Clark et al. (eds.), Population and Development Projects in Africa. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 206 218.

Benneh, G. et al. 1990. I.and Degradation in Ghana. Commonwealth Secretariat/University of Ghana.

EPC (Environmental Protection Council). 1991. Environmental Action Plan, vol. 1. Accra: EPC.

IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources). 1980. The World Conservatwn Strategy. IUCN.

WCED (World Commission on Environment and Development). 1987. Our Common Future. Oxford: Oxford University Press.