Dec 31, 2018 News
By Kiana Wilburg
Poor salaries and the absence of a pension plan are just two of the major factors deterring much needed qualified personnel from joining the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This was noted by Chartered Accountant and former Auditor General, Anand Goolsarran.
In his forensic audit report on the agency, Goolsarran said the EPA needs about 160 professionals to be effective but the emoluments are not adequate to attract suitably qualified and trained personnel as salary scales are similar to those of the traditional public service.
In this regard, the Chartered Accountant highlighted that the position of a legal officer attracts a salary of $262,107 per month while the Finance Officer who is professionally qualified earns $226,362 per month. The auditor also expressed concern about the fact that the Ministry of Natural Resources is overly involved in the recruitment process.
“Although the agency is semi-autonomous with its own legislation and a board, there is an over involvement by the Ministry of Natural Resources in the operations of the EPA, especially in the area of recruitment. The agency responded by stating too that the Ministry of Finance requires that the Public Service Ministry facilitate the final approval stages of recruitment, which was previously handled by the Office of the President.”
In terms of retirement benefits, the former Auditor General said that the EPA does not have a pension plan. “As a result, staff members are recruited on a contractual basis at the same public service salary scales, and obtain a gratuity every six months. However, this can hardly be a substitute for a dedicated pension plan, whether contributory or noncontributory. Such a plan is likely to provide for a more settled organization in terms of staff recruitment and retention.”
Further to this, Goolsarran said that while most of the officers are required to be in the field, they do not benefit from duty-free concessions to assist them to acquire their own vehicles. What is also worse in Goolsarran view is the fact that the agency has a limited number of vehicles that can be used to undertake field trips. Given the age of these vehicles, operating and maintenance costs are high, said Goolsarran.
The auditor also pointed out that for years; the Environmental Protection Agency was unable to fulfill its very mandate due to severe budget constraints. Expounding further, he said that for the years 2012, 2013 and 2014, the Agency requested amounts totaling $933.036 million by way of subventions to meet operating expenditure. However, amounts approved totaled $569.393 million, representing 61 percent of EPA’s requirements. As a result, Goolsarran said that the Agency had no alternative than to reduce its programmes of activities to bring them in line with the amounts approved.
The Chartered Accountant said, “The Agency is constrained in its ability to effectively deliver on its mandate mainly because of budgetary constraints. In a recent briefing to the Minister, the EPA stated that basic operations such as site visits required for the processing of applications for environmental permits have been delayed…The EPA also stated that as a result, there is a backlog in processing of applications, which has implications, particularly if developers proceed with their plans without the EPA’s approval. There is a similar situation with conducting audits and renewals.”
To compound the aforementioned issues, Goolsarran highlighted that the EPA is housed in a building in Sophia that has limited office space, and the physical environment is unsuited for the Agency’s operations. In particular, Goolsarran said that the Agency does not have laboratory facilities for the testing of samples. Additionally, Goolsarran noted that the EPA has also not been able to have a dedicated regional presence so vitally necessary for a countrywide execution of its mandate, especially in the interior locations.
Considering these and other issues, Goolsarran strongly recommended that the Ministry of Finance provide the EPA with adequate resources with effect from the next budget cycle, to enable it to more effectively discharge its mandate of monitoring the natural environment and assisting in its protection. He said that this includes funds not only for the construction of a new building estimated at $200 million but also for securing facilities to ensure regional presence at least in Regions Seven, Eight, Nine and 10.
OIL PREPARATIONS & STAFFING ISSUES
In addition to being underfunded to carry out some of its fundamental tasks, the EPA’s 2019 budget does not cater for oil preparations. This was confirmed with the EPA’s Head, Dr. Vincent Adams.
During an exclusive interview with this newspaper, the EPA Head said he does not have the human or financial resources needed for the proper management of the oil sector. In fact, the agency does not even have the human resources needed to be an effective regulatory body. In this regard, Dr. Adams said that currently, he has a staff of 97 officers. But for the EPA to be efficient, it needs a total of 262.
Further to this, Dr. Adams said that the agency is continuously borrowing the equipment of other ministries to do its work. It is also unable to do proper monitoring due to its poor fleet of vehicles.
Dr. Adams said, “My staff members are not trained to deal with this (oil) sector. I don’t have engineers on my staff. Most of them have a Degree in Environmental Studies from the University of Guyana. They are hard and dedicated workers but they don’t have the science based qualifications for the fundamental sectors that we have to manage such as mining.”
The EPA Head continued, “I have one engineer, four chemistry majors and three biologists. I want to hire some more people, and get petroleum engineers, mining engineers, geologists, hydrologists, and chemical engineers. So before we can even get to preparing for oil, we need to get our human resources right to carry out our mandate, to fulfill our fundamental duties and oil will soon be part of that…The reality is that we are understaffed. So I have to tackle all these things.”
The Environmental Engineer added, “I have to submit a supplemental early next year so I can get the funds to hire the professionals we need. I have made these issues known to Minister of State, Joseph Harmon and Finance Minister, Winston Jordan and they have been very supportive…”
Turning his attention to the oil sector, the EPA Head told Kaieteur News that the supplementary he is preparing for 2019, will take into account, the money needed to transform EPA into a tough oil and gas regulator.
He said, “Right now, I have $624M for 2019 but that did not take our preparations for oil into consideration. When I was brought on a few months ago, the budget preparation for the agency was already at an advanced stage. My first task when I came on was to do an assessment of the Agency and see where it is…And it needs major restructuring.”
The issue of EPA being woefully understaffed was also raised in the forensic audit report that was done by Goolsarran. But the issue remains unaddressed.
In the audit report, Goolsarran said that the agency needs an additional 165 officers to “fully and effectively” execute its mandate. He noted for example that EPA’s Compliance Department has 27 officers but needs an additional 63 to be effective.
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