Head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Dr. Vincent Adams, has said that he will petition the Government for more funds in an effort to boost the paltry pay of his officers.
His reason for doing so is premised on concerns from local and international transparency advocates that the poor salaries of EPA officers make them more susceptible to the influence of corrupt oil companies.
Dr. Adams noted, yesterday, that this is a serious concern of his. He said, too, that he notes the importance of the issue especially since the EPA will be one of the key regulators of the oil and gas sector.
The hydrologist said, “I have not brought this particular issue to the government as yet but our Board is aware of it, the need to have the salaries increased. When compared to the other ministries, the salaries are low. I want to change that. It must be priority for the EPA to work on retaining its workers…I have some employees who are on one year contracts and one can’t really feel secure in such circumstances.”
“Let me reiterate that I do agree with the concerns expressed. Bear in mind, too, that bribery is something you can never get rid of 100 percent but given our circumstances, improving the salaries can help to make a difference. And I will be asking the government for more funds in this regard…”
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. 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.
The Chartered Accountant said 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 Ministry of Natural Resources is overly involved in the recruitment process.
Goolsarran said, “Although the agency is semiautonomous 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’s 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 brief 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.
Goolsarran said that the Agency does not have laboratory facilities for the testing of samples. He 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 Ten.
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