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Sierra Leone News: Audit Service confirms weak oversight at EPA

The Auditor General’s office has discovered that monitoring fees collected by the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) were used for administrative purposes instead of monitoring.
“Diverting the funds meant for monitoring purposes has a potential effect on the consistent execution of the Agency’s routine monitoring activities within the required time frame,” according to the Audit Service Sierra Leone (ASSL) performance audit report on monitoring of environmental compliance and enforcement by the EPA, July 2017, which was released last week.
The EPA’s weak oversight to keep track of company’s quarterly and annual environmental audit reports, has presented the risk that the Agency may not be effectively monitoring and enforcing sound environmental management practices for sustainable development.
This also implies that EPA-SL, “is not maintaining adequate records that could be useful in analysing trends in environmental footprints.”
The report confirmed a lot of findings regarding the diverted funds in the EPA’s Financial Statements.
“The monitoring fees generated internally by the Agency in 2011 amounted to Le336,894,000. In 2012, it increased to Le1,228,444,000, and in 2013 there was sharp increase in monitoring fees generated to Le5,802,284,249, there was however a shortfall of Le3,124,075,089 in 2014 partly, due to the Ebola crisis.”
From the above breakdown, the report states that only 7% of fees collected in respect of monitoring was utilised for monitoring activities whilst the remaining 93% was spent on administration in 2013, even though that year recorded the highest amount of income generated from monitoring fees.
In response, EPA officials said that the utilisation of monitoring fees for administrative purposes was as a result of them not receiving government subventions for the previous three years. The auditors noted that the EPA had a cumulative surplus from 2011 to 2014 of approximately Le19 billion Leones.
Also, auditors found that certain Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) requirements were not being followed by EPA, which could undermine oversight and enforcement efforts, the EIA licenses were not displayed at a conspicuous place in the project sites during the time of their visit.
A comprehensive annual environmental management report should be submitted to the Agency three months before expiration as a condition for renewal of its EIA license and a report containing the benefits the community is getting from the project. These reports were also not submitted to the EPA.
Auditors took a close look at the state of other non-compliance issues and found significant lapses. Safety concerns are a priority. They found out that one of the companies has fire extinguishers, which are to be refilled and some of them have already expired. There was no documentary evidence of such procedures and standard practices at the EPA.
Factories with plants and machinery systems generating noise were not equipped with noise attenuators and the EPA did not provide the auditors with evidence of closure documents. The EIA requires companies to submit their updated closure plan, closure construction and designs, post-closure monitoring plan and post-closure emergency management plan, when companies decide to close operations.
The audit focused on the environmental compliance, monitoring and enforcement activities for the period 2011-2015. The audit covered operations at the EPA-SL’s headquarters, its regional offices and selected proponents.
ZJ/7/8/17
By Zainab Joaque
Tuesday August 08, 2017.

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