The July 2017 Performance Audit Report produced by Audit Sierra Leone on Monitoring of Environmental Compliance and Enforcement by the Environment Protection Agency-Sierra Leone (EPA-SL) has revealed several flaws in the operations of the institution set up by government to protect the country's environment from harm.
"The auditors found out that the spreadsheet on the database of proponents produced by the EPA-SL at the time of the audit was not comprehensive to include all proponents, proponents with closed operations, the actual status of proponents etc.," the reports states.
It continues that the auditors discovered a total of six (6) proponents during field visits which were not on the list produced by the EPA-SL and that it was noted that from the 31 proponents visited by the auditors, twenty-two (22) were operating with EIA licenses whilst 9 were operating without an EIA license.
"It was also discovered during field visits that four (4) exploration companies were operating without EIA licences."
According to report, "The auditors noted that the agency started providing proponents with monitoring reports in 2015. From the interviews conducted with the 22 proponents who were operating with EIA licenses, only 13.6% responded that they received monitoring reports from proponents whilst 63.6% responded that they did not receive monitoring reports and 22.7% expressed that they were not aware whether or not their companies received such reports from the EPA-SL."
The report further observed that twenty percent of all Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) license fees collected should be used for monitoring activities and that a careful review of EPA-SL's accounting records shows that that percentage portion of EIA license fees collected were not used exclusively for monitoring purposes.
While the report stated that proponents are required to fully comply with the terms and conditions of the EIA license, it indicates that from the review of documents, physical observations and interviews conducted, the auditors noted during field visits to proponents that there were instances of non-compliance with the EIA license terms and conditions, ranging from failure to display the EIA licenses in a conspicuous place to notifying the agency of the intention to transport waste oil, and plant and machinery not being equipped with noise attenuators etc.
The damning audit report states that further review of records showed that the said companies were not in the EPA-SL's list of all proponents.
It again indicates that human resources for implementation of monitoring activities were inadequate, adding that the northern, southern and eastern regional offices, where mining, forestry, agricultural and other activities are predominant, the EPA has only one permanent resident technical staff.
"The regional office that should be established in Kenema as stated in the EPA-SL Strategic Plan 2012-2016 was yet to be established and the operations in Kenema District were covered by the Bo office. We noted that tools and equipment to test and measure certain parameters for air, water and soil quality and noise levels during environmental, monitoring and auditing were not available prior to September 2015. Interviews with proponents disclosed that samples of various parameters of environmental importance on their projects were rarely collected by the EPA-SL to verify or validate the quarterly environmental monitoring reports sent to EPA-SL by proponents," the report further states.
Also, the report discloses that proponents revealed that test results were rarely communicated to them in writing.
In its recommendations, the audit report stated that to ensure efficient and effective monitoring of environmental compliance and enforcement, EPA-SL should ensure that comprehensive information to all proponents is available within the next one year, with the database regularly updated.
The report also recommended that companies operating without EIA licenses should be made to honour their financial and other obligations in line with the EPA-SL Act and other applicable legislations as EIA license fees represents a mainstay in the internally generated revenue of the Agency.
"EPA-SL should ensure that all companies without EIA license are identified and advised to comply with Section 23 (1) and (2) of the EPA-SL Act 2008 (as amended in 2010) on the acquisition of EIA license under their respective categories," the report recommended.