Monrovia — Environmental pollution is a huge challenge facing Liberia as monitoring, ensuring the enforcement of environmental laws by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is farfetched in many instances.
The long-term effects of these environmental pollutions are many times overlooked because not many Liberians are knowledgeable about the source, cause, nexus and consequences of these environmental pollutions.
The EPA, the agency responsible for ensuring the rights to a clean, safe and healthy environment has also not been forthcoming in educating the public about environmental issues, carrying out effective monitoring, compliance and enforcement of environmental safety measures to avert the dangerous impact of environmental pollutions within surrounding communities and on the general population.
From the industrial discharges associated with Bea Mountain Gold mining company, to the MNG Gold mining company and recently the massive industrial effluent discharges from the ArcelorMittal Iron ore mining operations, it always and all of the time take the anger of the affected communities before the EPA pays attention to its statutory obligations and responsibilities
For example, few years ago, in 2018, the Former Executive Director of the EPA Nathaniel Blama publicly stated that the Mesurado River was polluted and unsafe for usage and he warned Liberians and surrounding communities not to eat any fish, crabs, crayfish and other species from the River describing fish and other species from the River as poisonous.
Director Blama while making the public declaration about the environmental danger posed by the Mesurado River said “The river is polluted from garbage and other waste dumped into it by residents over a long period of time. Due to the pollution of the river, species from there are very poisonous and are therefore not good for consumption”.
Following that statement, by its former Director, the EPA did very little to educate and create awareness and visibility within the surrounding communities who lived near the Mesurado River as well as the public about the safety, environmental and health hazards associated with consuming fish, crabs, crayfish and even clams from the river. The EPA did not also put in place the appropriate safety and health protocols to prevent surrounding communities and the populations from carrying out fishing, collection of kiss meat, crabs and the, harvesting of mangrove wood for cooking, drying of fish and baking as well as other activities along the River, especially given that the agency had declared fish and other consumable species from the River as poisonous and unsafe for human consumption.
Despite the grave alarm from the head of the EPA at the time, several members of the population and surrounding communities continue to buy and consume fish, crabs, kiss meats and other consumable species from the Mesurado River, as well as for many different purposes including recreation, swimming, irrigation, bathing and washing thereby putting them at serious risk.
As a way of holding the EPA accountable to its statutory obligations and responsibilities of guaranteeing a clean, safe and healthy environment for all Liberia, Green Advocates International, Liberia premiere public interest environmental law and human rights organizations undertook a process not only to make inquiries concerning the EPA statement that the river is not safe and that the fishes and other resources are poisonous but offered it services to collaborate with the EPA to know the extent of the pollution. But those offers and overtures were ignored by the EPA.
According to Francis Colee, Head of Programs at Green Advocates, the environmental group made several efforts by writing four separate letters on different dates seeking to collaborate with the EPA in conducting scientific testing of the Mesurado River but all of those attempts proved ineffectual.
“We are now using the law to compel the EPA do it work because we made efforts to work with the EPA to get scientific information on the Mesurado Pollution in order to prevent thousands of people from getting sick from using the water, but the EPA showed no concern”, Said Colee.
Colee said Green Advocates as an environmental group cannot sit supinely and allow the Liberian public to be at such high risk without any form of clarification or transparency concerning the alarming statement by the former EPA boss. Green Advocates is now demanding the EPA to provide answers as to why the entity is silent and has not responded to inquiries concerning the statement that the fishes and other resources from the river are poisonous and that the river is not safe.
According to Green Advocates the request to the EPA is also meant test a little unknown and rarely use law, The Administrative Procedure Act of Liberia (The APA).
Under the APA, administrative agencies such as the EPA are required upon a complaint and request by a citizen or an interested party who is affected by the decision of that agency to appoint or designate a Hearing Officer to hear complaints either prior to the making of a determination, findings, conclusions, action or a decision by the agency or subsequent thereto.
In a recent communication to the EPA, Green Advocates is demanding that the EPA appoint a Hearing Officer to review the actions, determination, findings, conclusions and decision by the agency that the fishes and other resources from the Mesurado River are poisonous so as to avoid ambiguity and provide clarity regarding the Mesurado River pollution.
In the communication, Green Advocates indicated that as per the Executive Law of Liberia, 1972, Chapter 82, the Administrative Procedure Act the EPA is under legal obligations to appoint a Hearing Officer to hear the complaint filed by the environmental group.
According to the Green Advocates communication, a copy of which is in the possession of this paper, Green Advocates’ request for the appointment of a hearing officer(s) and the holding of a hearing is based on the fact that the actions of the EPA concerning the status of the Mesurado River pollution is contrary to the Environmental Protection and Management laws of the Republic of Liberia , especially and more specifically the EPA persistent actions to ignore numerous requests for environmental information concerning the EPA’s public pronouncements concerning the status of the Mesurado River and offers by the environmental group to collaborate with the EPA in trying to investigate, authenticate and verify this information
The Green Advocates communication also stated that by the EPA ignoring series of requests to collaborate and test water sample to verify the pollution and contamination status of the Mesurado River as well as not responding to other communications from the environmental group are all actions that are not justarbitrary, capricious, unreasonable, or an abuse of discretion but are unconstitutional, contrary to law andnot consistent with the 1986 Constitution of Liberia, the Administrative Procedure Act, the Act Creating the EPA, The Environmental Protection and Management Laws and other extant laws of Liberia.
In the communication, Green Advocates told the EPA that as an administrative agency, all decisions and actions of Administrative agencies are at all times required to be guided by rules, regulations, laws and not be arbitrary, contrary to law and unreasonable.
Meanwhile, Green Advocates has indicated in its letter to the EPA that should the EPA fail to provide a speedy response in appointing a hearing officer including making available all of the records that the EPA relied on to make the pronouncement concerning the river, the environmental group will push further by filing a Petition for Judicial Review with the Sixth Judicial Circuit, Civil Law Court for Montserrado County to review the failure of the EPA to provide an opportunity for an Administrative Hearing which is in line with law.
Green Advocates declared that issue of the environment is very important to human wellbeing, especially a river like Mesurado which is found in many communities in and around Monrovia saying any harmful pollution from the Mesurado River has serious consequences on a larger portion of the citizens of Montserrado County and should be given the needed attention.
Green Advocates is Liberia’s first and only public interest environmental law and human rights organization that protects underserved communities through law and environmental advocacy.