Between carrot and stick

Themes: Regulation Sanitation Urban Sanitation Research Initiative
Countries: Ghana Ghana-local

A government minister’s signature at the bottom of a newly passed bill can be the result of years of concerted effort from numerous stakeholders. But that signature doesn’t automatically translate into sustained change on the ground, which is where it matters.

This is the situation in urban Ghana, where public toilets continue to be a standard sanitation solution even though they are often dirty, smelly or inconvenient. Seeking to encourage the construction of toilets in individual homes or in compounds (commonly shared by multiple families), the Ghana government introduced legislation in 2010 requiring landlords to provide sanitation facilities for their tenants. However, these by-laws haven’t had much of an impact; landlords often don’t provide their tenants with adequate sanitation facilities, despite the theoretical threat of prosecution.

Finding out what is preventing landlords from building toilets and what is stopping local authorities from enforcing the by-laws would be a valuable first step to increasing access to improved sanitation in urban Ghana. This was the aim of a recent research project in Ghana that focused on three low-income communities in Ga West, a Municipality in Greater Accra.

The researchers identified the main barriers blocking landlords from toilet construction:

  • Financial constraints
  • Lack of space
  • Challenging environmental conditions
  • Low awareness of by-law
  • Multiple/absentee landlords
  • Availability of public toilets

And the main barriers blocking the enforcement of by-laws:

  • Limited funding
  • Lack of incentives for frontline enforcers
  • Logistical constraints for frontline enforcers
  • Delays in process
  • Political interference

Finding common ground between landlords and officials responsible for enforcing by-laws is crucial. The researchers sought to do so by identifying an enforcement model that a) minimised the amount of time, money and resources that both the regulator and landlords had to expend on either enforcement activities and construction, AND b) ensured that toilets were built, and adequate monitoring took place. For example, tenants and landlords argued that they needed more time to collect the money needed to build a toilet (a challenge in Ghana, as borrowing and lending rates are prohibitively high); the regulator, in turn, agreed that overlooking minor technical violations would allow them to focus on bringing more egregious legal breaches to account.

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This exercise led to significant amendments being made to the enforcement process, as outlined below. Most significantly, the proposed enforcement timeline would include a new 14-day period between the first and follow-up inspection, giving the landlord time to start construction. This also would provide the Local Assembly a window to give landlords timely technical and financial advice.

Major blockages to by-law enforcement and proposed solution

More broadly, the researchers and participating landlords and local authority members identified ways to circumvent other barriers blocking widespread toilet construction. For example, media advertising about the existence of both the by-law itself and the availability of the sanitation subsidy on offer in Ghana could help bridge the knowledge gap. Dedicating a specific funding stream to enforcement would overcome the logistical and financial issues faced by Environmental Health Officers, and provide incentives for them and others to support the process.

This updated enforcement procedure could pay off handsomely, if adopted. Incorporating stakeholder views into the very fabric of the proposed enforcement model means that it is responsive to the needs of multiple actors. In addition, the methodology used by researchers provides a potentially replicable framework for others seeking to bring together divergent groups and conflicting interests.

Credits: This research was carried out by NHance Development Partners (lead: Prince Antwi-Agyei) with support from University of Education Winneba (Isaac Monney & Bismark Dwumfour-Asare) and Sue Cavill (independent consultant). Full findings will be reported in a journal article provisionally entitled “Toilets for Tenants: A co-operative approach to sanitation bye-law enforcement in Ga West, Accra – Ghana”.