Just one wrong move of deliberately calling the attention of firemen to a false fire outbreak anywhere in Ghana will earn you a minimum ‘reward package’ of one-month jail term or a maximum of three-months if caught, government has announced.
The notice, contained in the latest Local Governance Act 936, 2016, was made public this week when the Upper East Regional Coordinating Council called stakeholders together at Bolgatanga, the regional capital, to sensitise them to some new developments inside the local governance law book.
“A person who knowingly or without lawful authority gives or causes to be given a false alarm of fire commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine of not less than one hundred and twenty-five penalty units and not more than one hundred fifty penalty units or to a term of imprisonment of not less than one month and not more than three months or to both the fine and term of imprisonment,” the Act states.
Among the participants were municipal and district coordinating directors, presiding members, senior staff at the coordinating council and representatives of civil society organisations in the region.
False Fire Callers too many in Upper East- GNFS
Checks done by Starr News at the Upper East Regional Headquarters of the Ghana National Fire Service (GNFS) immediately after the sensitisation programme revealed that the headquarters receives at least three anonymous false alarm calls every two-months.
“We have a lot of contact lines to those false alarm callers. We’ve gone to the offices of the network service providers to track them but they asked us to pass through the police. The police also say they are also experiencing those things. They (the false alarm callers) call them that there is an armed robbery incident here or there; you go and there is nothing. Most of them call at midnight,” the Deputy Regional Commander, DOI Ebenezer Mensah, told Starr News.
He stated further: “It has been so for a long time. It has serious effects on us. Even fuel alone. We fill the tank to our fire engine with fuel- and the tank in the ambulance, because always we go with ambulance in case of casualties. The most recent one was when we received a call that there was fire around the Timber Market (near Zuarungu). We combed everywhere that night for hours and it turned out that it was a false alarm.”
Meanwhile, development watchers have remarked that the penalty cited in the new Act 936 is “not punitive enough” to discourage such deceitful calls.
Anger as New Law exempts Private Cemeteries from Property Rate
The omission of private cemeteries in the new Act with regard to the collection of property rate attracted a sharp attack from the Assistant Dean of Studies and Research at the Institute of Local Government Studies, Abdul-Moomen Salia, who facilitated the programme alongside the Upper East Regional Coordinating Director, Alhaji Abdulai Abubakar.
“The law says schools, hospitals, cemeteries are exempted. For me, it raises an issue. Cemeteries in other areas are big businesses. We now have people operating private cemeteries. And the number of years the grave stays there depends on how much you are willing to pay.
“These are private people, who are operating the cemetery business, making income. I think that we should look at that law. If we are talking about public cemetery, it’s agreed. If somebody is operating a private cemetery, you shouldn’t exempt that person whilst he or she is making profits,” Mr. Salia strongly stated.
His position on the property tax was backed by former Upper East Regional Economic Planning Officer, Issaka Sagito, who also expressed shock at the silence of the new Act on the immunity private schools had continued to enjoy from paying property rate.
He said: “Private school is now business and they make big money. And I don’t think they even pay any income tax. If you start a private school in a room, in the next three years you would see a storey building financed by the PTA. All the buildings are all from parents but in the end they are the property of the owner of the school.”
Whilst making a presentation on “Financial Matters of District Assemblies”, the Chief Internal Auditor at the coordinating council, Daniel Atompoya, observed that despite a significant rise in the number of private buildings put up in recent times across the region, the assemblies still looked bankrupt as they had failed to stand firm on their demand for the property tariff. He also advised the assemblies to accord auditors the ideal space needed to conduct their checks in the public interest.
Debate erupts over Government’s unconcern for assembly by-elections
A debate flared up strongly among participants over the country’s disinterest in conducting by-elections when elected assembly members pass away, unlike the swift response often seen to replace Members of Parliament when they are dead or impeached.
Whilst some participants saw the apathy as gross disservice to electoral areas with no representation at the assemblies, especially when it comes to District Development Plan (DDP) sessions, after their representatives had lost their positions either through death or impeachment, some were of the opinion that the demise or dismissal of elected assembly members should not warrant by-elections considering the ‘needless’ resources it would cost to replace them through another ballot exercise.
A section of the packed hall also proposed that a day could be set aside for mass by-elections nationwide in areas that had lost their assembly members, saying it would cost less doing so than leaving an electoral area to conduct its own in isolation. The Regional Coordinating Director (mentioned earlier) wrapped up the programme with a strong call on all assemblies to adopt the new Act as their ‘Holy Scriptures’ and to consider signing up lawyers as quickly as possible to ward off ‘unnecessary’ litigations from some opportunistic members of the public.