An Overview of Sierra Leone’s Environmental Laws: A Legal Framework
Samuel Ulric Betts Esq.
On Wednesday 24th May 2023 at around 21:00GMT, Sierra Leone’s iconic and monumental “Freetown cotton tree” at the heart of Freetown succumbed to late night torrential rains and unbearably tumultuous winds.
Compelled by this historical narrative, this article examines Sierra Leone’s environmental laws and regulations overlaid against the institutions empowered to implement and execute these laws intertwined with their responsibilities, government policies and the existing environmental infrastructure. The examination goes to the root of the need for and practice of effective environmental management and control which places unwavering insistence on collaborative efforts of both state and non-state actors in the fight for a safe, sustainable and eco-friendly environment.
OVERVIEW OF ENVIRONMENTAL LAWS
As at the date of this publication, the principal legislation that governs the entirety of the environmental landscape in Sierra Leone is the Environment Protection Agency Act No. 15 of 2022 (hereinafter “EPA 2022”). Signed into law on the 6th September 2022, it was enacted to provide for the continuation of the Sierra Leone Environment Protection Agency and to provide for more effective and efficient protection and management of the environment and to provide for other related matters.
The EPA 2022 repealed and replaced the Environment Protection Agency Act No. 11 of 2008 which established a body corporate to be known as the Environment Protection Agency (EPA), the foremost and leading agency for everything touching and concerning environmental protection, regulatory mechanism, preventive practices and safety policies.
Also, the National Disaster Management Agency Act No.3 of 2020, in addition to establishing the National Disaster Management Agency, was enacted to manage disasters and similar emergencies throughout Sierra Leone, to establish offices of the Agency throughout Sierra Leone,
to establish national, regional, district and chiefdom disaster management committees, to establish a National Disaster Management Fund to provide finances for the prevention and management of disasters and similar emergencies throughout Sierra Leone and to provide for other related matters.
Further, the National Protected Area Authority Act No.11 of 2012 came into being to provide for the establishment of the National Protected Area Authority and Conservation Trust Fund, to promote biodiversity conservation, wildlife management, research, sale of ecosystems services in
the National Protected Areas and other related matters. It also established the National Protected Area Authority charged with the responsibility to exercise oversight authority over National Parks and Protected Areas designated for conservation purposes so as to protect the fauna and flora in its natural state, promote sustainable land usepractices and environmental management. The Authority also ensures the protection of natural ecosystems and threatened biodiversity in Sierra Leone including the establishment and maintenance of representative and sustainable samples;
operates, manages the National Protected Areas in line with national conservation policies and laws; oversee the management of local and private nature reserves and sanctuaries throughout Sierra Leone including zoos and wildlife rescue and rehabilitation centres; supervises the
management of wildlife outside conservation areas; regulates wildlife conservation and manage- ment throughout Sierra Leone in accordance with the Wildlife Conservation Act, 1972 (Act No. 27 of 1972), promotes eco-tourism in Protected Areas; collaborates with other stakeholders in developing a national REDD+ Strategy and promoting REDD+ Projects in Sierra Leone as a source of sustainable financing for Protected Area Management; develops and implements wildlife conservation education and training programmes throughout Sierra Leone; promotes biodiversity research; formulates and implements awareness activities for local communities, schools, and local administration to promote knowledge of and participation in programs and services, relating to socioeconomic and environmental issues including, fisheries, agricultural and forestry best practices, forest management, land, soil and water conservation in Protected Areas ‘and buffer zones; operates, manages the National Protected Areas in line with national conservation policies and laws; enters into public-private partnership agreements for the management of National Protected Areas and establishes a detailed biodiversity monitoring programme including a GIS unit that would store and disseminate data on the status of biodiversity in Sierra Leone;
Also, the Sierra Leone Meteorological Agency Act No.8 of 2017 which established the Sierra Leone Meteorological Agency in place of the Department of Meteorology to provide for other related matters as the sole authority for the provision of meteorological and climatological services
throughout Sierra Leone. The agency also advises Government on all aspects of meteorology, climatology, climate change and other climate related issues; develops Government policy in the field of meteorology, climatology, climate change and other climate related issues; promote the use of meteorology in agriculture, food monitoring and in the monitoring of flood, drought, desertification and other related activities; collects, processes, stores and disseminates meteorologicaland climatological information both nationally and internationally in accordance with rules and practices and procedures established under the Conventions of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), International Maritime Organization (IMO), and other relevant conventions of the United Nations system such as the Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and Convention to combat Desertification, Drought etc; and more.
In addition to the above, the Nuclear Safety and Radiation Protection Authority Act No.14 of 2012 was enacted to provide for the establishment of the Nuclear Safety and Radiation Protection Authority to exercise regulatory and supervisory control for the beneficial and peaceful
uses of radioactive substances and their applications, including licensing, inspection and enforcement throughout Sierra Leone. It is also charged with providing adequate protection to thepublic, workers and the environment against the harmful effects of ionizing radiation; and for
Sierra Leone to meet its obligations under relevant international treaties, in particular, the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and the Agreement between Sierra Leone and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for the Application of Safeguards in Connection with the Non-Proliferation Treaty. It also provides for the establishment of the Radiation Protection Board as the governing body of the Authority and for other related matters.
The country’s environmental law also incorporates the Paris Convention which is an agreement within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change dealing with greenhouse gas emissions mitigation, adaptation and finance starting in the year 2020; and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change which is the international environmental treaty addressing climate change, negotiated and signed by 154 states at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, informally known as the Earth Summit, held in Rio de Janeiro from 3 to 14 June, 1992, entered into force on 21 March, 1994; To implement these laws and regulations, there are various regulatory and implementation mechanisms namely;
1. The Environment Protection Agency is continuously authorized under the EPA 2022 with its mandate being to enforce the Act and regulations made under it. It advises the government on the formulation of policies on all aspects of the environment including the protection of the environment; co-ordinates the activities of bodies concerned with the technical or practical aspects of the environment in order to facilitate communication between such bodies and the Minister as well as effective supervision of the generation, treatment, storage, transportation and disposal of waste; collaborates and coordinates with such foreign and international bodies as the Agency considers necessary for the purposes of the implementation of this Act; ensures compliance with prescribed environmental impact assessment procedures in the planning and execution of development projects; act, in its own accord or in co-operation with government agencies, local councils and other bodies and institutions, to control pollution and generally protect and improve the environment and promotes studies, research, surveys and analysis for the improvement and protection of the environment and the maintenance of a sound ecological system amongst others.
2. Further, the Local Council, empowered under the Local Government Act No.26 of 2022, also plays a vital role in collaborating and coordinating activities of the Agency and in line with the Third Schedule of the aforementioned Act, some functions of the Ministry of Environment have been devolved to local council namely; (i) Education and Sensitisation on environmental issues (ii) Environmental Management and Protection (iii) Energy Conservation (iv) Replanting of degraded hill slopes, catchments and watershed areas (vi) Urban Tree planting (eg; parks/ gardens, avenues, trees) (v) Rehabilitation of mined-out areas.
3. Complementing the functions of local council are the Ward Environment and Chiefdom Environment Committees primarily responsible for conserving, protecting and developing the environment within their Ward or Chiefdom for the purpose of enhancing a healthy, safe, secured and sustainable environment. They are empowered to designate, subject to the direction of the Executive Chairman of the Agency, an area in their Chiefdom or locality, such as a bush or forest, for the provision of ecosystem services including food production, water conservation, fishery, eco-tourism, flora, fauna cultivation sacred bushes and cemeteries. Therefore, if a person destroys growing trees, shrubs, bush or forest either by burning or cutting without notifying the Ward Environment Committee or the Chiefdom Environment Committee, such person commits an offence and is liable upon conviction to a fine not less than Le10,000,000.00 or to imprisonment for a term of not less than 2 years, or to both such fine and imprisonment.
4. Further, the National Environment Compliance and Enforcement Coordination Committee is also prominently placed in environmental infrastructure in Sierra Leone with its core functions being the coordination, collaboration, cooperation and building effective synergies in the enforcement of environmental laws. They are responsible to educate the public on environmental laws, compliance practices and enforcement procedures and prepare quarterly and annual reports based on its activities.
5. As a functional body and implementation mechanism, the Multilateral Environmental Agreements Implementation Coordination Committee (MEAICC) is also charged with (a) coordinating and enhancing the effective implementation of all Multilateral Environmental Agreements signed and ratified by Sierra Leone; coordinating the gathering of information and preparation of reports to sub regional, regional and global organizations on the implementation of Multilateral Environmental Agreements; reporting on all conferences, meetings, trainings attended on Multilateral Environmental Agreements, preparing annual national status report on the implementation of all Multilateral Environmental Agreements in Sierra Leone; and performing such other functions as may be necessary for effective implementation of Multilateral Environmental Agreements in Sierra Leone.
6. Then, there is the National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA) which is at the helm of disaster management and disaster prevention matters which was formally established and empowered under the National Disaster Management Agency Act No.3 of 2020. With the establishment of the NDMA, the functions and activities of the Disaster Management Department, Office of National Security (ONS) are more or less subsumed under this Agency. The Agency also functions through Chiefdom, District and Regional Disaster Management Committees respectively. It also operates in tandem with its National Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction which comprises persons from different sectors and areas of study with diverse knowledge and skills brought together to advocate, plan, advise and promote the implementation of the framework for action to prevent or mtigate disaster. It also works within the scope of the Sierra Leone Disaster Management Policy.
7. The Ministry of Environment is the executive arm of the legislative turn wheel. At the security end, the ministry operates in tandem with Directorate of Health Security and Emergencies (DHSE) and non-governmental organizations such as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Its primary focus is the development of environmental policies and the facilitation of the implementation of environmental strategies.
In conclusion, it is safe to opine that while the environment legal infrastructure of Sierra Leone is continually burgeoning undertaking, it was further enhanced by passing of the Environment Protection Agency Act No. 15 of 2022 which, as a landmark piece of legislation, will have a significant impact on the environmental landscape in Sierra Leone. The EPA 2022 also caters for a number of new environmental regulations, which are designed to make it especially difficult for businesses and individuals to pollute the environment. The EPA 2022 is definitely a positive step forward for Sierra Leone, and it is expected to have a significant impact on the country's environmental quality in the years to come.
Samuel Ulric Betts
Samuel Betts is a legal practitioner whose practice areas involve commercial, corporate, civil and human rights law. He is an associate at the firm of Macauley, Bangura & Co., one of the country’s leading law firms, where he handles a range of general, civil and criminal matters. He is also a technology infrastructure expert with extensive background in Digital Communications and Information Technology.
He holds a Bachelor of Laws Degree (LL.B Hons) from Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone and a Utter Barrister (BL) degree from the Sierra Leone Law School. He is a member of the Sierra Leone Bar Association.
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