TALKING DRUM: In search of a clean public toilet in Ghana! (Part II)

Caution: The content of this article could be nauseating to the reader! Fighting the stench In Sunyani, I met a toilet attendant who doubles as the cleaner in one of the toilets I visited. For the sake of anonymity, I will call him Papa Asare. Bare handedly, he held a short broom in the right hand tightly like a relay baton. I gawked at him as he picked the half-worn-out baskets that had toilet papers in them one after the other and poured the contents into a bigger basket. The 52 year old man stamps his right leg on the piled toilet papers to suppress it from falling from the basket. While I struggled to take a breath, he did the sweeping seemingly happily without a nose mask. “I would have wished wearing a nose mask and gloves to work but I have never been given any,” he told me. Papa Asare hints that cleaners use DDT and other chemicals to wash the toilet seats. “These chemicals kill the houseflies and other animals that are in the toilets,” he noted. However, “It is not all the time that the caretakers of the toilet supply us the DDT. Therefore, what we often use is just ordinary water.” The flies, as I spoke with him, hovered all over. A user of any of the public toilets performs another function in addition to easing him/herself. “For the user of the public toilet, he or she has to fan away the houseflies incessantly,” he admitted. Another toilet attendant, a woman, whom I will name as Ama Kwakyewaa, told me that “The Sunyani Municipal Assemblies’ Health Inspectorate Team occasionally comes to inspect the toilet. But the sad thing is that when they come, they stand meters away and write their report. It was on only one occasion that I saw them enter this toilet to inspect,” she said. Mr. Simon Opoku, the Municipal Environmental Health Officer-Sunyani, however, debunks the assertion that his men do not enter the toilets during their inspections. “I enter the male section of the toilets but not that of the females’ since I am a male,” he said. On the provision of gloves, nose and mouth masks for the toilet cleaners, he admits that some of the private operators who partly manage these facilities with the assembly fail to resource their cleaners with such gears. He said that the standard of the public toilets in the Sunyani Municipality is average and that they are not to perfection. Answering my question as to whether he will use these toilets himself, he gave a ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ reply. “Yes, if the standard of the toilet is good and vice versa,” he observed. Attempt to reach the Accra Metropolitan Assembly to as well react to the standard of public toilets went futile.

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Contracting diseases Dr. Ohene Adu is a private medical doctor in Sunyani. He tells me there are a number of diseases that one is likely to contract from the public toilet. “Candidiasis (in women), urinary tract infection (in both men and women) and diarrhea are some of the diseases one could contract on an untidy toilet,” he said. Considering the filthy nature of our public toilets, a user is prone to contracting any of such diseases. Public toilet in the news On Adom FM’s News (17th August, 2013 and 19th August, 2013 respectively), it was reported that at Aseseso (Akuapem South) in the Eastern Region, both men and women use the same column of a public toilet due to malfunction of the female section and at Amasaman in the Greater Accra Region, a public toilet overflowed. Just close to the Amasaman’s overflowing toilet, the report said, sat a school and food vendors. The Foot Soldiers’ factor The public toilets, unlike the days of old, are now jointly managed by the various assemblies together with private individuals. According to Mr. Simon Opoku, the assembly used to advertise to the general public for interested persons to sign a contract to run the facility with the assembly. He, however, said that for the past two to three regimes (governments), the laid down procedure in getting private individuals for the joint management of the toilets has changed. “Now, foot soldiers will seize the toilet and give it to their own men to partner the assembly in the toilet’s management,” he noted. Looking beyond the toilet seizures, no decent word can be used to describe any of the toilets the foot soldiers fight over. “With the present system of foot soldiers taking captive of the toilets, the assembly can only query them of the poor state of the toilets but rather cannot take the ‘ownership’ from them,” says Mr. Opoku.
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Where does the money go? Averagely, the public toilet user pays 20 pesewas to access the toilet. The following table analyzes the income such toilets owners receive. The table uses two hundred (200) users of a toilet to calculate its proceeds in a day, month and year. Assuming every user visits the toilet once in a day.
Unit cost Day (1) Week (7) Month (30) Year (12months)
0.20p 200×20 40×7 280x4wks 1120×12
Total GHc40.00 GHc280.00 GHc1,120.00 GHc13,440.00
Proposed fiscal analysis of sanitary income of a toilet from its 200 people (users). The million dollar question now to ask is where do these monies go??? Mr. Simon Opoku says the owners pay 40 to 60 Ghana Cedis to the assembly in a month. He is hopeful that with the Sunyani Municipal Assembly’s newly drafted policy to police the private ownership of public toilets and the effort of his office, cleanliness would be restored to such toilets. Until then, users of the public toilet like Derrick and Juliet will have to battle the filth and stench. NOTE: This article was first published in 2014 titled ‘Toilets of shame.’ The cost of one using a public toilet, today, might be higher compared to when writing this piece. By Solomon Mensah|3FM||Ghana  The writer is a broadcast journalist with 3FM/TV3. Views expressed here solely remain his and do not reflect his organisation’s editorial policy. Email: [email protected]  Twitter: @Aniwaba ]]>