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ECG: to Sell or not to Sell?

Is it not outrageous that such individuals as Papa Kwesi Nduom, Kwaw Paintsil Ansah, Osei Kwame Despite, Esther Cobbah, Yvonne Nelson and countless others are able to start and nurture ventures into huge organisations employing hundreds and, still, make profits; but, a whole nation called Ghana cannot successfully run a single company? Yesterday, it was Ghana Water Company Limited that was unable to collect its revenue (yes, unable to collect consumption bills!) so we had to hire Aqua Vitens Rand from The Netherlands and South Africa.

The day before, it was us selling almost all of Kwame Nkrumah’s 350 state enterprises because we couldn’t make profit in a single one. A certain Alonte-Bow-Tie arose in the 1980s to purchase all grounded Omni Bus Service Willowbrook buses to put them back on the road; he became an instant millionaire! And, today, we are being told that Electricity Company of Ghana is unable to collect debts beckoning for collection.

How much?

How much does the revenue involved run into? Energy Minister, Boakye Agyarko, says, on the average, debt accumulated by the state power conveyor is GHC66 million (US$15.35million) a month. What is the effect on the finances of the key public good called electricity, and, the economy for that matter? If the buildup persists for the next five years, the company’s debt will be very huge, says Minister Agyarko. Ghana Today contends that what is likely to happen is the collapse – not only of ECG – but, indeed, the whole Ghanaian economy!

And, when such offences are revealed, you can trust that employees and workers’ guilds will pay back the government that did the exposé with compound interest. Just ponder over the ECG’s swift response: the minister should provide strategic direction and policy guidelines for the company, and “not descend into these minor operational areas which management of the company can easily deal with!” Employees have the nerve to suggest that building up a debt of GHC66million every month is minor. And then, they go on to pat themselves at the back with the claim that current average weekly collection is GHC103,918,594.11 as against a target of GHC130,000,000.

Tyranny of associations

But, this is neither the first, nor is it going to be the last counterattack of its kind on a government in Ghana. National Union of Ghana Students, Ghana National Association of Teachers, Ghana Bar Association, and several other guilds have – in the past – brought parties into power, only to soon fall out with them and seek to dispatch them back into opposition. Already, the ECG people are gunning for a showdown with government. Don’t be surprised to see company staff and unions fall out with the New Patriotic Party (NPP) by the time it is marking its second year in government.

The point is not that our parties in government have always been innocent lambs whose blood is sought after by the opposition and associations; far from that. The point is: even when a regime is being honest about a situation, or applying effective measures to remedy a canker, groups try to use the power of numbers to frustrate government’s efforts.

Incontrovertible truths

Evidence abounds that tonnes of revenue begs ECG to come take it but the company turns a blind eye on it. Hasn’t the United States embassy, here in Accra, confessed it owes ECG years of consumption, but, its repeated calls that the company supplies the necessary bills for payment have been ignored? Big organisations devour megawatts of energy. The media reports that telecommunications giant MTN owes; ECG has failed to collect. Several, several other organisations and individuals owe ECG bills the company could have collected but it reneges on its responsibility. If you set a measly revenue target for yourself and you collect 79.9 percent, you don’t jump to the rooftops to clap for yourself.

Indeed, the problem with EC is not just failure to collect payment for its power consumed. It is crass negligence of a corps of workers with the mentality that, they being ‘government employees’, they will be paid rain or shine; whether there is dumsor or power supply; whether they are running losses or breaking even. The ‘aban-adwuma, yevu-dor, government-work’ outlook on state enterprises formed in the Gold Coast still dogs us in Ghana. Thus, in spite of the scores of the MBAs, hundreds of graduates, thousands of technicians and countless underemployed names on the payroll of the company, ECG can just not track those stealing energy from its lines to get them deterred by the law. Indeed, crooks among its staff are in cohorts with those stealing power; both thief and internal ally remain untouched. When incandescent bulbs were being changed for energy-saving ones – an exercise purported to be in the interest of the ECG first and foremost – you had to give staff bribes before they changed your round bulbs for you.

More incompetence

Replacing prepaid metres with postpaid metres has, for over two decades now, been on the books as a policy to ease the difficulty of bill collection. If the ECG bosses don’t import defective metres, you can be sure they will order far fewer metres than they need to distribute. The result is another goldmine for ‘middlemen’ in the distribution of metres. Extension of electricity to villages and sprawling residential areas means a cocoa season for ECG linesmen, assembly members and influence peddlers. They sell one treated teak pole to you for over GHC600.00 and tell you, after 24 hours, it becomes government property. Even the outmoded postpaid metres that are supposed to be phased out are sold for over GHC300.00 each. Who doesn’t know all these? And, should we clap for ECG for collecting 80% of its low-target revenue? The failure of ECG and the spectre of dumsor we were made to endure for over 36 months raise many policy questions.

To sell or not to sell?

Should Government back off, or, relentlessly ensure ECG and the few remaining state organisations run efficiently? This regime – and all subsequent administrations for that matter – should never feel intimidated by the unions, if the governments are convinced about their lines of action. Should the NPP regime re-consider its campaign promise to discontinue the NDC plan of handing over ECG to a concessionaire? More to the point, should Minister Agyarko ask his government to opt for privatization of ECG? No, please! The nonperformance of the national power distributor should not be made a justification of theories propounded by Maynard Keynes and Adam Smith; for, even in their England and the capitalist West, there still remain public goods and services that are considered best produced by the state and government for that matter.

The solution is very simple. To do any profitable venture, you have to hire and fire. Those staff that aren’t pulling their weight, you get them fired, and damn the consequences from the politicking unions. Government should, alongside injecting discipline into ECG and all other state enterprises, prudently stock them with the much needed instruments of labour – as much as possible. Pay staff what they are due; give bonuses to extra-productive workers; and retrain those requiring new or improved skills. I repeat: sack saboteurs, thieves and incompetent staff from all those enterprises.

Equally important is the application of the axiom: “Those who want to go to equity must go with clean hands.” How much does Government owe ECG? GHC1.6billion (US$372m)! At the shortest possible time, Boakye Agyarko, and Ken Ofori-Atta for that matter, should find the money by any means legitimate to clear the bill – never mind the lion share was accumulated before the NPP assumed the reins of government. Two: institute measures to forestall re-accumulation of similar bills. Let this regime maintain Electricity Company of Ghana as a state-owned public good provider. The way to go is for the regime to be self-disciplined and to inject tonnes of discipline into the company.

Ghana Today … With A. C. Ohene (

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