Thursday, November 30, 2006

It's Farmer's Day tomorrow! New Ghanaian Cedi in 2007?

While all Ghanaians in the formal sector take a holiday tomorrow, you might want to remember to follow the banner held by this farmer, and support poulty farmers in Ghana. Some reflections on the new Ghanaian cedi -- to come out in July 2007 -- will be very much, erm, reflected on. Till Monday!


Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Hunt for Red, Erm, November...or Trials and Tribulations of Banking with SG-SSB

In a style reminiscent of my ATM frenzy in May, where I spent hours looking for a working ATM, I spent the better part of the afternoon trying—yet again—to get money out – this time not just from the ATM, but also from the banking hall itself!

I save with SG-SSB, and wanted to get some money from there—only to be caught in some serious and heavy traffic around the so-called "Circle" road that leads up to BusyInternet for around forty minutes(!). Not to speak of the myriad of shortcuts that only led to…more traffic:-( When you start dosing in traffic and that heat emanating around the capital between 1 and 2 pm, then you know you’ve been in traffic for more time than necessary. It’s a good thing I had my sunglasses to hide behind my dosing;-)

Seriously, though, I cannot for the life of me understand why I had to chase all the SG-SSB banks in the ‘hood. I went to my own branch—only to be told that I couldn’t even withdraw money from my account because there was a memo on it about ATM transactions from…another branch!

When I went to that other branch (Accra Main), which happens to be that of the picture I took, I spent a good thirty minutes shuttling between looking for the lady who wrote the memo, and the be-spectacled and pin-stripe-suit-clad manager (a very easygoing middle-aged man who was very affable) of the branch who broke between twi and very good English [he spoke twi with most of his bank staff!] who elucidated the whole mystery for me

The explanation pissed me off no-end: what had spawned the memo, which had by way of condition "no withdrawal" of sorts, was something that could have taken a phone call to fix: at the time that the bank had withdrawn charges (15,000 GH Cedis [by July 2007, it will be 1.5 [new] GH Cedis] for the use of the ATM card, I had insufficient money in the bank. Very soon afterwards, I got some money in. The problem, then, was a non-starter. All the bank had to do was to simply debit my account with the appropriate charges!

As a result of this, it cost me a good three hours roaming round that part of the capital, and incurring a hefty sum of 190,000 Ghanaian cedis, which is around €17 for a good three hours. That the taxi-driver had seen me going from bank to bank…to bank did not help me in shielding me from what I still consider to be an exorbitant sum. At least, I should have been charged 150,000 cedis maximum. He was complaining, looking all-pensive about that initial sum, saying he will be "hot", etc, so I was compelled to give him an extra 40,000—very much to my chagrin.

Long and short: remind me to remind you to (a)have sufficient money in the savings account next time, and (b) maybe, re-consider saving with this bank.

If that sounds cruel, well, just to add that I liked the manner in which the manager had a walk-in policy; that was very encouraging. You don’t get that at my main bank of ECOBANK.


Monday, November 27, 2006

As the Week Opens in Accra: Al-Jazeera’s ‘Witness’ programme gives me Mental Pabulum on Mali

I had the priviledge of catching AL-Jazeera English that is transmitted free-to-air during certain hours of the week on Ghana’s Metro TV. It being Sunday, I hardly expected to catch it—let alone watch an insightful and thought-provoking programme, Witness hosted by former BBC Iraq correspondent Rageh Omaar about the plight of those Africans who illegally make it to Spain.

It was very close to home, because ‘Africans’ in this case was none other than my ECOWAS francophone neighbours—the Malians!

Throughout the programme, I kept on pondering over the psychological compulsion for Malians to go to Spain for a better life. Even when Reuters photographer Juan—a surprisingly compassionate man who made his way all the way to Mali to see the family of one of the Malians who survived the ordeal in those waters of Spain, and with whom he had become close, some of this Malian’s family members maintained Malians had “no choice”, and that it is their “destiny”, and that "les prieres de ses parents ont sauve notre fils".

Quite whether the prayers of parents saved this Malian prompts speculation that God must, assumedly, not have been listening to those who were also praying.

In my view, it was sheer luck, because the conditions by which they travel are horrendous. The boats—makeshift as they are—cannot withstand strong currents. Regrettably, they end up being a death trap.

Quel raison existe-t-il pour quelqu’un de sacrificier sa vie comme ca , si c’est pas le pauvrete ?

I wondered why they felt so isolated and so poor to run off to Spain…when they could easily come to Ghana, for example ? If Ghana’s Anglophone neighbours from Liberia can come to Ghana, why can Malians, at least, not make it to, say, Senegal, another ECOWAS country that is doing very well for itself? Failing that, why not trek to Ghana for opportunities?

I also, frankly, felt ashamed: here I was just a few hours flight away from Mali, yet I had to see an international news station’s broadcast on the plight of my OWN ECOWAS neighbour! These are the kind of documentaries television in Ghana should be showing, especially if the ECOWAS project is to go anywhere.

I am particularly impassioned and encouraged about this as an ECOWAS issue, especially also because on Sunday morning, the news that predominated was the need by Ghanaians to learn the French language. To the extent that, in late October, as the Chronicle paper reported: ¢85m Alliance Francaise office complex commissioned at Takoradi

According to the article: "Ghana as an English-speaking country finds herself in the midst of French-speaking countries, and trading could only be better if the language of French was well-spoken here as well."

The exhortations by government and civil society alike to learn French was as a way of facilitating ECOWAS and African integration.

It’s not a bad idea, but I still think and believe the "ECOWASness" in the region will remain very much a tenuous concept unless serious education of conditions in the region and the fruits of being an ECOWAS national are sufficiently and comprehensively communicated to all ECOWAS citizens.

; ;

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Darkness Falls in Accra(2), But Regulatory Commission Responds

Ghana's flagship regulatory commission, the Public Utilities Regulatory Commission (PURC) is no stranger to this blog--neither are complaints of darkness falling in the capital contemporraneously associated with what I have described as execrable service delivery by Electricity Company of Ghana (ECG).

If that all sounds heavy-handed to you, you might like to reflect a bit on the fact that yesterday evening, for no apparent reason--or so it seemed--lights went off around 9.30pm, whilst we were in the middle of watching All that Glitters on TV3. How we were unamused!

When the electricity came back on, it was around 11.50pm, just as Tv3's Gardener's Daughter was at a stage when it was exciting;-)

Seriously speaking, I called that evening to be told that there was -- yet again -- "a fault" and that the ECG people were on their way to the estates. That was around 9.45pm. Must have been a long trip for them to have taken a good two and a half hours to fix the problem, when they have experienced it many a time!

Anger and frustration aside, I contacted PURC this afternoon, on account of the fact that they had switched the lights off at 5.50am this morning. When I called my parents around 3.05pm, it was still off!

Philip, of PURC, contacted me around 3.22pm to tell me that a conductor was broken and that they were on it. This was after having called me at 3.17pm to tell me that he was trying to get in touch with them. He assured me electricity should be back on around 4.30pm. I have yet to call, but I suspect by time I get home around 6.30pm, it should have been restored;-) Fingers crossed!


Monday, November 06, 2006

As the Week Drew to a Close in Accra: Thoughts on Spintex Traffic; Utility Prices; Lessons of Belgian Energy Liberalisation for Ghana

Originally uploaded by ekbensah.
It was polo immunization week, and as a result, as I heard on Tv3 evening news on 31 October, there was not going to be any load shedding (read: "of the scale there has been").

In any event, I cannot help but wonder whether the load-shedding exercise is not one too many, having outlived its usefulness. First, the holiday of 23rd October was granted a load-management-free day by the government. Now, this: a good four or five days, where electricity won’t go off for 12 hours.

The mind boggles.

Suffice-to-say, uncharacteristically, there have been some positive developments lately than anticipated:

  • traffic is flowing better on the famed spintex road, where scales of the bottleneneck level of last week is being scuppered by the deployment of more police in “strategic” points that have the tendency to cause traffic, and therefore need regular and consistent monitoring and direction by traffic police.

  • petrol prices have gone down, albeit marginally

  • However – and in Ghana, there is always a challenge to grapple with – utility tariffs have gone up.

    I cannot for the life of me understand the underpinning logic of the Public Utilities Regulatory Commission (PURC) Chairman, Mr.Pianim, claiming that “tariff adjustments will help ease the intense pressure on the national kitty.”

    Check this: Pianim is Chairman of a regulatory utilities commission and he speaks like a free-market man, who believes that competition in the industry is the best way for Ghana’s water and electricity. Just because the government allowed themselves to be hood-winked by the over-balance of perceived "efficiency" of the private sector in water[Rand, water], he believes the same can be applied for electricity?

    What type of vision is this by a CHAIRMAN of a utilities regulator?

    Besides, the logic is flawed: multinational companies are more interested in the efficiency of service delivery than the raising of tariffs, for the sake of it. You can raise the rates all you want, yet when the capital—not to mention the country—experiences sporadic electricity supply as evidenced by my rant last week, when I opined last week that Accra is "in the dark ages", which company is going to be interested in investing in that sort of shoddy and egregious service?

    My sentiments are further buttressed by the case of my surrogate home, Belgium, where the energy sector is about to be liberalized as of 1 January 2007. I sent a note to my colleagues about this development the other day:


    Comparez les prix avant d’agir


    La ministre bruxelloise de
    l’Energie, Evelyne Huytebroeck,
    a invité les consommateurs
    bruxellois à ne pas se précipiter
    dans le choix de leur fournisseur
    de gaz et d’électricité,
    deux secteurs dont la libéralisation
    interviendra, pour l’ensemble
    des particuliers, le 1r janvier

    As liberalisation takes off 1 January 2007, the Minister of Energy has at least set the stage such that Belgians have a fair idea of what they are getting their heads into. Liberalization will enable them to choose a gas or electricity provider, and there is a website ( which enables Belgians to choose provider.

    There is even a free brochure being worked on and a free number for those who have queries…

    Undoubtedly, not to forget countervailing measures and pressures against liberalization, our Ghanaian counterparts could learn some serious lessons from micromanaging an already-bad situation!


    A family friend back in Belgium, whom I also copied this, wrote back saying that associated with this liberalization, will be the Suez-owned Electrabel, which is Belgium’s premier electricity provider, no longer providing the meters for the electricity reading, but it being delegated to "an independent meter reading company."

    Furthermore, it transpired that one of the companies that are waiting to jump onto the liberalization bandwagon has said this:

    “Alexander Dewulf, the CEO of the Belgium branch of Dutch multinational Nuon, says "we will not be present in Brussels because of risks relating to unpaid bills." (from:

    All part of the juicy package of privatization.

    Don’t you just love it when companies accentuate profit over the people?

    I have a sneaky suspicion that what’s happening in Western Europe is bound to happen in even more pernicious ways in countries of Africa if they’re not mindful of the dogmatic and Pavlovian response to the posse that come with deregulation, privatization and liberalization, without adequate and sufficient regulation.

    Suffice-to-say, though, that Belgium Energy Minister, Evelyne Huytebroeck (Greens), has mitigated things to the effect that she is emphatic about “not yield[ing] to pressure from the energy supply industry” (from:
    Her stance is this:

    "We'll go ahead with the liberalisation of the energy market anyway. If the utility companies don't want to supply domestic customers they won't be able to carry on supplying firms. The licence to supply energy applies to both domestic and commercial customers"



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