Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Darkness Falls in Accra (3): PURC Talks: How Ghana Govt is Compounding Consumer's Problems; Ghana Chocolate Day!

Earlier this morning, I called home – only to be told that the electricity had gone off around 9am. It was then 11am. I decided to call the Public Utilities Regulatory Commission (PURC), and spoke to Grace [name changed to protect the innocent] of June 2006 fame, when I first blogged about it here.

I wondered why the electricity was so sporadic, and was informed that they were working on changing the transformers that feed electricity into Spintex road parts and beyond. Puzzled, I quizzed her as to why despite the initial announcement on the radio, ECG could not simply announce on the radio (and elsewhere) that there would be intermittent outages so that citizens could prepare themselves.

She promised to speak with the district engineer of ECG in that area. One thing lead to another and I got to questioning her on why despite the every-five-day-outage of 12 hours, this outage was happening in the first place. She explained that government owes the electricity company some ç300bn!

I have seen news of this in the dailies, but have, regrettably, not been able to get it on-line. Either way, I queried further, and she revealed that the so-called MDAs (ministries, departments and agencies) had run their bills to that tune. Instead of the Ministry of Finance (which receives the bill) issuing the payment, it is stuck there!

In any event, she was displeased with the fact that the tariffs, which had been proposed had been dismissed by the government, ostensibly in order to continue absorbing it. I remember that upon reading this last year (, I was a bit mad that the Chairman of the PURC, Pianim, would want to have an adjustment. I would still disagree that an adjustment to attract investors is woefully wrong approach to energy policy. Rather, an adjustment to ensure that those who can afford it pay for electricity is better.

That said, a comprehensive thinking-through is needed, and dare-I-say-it, a referendum on an issue as important as this. A referendum, though, is something that seems anathema, or alien, to government policy, so I don’t foresee any of it happening here soon. However, our journalists could be discussing this in greater depth, and leaving the unnecessary discussion of politics to those who should be politicking—the politicians!

I suspect Grace was telling the truth, if this report on news is anything to go by:

The Tema Regional Directorate of the Electricity Company of Ghana is replacing its obsolete equipment at the cost of 15 million US dollars to curb the intermittent power outage experienced in the City.

Addressing a Press Conference in Tema, the Regional Director, Dr Nicholas Smart-Yeboah said the amount is generated from the company’s own internally generated funds.

He said it is expected that work on the rehabilitation of the equipment would be completed in August this year to enable customers enjoy uninterrupted power supply.

I finally asked about the so-called Charter whose aim is to protect consumers and compensate them for lost energy (and water). Grace suggested that that would probably be ready by the middle of the year. Fingers crossed!

Oh yeah, as it's Val's day today, let me wish you a happy Chocolate day, too, as it is -- for the first time ever -- Ghana "Chocolate Day". A great article you can read here on fair trade chocolate.

Finally, it just struck my little brain that there are a number of pre-paid electricity meters in estates all over the country. Now, in order to avoid MDAs taking advantage and wasting precious ECG service, might it not be a good idea to remove them from metred electricity onto pre-paid ones, where they would pay upfront?
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