Tuesday, October 23, 2007

From E[lectricity] C[ompany of] G[hana], With Love...

It's been quite a while since I went to ECG to buy electricity for our pre-paid meter. It was interesting to have gone there, to have demanded a sheet of the rates--only to be told that the list would be, in a few days, "archaic". I guess the ECG worker meant the rates would be obsolete, or redundant--but that's another story!

The real truth about ECG and all is that despite the fact that electricity has "stabilised" to a very large extent, rates have increased a good 35%. At least that's what Kwame Pianim--Chairman of Ghana's Public Utilities Regulatory Commission says.

Fred Sarpong, ICT correspondent and Senior writer for Business Week (who is also Public Relations Officer for the Ghana Association of Journalists in ICT maintains:

The Public Utilities Regulatory Commission (PURC) has passed judgment and, surprisingly, tariffs for both electricity and water usage are going up again, this time by a steep 35%.

To be sure, both the Electricity Company of Ghana and the Ghana Water Company must have presented strong arguments to the PURC; the Commission’s boss, Kwame Pianim had earlier declared that it would not approve increases of more than 20%.

The rising cost of oil must have played a part in the PURC’s change of mind. With the world market price for crude oil now at well over US$80 a barrel, the continuation of an inexorable upward rise started in 2005, the cost of producing and distributing utility services is certainly going up. Electricity generation in particular will be affected, especially as Ghana now relies more on oil-driven thermal power than at any other time in the country’s history.

Indeed, oil has a role to play--as does the "need" to pay "realistic prices". As someone who is not an economist, I still marvel at how government can claim that maintaining subsidies are untenable.

If people do not pay, I guess the utility providers ought to find stringent ways of "revenue mobilisation". Forget the fact that people want to have air-conditioners and use them to full capacity when there is little need, just make sure people pay for what they consume.

And now to prepaid electricity:

  • started it in 2000, and this is what one report wrote of the scheme:

    Some 25 000 homes in Botswana are using the pre-payment metering system which was introduced by the Botswana Power Corporation (BPC) in 1995


    As there is no meter reading, the risk of human error on meter reading and the risk of estimated readings being used for billing are non-existent.

    He said that there was no need to wait for an unknown bill from BPC, therefore, uncertainty was written off completely. Moreover, the system was comfortable and gives customers time to budget.

    "The system involves the community in the selling of the tokens. It is aimed to be 24 hours facility in villages to enable people to buy the tokens at any time of the day.


  • --they started it in 2003, and this is what one article said about the usage:

    The country's largest private sector power utility, Tata Power Company, and the Madhya Pradesh State Electricity Board are thinking of introducing pre-paid cards for buying power modeled on similar cards in the telecom industry.

    Says F A Vandrevala, managing director of Tata Power, "We are evaluating the issue internally but have not made any formal presentations to anyone on this. It is something we could look at on a national basis."


    Home > Business > Business Headline > Report

    Now, pre-paid electricity cards

    Sunil Raj & S Ravindran in Mumbai | October 13, 2003 08:53 IST

    The next time someone says pre-paid, don't just think of your mobile phone. Incredible as it may sound, the day may not be far off when pre-paid could be the lingua franca of power consumers as well.

    The country's largest private sector power utility, Tata Power Company, and the Madhya Pradesh State Electricity Board are thinking of introducing pre-paid cards for buying power modeled on similar cards in the telecom industry.

    Says F A Vandrevala, managing director of Tata Power, "We are evaluating the issue internally but have not made any formal presentations to anyone on this. It is something we could look at on a national basis."

    The Madhya Pradesh State Electricity Board could, however, be the first utility off the block. The chief engineer of the board, K C Jain, told Business Standard in Indore: "We are looking at introducing a pilot project and the state government is considering the proposal. Once, the clearances come through we will launch the scheme."

    The Rs 200-250 crore (Rs 2-2.5 billion) project being contemplated by the MPSEB entails installing a pre-paid card in the consumers' meter board. The consumer will insert the pre-paid card in it like a floppy.

    He will then be able to buy pre-paid cards from private power companies in three denominations: Rs 100, Rs 500 and Rs 1,000. This is proposed to be introduced first in Indore, a city that has the maximum domestic consumption of electricity in the state.

    And how does the consumer know when his power supply is going to end? Once 95 per cent of the electricity that has been paid for is used up, the meter will begin to emit signals, so that the consumer can buy a new pre-paid card.

    The meter will expel the used card immediately after it is fully used. The new card has to be inserted simultaneously if electricity supply is to continue.

    But how does the consumer benefit? Instead of his earlier complaints of high electricity bills, he can now keep a tighter reign.

    Second, consumers won't have to stand in serpentine queues to pay their bills. The pre-paid cards will be sold by private power companies to consumers. Then, of course, on the introduction of this system, consumers won't have to put down a security deposit.


    India has witnessed huge power theft (transmission and distribution losses). A couple of years back state electricity boards recorded transmission and distribution losses of Rs 33,000 crore (Rs 330 billion). This could be one small way of combating the problem.

    Pre-paid electricity cards have been around in Europe since the early 1990s


    Finally, there is an article from a Philippines website, in which both the Nigerian/South African experiences of pre-paid are referred to--and the virtues thereof extolled.

    I think the writer sums it in one when he/she writes:

    A financial manager worth his salt will see the advantages of a prepaid system a kilometer away: just imagine the cash flow benefits it brings, where payments for its service will be made up front, instead of being at the mercy of the traditional billings system. And we haven’t even considered the operational savings it will generate: from the manhours spent in printing the individual statements and distributing these to customers, to disconnecting lines when accounts are not paid by due date

    To conclude, the evidence is out there--you only need to go and look. Far be it for me to trump Kwami Pianim, whom, in my view, is too neo-liberal a boss for a regulatory agency. This is what I wrote of him in November 2006:

    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?

    At least, you've gotta give it to him that he's consistent!

    On a more serious note, we know the evidence: there's a lot of pre-paid metred houses in the country, and to that end, ECG is getting a lot of money. Why not make pre-paid metres de rigeur, and avoid having to raise tariffs by a good 35%? I'll end with what I wrote way back in February this year, because I cannot think of any appropriate manner to end this sordid tale:

    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?

    Whilst we are ruminating over those questions, might we not think about encouraging ECG to move away from a pitiful page on the Ministry of Energy website to a fully-fledged one like the PURC?!!!

    Wednesday, October 17, 2007

    ICT And The Future Of Journalism Profession ( I )

    From: http://www.ghana.gov.gh/node/1630/print

       ICT And The Future Of Journalism Profession ( I )

    By Abissath

    Created 2007-10-16 12:06

    By Mawutodzi K. Abissath

    A renowned Ghanaian Blogger by the name Emmanuel K. BensahII [sic] (a.k.a. Emma), recently made an analogy that: "As behind every married couple there is a partner, so, too, behind every Blog there is a Blogger!" This analogy can be said to be common place. But the most sarcastic and humorous fashion by which Emma went about it is what is pushing me to make a mountain out of an ant hill in this piece. In other words, there can be no Blog without a Blogger. And if you are a journalist who is not yet too familiar with the term Blog or Blogger, do not go and commit suicide at all.

    The purpose of this article is to share with you some of the latest terminologies ICT has introduced into our time honoured profession or occupation or vocation or calling or trade; (whichever is applicable). As journalists, we should never pretend that we know everything under the sun. Rather, we must be open-minded and prepared to learn new things every day as we breathe and eat every day. Otherwise, ICT will render us outdated and outmoded, if not antiquated and archaic! This is an unsolicited advice from me to you.

    From Wednesday, October 10, to Thursday, October 11, 2007, the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA), the Penplusbyte International Institute of ICT Journalism, the Ghana Information and Knowledge Sharing (GINKS) and the Ghana ICT Journalists Association (GHAJICT), organised a two-day WEB 2.0 Workshop for Editors, Senior Journalists, and media Educators. This eye opener capacity building programme was sponsored by the French Embassy in Accra. The theme for the event was: "Improving the Quality of Journalism using Web 2.0." If you are a journalist reading this article, tell me honestly if you know what WEB 2.0 is. As for me I confess that that I have never heard of that until Wednesday, October 10, 2007 at the Ghana International Press Centre at the GJA Headquarters in Accra, where the workshop was held.
    Togbe Kwami Ahiabenu II, President of Penplusbyte and Facilitator of the above- stated workshop was the person from whom I heard the term WEB 2.0 for the first time in my life. Before setting the ball rolling that morning, Kwami posed this question to the class: "Who knows what WEB 2.0 is? And the entire room turned into a grave yard. We were all looking into his face like some innocent children collected from some rural community from some unknown planet. But this was a class that was made up of veteran journalists and media educators.

    In fact some of the participants were journalists of repute in Ghana. One particular one from one of the leading media houses in Accra was a dignified and noble man in the true sense of the word. Nature has been very kind to him. He possesses such a huge baobab-like stature with a luminous boar-head to march. In fact his physical structure classifies him more a super-heavy-weight boxing champion than a journalist. For those who know me personally, I can easily go into this man four times. And I suspect he might have been practicing journalism before my mother became a teenager. I could not plug up the courage to ask him why he did not become a General in the Ghana Army. He is one of the outstanding newspaper page planners or design and layout specialists in West Africa. He is a veteran in his own his class and I admire him a great deal. Remember this African proverb that: "If your friend is more handsome than you, it is better to praise him rather than to try to malign or envy him." All right?

    There was another participant who is a PhD holder and teaches law at one of the private journalism training schools in Accra. Another grey-haired participant and lecturer at one of the latest modern media training institutions in Accra was among us. He told me he left School of Communication Studies, University of Ghana, Legon as far back as 1974 and has practiced the profession both at home and abroad for many, many years. A very knowledgeable but humble and an unassuming. I enjoyed his companionship at the workshop. When it came to Blogging, I, too, became a lecturer to most of them anyway. I find it enjoyable to share the little I have with others. Now we are in information age and if you hoard information you will be known as an information silo.

    One lady participant, too, who works with the mother of all electronic media houses in Ghana, whispered into my ears that she left the Ghana Institute of Journalism about ten years before I found my way there some 20 yeas ago. So you can imagine how long this veteran female journalist and gender fighter has been operating in our domain. And I salute her for what she stands for. There were also some relatively young but talented and well-read journalists among the participants. The point I am trying to hammer home here is that the calibre of participants who attended this particular workshop in terms of education, experience and professionalism, was beyond compare. And yet, there is something that all of us did not know hitherto. That something is what ICT has succeeded in transforming journalism into.

    The question now is: "What is it that ICT has brought into journalism which has turned veterans into kindergarten boys and girls at my first day in school?" I will answer my own question by simply saying: It is TECHNOLOGY. It is presumed that every journalist in Ghana today whether veteran or student knows that ICT stands for Information and Communication Technology. From time immemorial journalists have been communicating information through various channels including traditional means such as word of mouth, talking drums and gongong. Then through print and electronic media namely, newspapers or magazines etc, radio and television. You can add telephone, telex, fax machine and others, if you like.

    Then, there came into existence an ICT. With the advent of ICT boom, everything mankind has been doing from birth to death has changed. But journalism seems to be the profession that has been most drastically affected by ICT. The result is what is now known as E-journalism or Online-journalism or Cyber-journalism or Web-journalism. And the basic ICT tools that journalists need to perform this online-journalism business effectively include computers, the Internet and to a certain scope the World Wide Web (www) itself which gave birth to the Internet in the first place by making it possible for computers to talk other computers through connectivity and network.

    Hardly did journalists go to bed to have a siesta when ICT tools have not only metamorphosed into something else but have actually revolutionised and multiplied in an thousand fold. Some of the new ICT tools which were introduced to Editors, senior journalists and educators at the just-ended WEB 2.0 worship include the Web 2.0 itself, Podcasting, Blogging and Wikis.

    WEB 2.0 we were told came into being in 2004 and is the evolution of the Internet over the years. For instance, when Internet boom emerged in the 90s, even though World Wide Web itself has been in existence since the 60s, some of the tools of WEB 2.0 of today were not there in the 90s. Therefore, the Internet of the 90s can now be referred to as WEB 1.0. In simple terms, some of the tools that distinguish WEB 2.0 from WEB 1.0 include Podcasting, Blogging and Wikis stated above. If we break it down the concept further, other ICT tools that Podcasting and Blogging also could employ to achieve their functions include Mobile Blogging, SMS Blogging, GSM/CDMA (sub mobile internet), Skype, Mobile phone, Satellite phone (Thuraya), MMS (picture transfer/sharing), Bluetooth, Infra-red and so on. Other latest ICT tool which must be mentioned in this regard is Vedioblogging.

    To be frank with the reader, these are some of the theoretical aspects of the two-day workshop which we were exposed to. Unfortunately for us, however, when it came to the practical aspects of the course which we need to put the teaching into practical application in our work, internet connectivity failed us the Press Centre. The organizers had to quickly arrange for us to go to one of computer laboratories at the near-by Kofi Annan ICT Centre of Advanced Technology, opposite the State House. There, too, we encountered some challenges as far as the Internet speed was concerned. So I will not pretend to say that I can do all that I am writing about in this feature as far as Podcasting and Vedioblogging are concerned. As for Blogging proper, I had had some knowledge in it already so I can modestly hit my chest that if you call on me day or night I can take you through the rudiments of Blog creating. And you can do it in no time at all.

    As stated in the opening paragraph of this write-up, when Emma was taking us through the Blogging lesson, he made the subject matter so interesting with his famous analogy that the learning became fun for us all. Before he started, he asked the class that all those who were married should show by hand. Virtually everybody in the class raised up their hands. Initially, nobody knew what he was driving at some of us even raised up both hands. Then he proclaimed (and I am paraphrasing him here): As behind every married person there is a partner - a wife or a husband, so, too, behind every Blog there is a Blogger!

    Suddenly the entire computer lab burst into spontaneous and prolonged laughter. He himself could not help it but to laugh infectiously. Then someone asked him whether he himself was married and he said capital NO. So it turned out that all the students in the class were married expect the lecturer rather. When he was asked why he was not yet married, he responded: "I am studying you people and I want to learn from you first." His answer to the question made the class to laugh even the more. Emma could be in his 30s or so and he is a man of impeccable and fantastic sense of humour.

    On a more serious note, we learned that if journalists could master the use of some of these latest tools of ICT, they would help them to enhance their work especially in the newsroom. For example, Journalists can create Blogs for research work, or for photographs, or for features. If you are a reporter and you can create a Blog and post all your newstories or your feature articles on it, apart from publishing such a Blog on the Internet and link it to other websites for the world to read, you can use it as a reference book or diary for your journalistic activities. Editors can use Blogs to monitor and assess the work of their reporters in such a way that at the end of every year, they would know which reporter deserves promotion or even salary increments.

    A Blog is a kind of website anybody can develop or create without having to be an ICT "techy". When you are able to create your own Blog and post information or photographs or both text and graphics on it and can update it constantly, then can call yourself a Blogger. There are several platforms for Blogging. But the one we were introduced to at the workshop is BLOGGER.COM.


    Source: ISD

    Posted: 16/10/07 


    Improving the quality of journalism using web 2.0 – a practical training workshop

    Improving the quality of journalism using web 2.0 – a practical training workshop
    10th to 11th October 2007
    Accra International Press Centre

    1.Video Blogging Prince Deh
    2. Wikis for the newsroom by  Kwami Ahiabenu,II
    3. POSTING VIDEO ON YOUR BLOG Emmanuel K Bensah II
    4. Writing, Editing and Publishing online made easy for journalists using blogs Emmanuel K Bensah II
    5. Introduction to ICT Journalism  by Kwami Ahiabenu,II
    6. Blogs by Kwami Ahiabenu,II
    7. Podcasting by Kwami Ahiabenu,II
    8. Pictures
    9. Press Release
    10. speeches

    Wednesday, October 10, 2007

    Who Said Teaching Had to be Easy?: Web 2.0, Here Journalists Come!!

    Currently at Ghana's Kofi Annan IT Centre of Excellence (http://www.aiti-kace.com.gh/), where my voice is taking a break after having done some tutoring / coaching / teaching on web journalism.

    This is a great passion--and coincidentally my main are of work professionally--which I am thankful to be using to impart to journalists and media practitioners that are more senior than myself  the art of...blogging.

    It is reputed that I have a quintessential skill in blogging.

    I say, for every one, there are many unsung heroes who know more than I do--and I am not just being humble.

    It's been a while since I did public speaking, but for some strange reason, this felt great! Regrettably, I am unable to meet great minds here tomorrow, as work beckons, but, for sure, I'll be in touch with them all!

    More pictures to follow soon!

    (I'm the first guy to the right of the table!)


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