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Feature Article of Sunday, 4 March 2012

Columnist: Sarpong, Gideon A.

ECG Metre Acquisition: Time for Realistic Changes?

Either for better or for worse, things are presently in flux. The opposition is apt to opt for the worse even when their counterparts in government are prepared to give a thousand reasons why better is to be preferred in a “better Ghana” era. Isn’t that interesting? Anyway, I leave such fine points of distinction to our consummate masters of words and rather turn my attention to the better and worse situations on the ground.

Have you recently thought of this? The pen now surpasses the gun when it comes to the everyday record of irreparable damages and brutalities. Many newspapers – dare I say political party newsletters? – are always on the move, inflicting damages that transcend the physical and in attacking reputations and slandering personalities do more harm than the age-long weapon of war and destruction. Anyway, we should at least be thankful for the desirable segment (of this change) that has capacitated the common pen of the writer with power to blunt the sword of oppression and at the same neutralize the covert manoeuvrings of institutionalized corruption. Surely, the truth of the pen being mightier than the sword is being established right before our eyes, even in our own time.

How good and pleasant it is that the investigative journalist is presently more dreaded than the fierce-looking solider! All eyes are on the lookout for the intrusion of the ‘enemy’ whose only crime lies in his agenda to expose the hidden things of corruption. I guess you have suddenly pictured the parliamentarians, politicians and perhaps the police, and have left out the people (ordinary Ghanaians) at the mention of this word corruption. This is perfectly understandable, as we have been conditioned by years of radio broadcasting to associate essential goodness with the people and inherent evil, infact real greed, with politicians. Maybe this is a wake-up call to our caring politicians. It’s time to rise up and say, ‘enough of this! We are changing things around this time.’ And now, to go to the point of exposing the hidden things of corruption, no, refined institutionalized corruption. But a corruption dressed is still corruption; nothing has been added, nothing can be taken away. Its exposure is the duty of all and not Anas alone. It is likely that highly-paid public relations officers may end up making a mockery of the myopic, and perhaps “simplistic thinking” thereafter contained in this appeal. I agree there may be technical inaccuracies, even ignorance of some specific laws here, but my mission will be accomplished if we finally get an idea of the frustrations of the private developer.

Brother, the month of March has dawned and with the prospects of a better tomorrow, I want to humbly appeal to the Lands Commission, Electricity Company of Ghana (ECG) and Municipal Assemblies in the Greater Accra region to reconsider their administrative procedures, requirements and staff constitution for the sake of low-income private developers in the outskirts of Accra variously struggling to raise one building or the other. Accra is experiencing a population boom and it comes as no surprise to see Ghanaians moving towards the outskirts, where the tension is relatively low and cost of living comparatively affordable.

Whether by ignorance, negligence or inability, private developers are suffering, ‘financially’ suffering even as they seek to find a place to lay their heads. As victims of a complex system of extortion; they have most often been forced to give out monies to those who receive monthly salaries for the work they do. The bye-laws of Assemblies require developers to obtain building permits before putting up buildings. The rationale behind this is a very good one, one that intends to prevent development on waterways and roads, in essence to avoid the chaos and haphazardness associated with unplanned development. As a matter of fact, private developers are especially culpable in this area. It is for this reason that task forces have been constituted to stop the building of structures without building permits. They visit building sites in a pickup and the rest (at least the red paint inscription) is something every Ghanaian is familiar with:

STOP WORK. PRODUCE PERMIT. [THE ASSEMBLY NAME COMES HERE]

But believe me bro, the ubiquity of this warning does not necessarily imply the stoppage of work to seek the clearance of a particular Assembly.

In most instances, the leader of the task force which issues the warning demands an amount of money from the developer. To give is to have your seized building tools handed back to you. Remember they seize these tools immediately upon arrival at the building site. They then issue a receipt, asking you to contact the necessary department at their office after you pay the unofficial amount they charge you. You are free to continue work even after the red-painted stop work warning has been given. Why? Simply because you have settled them! If the developer is one with patriotic inclinations, he goes to their office the next day to enquire about the procedure and cost of obtaining a permit. Officially, the information is given that he must present his Land title certificate together with other documentations before his application for a permit can be considered. Land title certificate? Yes. But chances are that he only has a Land indenture, and not a Land title certificate. Infact, he is already privy to the information that the owner of the land opposite his spent over GHC 2000 on his land title registration because of the delays he faced when he decided to pay the official fees and go the officially prescribed way. Added to this is his practical observation that land title registration is unquestionably expensive, slow and exhausting. Those who are employed to sign are only motivated to do so when you give them some incentives. Not having the wherewithal to grease hands, he stands no chance in having his certificate soon. If he decides to go the official way, he must be prepared to wait for five years! This is by no means an exaggeration bro! He is about to leave the office when a staff approaches him that something can be done for him to continue with his building. He is relieved and thus initiates a conversation which leads to the explanation of the whole plan and the cost involved.

The conversation ends with one thing clearly established: he can continue with the building if he is willing to pay the money charged; which money will never be accounted for in the official records of the Assembly.

Within the fold of the ECG, a similar business is thriving. ECG demands the submission of a building permit before an application for a metre can be considered. This means that you are disqualified from lighting your room if you built your chamber-and-hall on your less-than-one-acre piece of land without a building permit. There are towns on the outskirts of Accra where buildings are daily springing up without the necessary building permits. Consider towns like Ablekuma, Olebu, Manhean, Borkobokor, Agape, etc and you will understand what I mean. The fact is that many in Ghana build houses before they ever think of registering their land. This could be due to litigation, extortion, ignorance, the huge financial outlay involved, etc. You buy a land and you are specifically told that someone may come for it if you don’t immediately construct something on it. Can you imagine?

ECG’s insistence of a building permit before providing a customer with a metre serves a good purpose as far as commanding compliance with building regulations is concerned. However, it has a way of further aggravating the corruption pandemic. The truth is that some employees of ECG have taken advantage of this and are charging amounts ranging from GHC 1000 to GHC 1200 for metre applications. Many developers have been forced to take this option and this has resulted in a booming business for ECG employees and associates. It’s very unfortunate that the private developer is in chains everywhere he goes: Assembly, Lands Commission and ECG. The insistence by the Energy Commission that electricity metres are not to be paid for is at best a theory with no practical relevance.

It is my fervent hope that the Land Administration Project will rise up to do something about the administrative bottlenecks and litigations associated with lands in the Greater Accra region. The LAP’s concept of a systematic, rather than a sporadic registration will go a long way in addressing the needs of developers who currently stands at the mercy of unscrupulous employees and middlemen.

To put it bluntly, people are building houses, house owners are acquiring electricity metres and these are all being done without building permits or with fake building permits. Those who cannot afford such huge payments are living in darkness until now; at the mercy of armed robbers and other evils which thrive in darkness. Meanwhile, employees are enriching their pockets and it is obvious that they are reaping where they did not sow. These things ought not so to be.

In view of the fact that laws are made for the people and not the other way round, I call on the Municipal Assemblies, Lands Commission and ECG to take a second look at their laws and administrative procedures for the sake of the Ghanaian living in the outskirts of Accra.

Otherwise, I need no prophetic insight to predict that Ghana will be a safe haven for well-meaning lawbreakers as many Ghanaians continue to shun the acquisition of building permits and yet obtain electricity metres in the long run. Let the powers that be heed the urgent request that something (in the form of customized solutions) ought to be considered, and that right early! Abaaa! Obtaining building permits and electricity metres need not be overly difficult and exploitative.

Gideon A. Sarpong/ University of Ghana / aca_education at yahoo / 0243354091

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