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Opinions of Wednesday, 1 March 2006

Columnist: Danso, Kwaku A.

Ghana Phone is Critically Dying

Ghana Phone Lines ? Major Global Crisis?

Fellow Ghanaians,

Today is February 23, 2006, almost 49 years after Ghana?s independence, and I hate to report this to the press. As President of Ghana Leadership Union, I consider it a duty to share this in case any of our leaders may not know but read. Within the past 3 weeks I have had to do some research involving extensive use of Ghana?s phone system. I have listed more than 50 business people I met during an exploratory 3 month stay to re-settle home in Ghana in summer 2004. I was calling them for a business study I am conducting at an executive PhD level. Whiles this is personal to me, it touches our nation and my report may have very serious long term repercussions on how investors look at Ghana. I am dealing with a global audience and my report touches on our nation?s status. I cannot lie. Most of these Ghanaian business persons have an average of 3-4 phone numbers, one at home and 2 cell phones and most with a phone or two at the office. If I have to make 200 calls to get 10 responses, we call it 5%! Most executives and investors look at 99.5% [or 0.5% failure rate] and above, or they make negative decisions. Such decisions affect the lives, employment opportunities, economic and physical health and happiness of our people. It is serious!

The questions are: (1)Since there is such a high demand based on incomplete call statistics. Why can?t our government invest the money and manage well to get 99.5% for such a profitable industry with monopoly?

(2) If the government company cannot do a good job, why are they blocking private entrepreneurs from participating and investing in the rural phone networks? This is 2006 for God?s sake! Why is electricity still being interrupted and damaging appliances and hurting many peoples? modern businesses? Why is water still a problem for many homeowners and factories which are prepared to pay for water? Why do individuals have to invest in extra money for small power generators and water storage systems when half that money, paid as taxes and well managed under a city Council Charter with mandate to collect taxes, elected by the people, will do the job!!? Why?

If people are prepared to pay for a product such as water, electricity and phone service, why can?t our government invest the money that will pay off in a few months or years? Let me summarize my unofficial un-academic report here since Ghanaweb is not a technical Management Journal but more of a Ghanaian forum of exchange:

1. Most of the 021 numbers are showing a call-through percentage of about 20% at best [80% failure rate!], meaning that for every 10 calls you try, you are able to get through on 2 occasions.

2. The 024 numbers, by Spacefon, which over the years has had good reliable service now shows less than 20% reliability. For every call I get through, I have to try at least 5 or more times at different times. There is a system breakdown somewhere. There are some businesses that I used to call regularly and some of them I have had to call more than 6 or more times at different times now, and have never succeeded in getting through! I don?t have that many 027 and 020 numbers but the ones I have seem to have no better. I don?t know if this is a dispute between the government?s Ghana Telecom and the others. Obviously there are very limited international trunk lines and one has to ask why, especially since they can pay for themselves in about 15 months, according to this writer?s own engineering estimates?.

3. In the week of February 6th to about the 14th, the main carrier for some Internet Cafes in Accra was down. The speed of these Cafes is only 256kbps or 128kpbs and some are paying $896 per month. In the US I pay $49.95 per month for Cable Broadband and my speed is 10,000kpbs or 10Mbps. Compare! God, this is too much greed, and despite this, the services are interrupted, making these 2 businesses I know lose customers for the whole week. Some businesses can close down if phone and electricity services are interrupted and it takes longer to have customers come back, if they ever do. It is a "lose-lose" for us all as a nation if the government-controlled utility companies treat customers like this!

4. Another major factor is Electricity. I will give a full report later but I want the Ghanaian world out there to note that without electricity, stable and reliable, most modern businesses will collapse in Ghana and can never make a profit. When they close sometimes they can never recover the losses and it becomes a negative to other investors who hear the stories. One owner had lost 3 Computer Hard Disks and 4 Power Supplies in one week of power interruptions. He has almost given up!! Let us remember that a business that has investment capital and equipment that does not make money becomes a loss not only to the business but to employees, the family, and the nation as a whole. For any business that loses and closes down, it is a major blemish on the nation that is supposed to provide infrastructure.

My study involves not just phone systems, but electricity and water. I have not completed the report, ready to analyze. However, I want this to come out now, since man does not have control over tomorrow. The results are not looking good. It is perhaps something many at home have known for a long time and lived with it. I have tried to contact the Director of the PURC, Mr. Kwame Pianim, a man I know personally but without success. I have his personal cell pone number, but that does not even go through and his email does not work either. Folks this is 2006 and we cannot live on farm lands, cassava, chicken and farm produce alone! For Gods? sake let the PURC set strong and high standards of quality, reliability and performance, and take strong action and punitive damages if these utility companies do not meet them. There is technology to know how many calls are attempted on each network and what percentage goes through. Based on this, the demand can even trigger a need for expansion of the network. If Government Managing Directors are the ones who are not performing, they need to be fired! Period!

As much as it may sound harsh, all these are a disgraceful reflection on the leadership of the country. The President is in his 6th year and cannot give any more excuses! An investment in telecommunication pays off handsomely if well managed! A reported $10 million investment made by Hyundai of Korea in the early 1980s in Silicon Valley to learn Semiconductor electronics from America paid off very handsomely in the billions and hundreds of thousands of jobs in Korea! Let us stop these excuses we hear everyday in Ghana among our leaders! Ministers like Professor Ocquaye (Energy), Kan-Dapaah (Communications) and Owusu-Agyeman (Water &Works) must either perform or resign and hand over to professionally trained managers who may have more knowledge of the specialization and management. We have to learn to swallow pride and envy at home and pay our sons /daughters overseas what we pay the white man if they have relevant experience working in the West. All these travels have not helped our Ministers acquire further skills! Moreover one cannot simply learn business management and strategic executive decision-making by simply traveling to attend conferences! No. There are now many Ghanaians trained and with lots of experience overseas who can perform instead of us shamefully hiring management companies from other nations. Not all positions have to be political appointments. President Kufuor must wake up and think seriously for the good of Ghana.

Local Government and Management:

Last and not least is the concept of Decentralization that is sitting in our constitution Chapter 20 literally collecting dust. The President needs to sit down and strategize how the government is to empower districts and towns in Ghana to manage their own resources, collect taxes and live or perish. We know they will never perish! We start that by sharing the common sources of revenue such as the ports and harbors where it is reported we gain 80% of our national revenue outside remittances and raw materials. Our President must take a leadership role in showing how the system of decentralization, spelled out in the constitution, should be set up and let the nation develop! There are Ghanaians experts who have been employed to manage for major Western corporations or cities. We have no more excuses!! It is silly to hire foreigners some of who have less skills and experience and below the level of our own Ghanaian sons and daughters who work overseas and are itching to come home. If they are worth $5,000 or $10,000 per month, for God?s sake, pay them $5,000 or $10,000 per month! And stop hiring foreigners! Whiles our leaders claim we are poor, but let me quote from the Bible:

"For to every one who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away" (The Christian Bible: Mathew 25:29).

?The rich ruleth over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender? (Proverbs 22: 7)

We are being duped everyday by these Economic Hit Men as John Perkins (2004) illustrates in his book ?Confessions of an Economic Hit Man?. This is due to greed and lack of concern for the common good and such Ministers and leaders ought to be punished! I can assure you all that Ghana is not a poor country! It is poor only in leadership. We have no more excuses after almost half a century. Let us give power to districts and town to run their own affair, negotiate, contract with experts, hire experts, and set up their own water, electricity and phone systems. Our nation is in disgrace and it is time President Kufuor and his Ministers stood up and faced the mirror as to the value of their educational degrees and many travels.



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