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Opinions of Thursday, 31 May 2018

Columnist: citinewsroom.com

Ghana’s dilemma: Maintenance culture or facility management?

I have read and heard stories of what maintenance culture means to Ghanaians. Many argue maintenance culture is very alien to us as a people. Successive governments and key stakeholders have spoken to this very topic at various levels without a firm grip of solutions for the unwanted deterioration of infrastructure in the built environment.

It continuously remains in the mouth of all stakeholders.

I have carefully analyzed what I believe is a myth- The high levels of deterioration we find in the human-made space in which people live, work, and recreate on a day-to-day basis termed as the built environment is not a lack of maintenance culture but the lack of education and a profession that has been ignored for the most part of our national life; FACILITY MANAGEMENT.

I strongly believe that Ghanaians have a high level of maintenance consciousness. Let’s begin with what a maintenance culture is. This phrase is conjugal between two words, “Maintenance and Culture”. Maintenance is the action necessary for retaining or restoring a piece of equipment, machine, building or system to the specified operable condition to achieve its maximum useful life.

It includes corrective and preventive maintenance whereas culture is the ideas, custom and societal behaviour of a particular people. Inferring from these two-word definitions, I would like to define maintenance culture as the set of necessary actions taken by a particular group of people that share a common belief for retaining or restoring a piece of equipment, machine, building or system to the specified operable condition to achieve its maximum useful life.

My definition brings me to the understanding that Ghanaians are able to maximize and extend the useful lives of cars, music instruments, clothing, printing machines, etc… According to consumer reports, the life expectancy of a vehicle is 8 years or 100.000km irrespective of routine maintenance.

I drive a 2005 Volkswagen Jetta and I haven’t encountered any major failure. My car has survived the last 7 years of its existence in Ghana heedless of our bad roads and weather conditions.

I lived in a dormitory town and had to travel approximately 60km in a day to work in the central business district and back home to pass the night, yet my car is serving me well and it is roadworthy because I adhere to manufacturer’s maintenance procedures, regulatory compliance and also drive my car with care.

Same can be said about the many Ghanaians who can’t afford a brand new car and have been driving their 10 to 20year old cars every day. The availability of human resource has played a major role in this scenario. Auto mechanics are very much available all around the country.

Some professional, others, not! We are able to maintain our cars and other belongings to maximize and extend its lifespan because we understand and appreciate the added value of maintenance as owners- that is a culture we have lived with all these years. It won’t be fair to be described as a people who lack maintenance culture.

When we are sick we go to the hospital to be treated by a doctor (corrective maintenance) which can be very expensive and time-consuming. Others visit the doctor for periodic checkups (Preventive maintenance) which can be less expensive and generally demands less time.

The difference between the one practising corrective maintenance and the one practising preventive is that the latter is well educated on the added value of preventing sickness, thereby lessening the risk of falling sick and buying time to run other important business.

S/he can’t afford to run to failure or a critical stage before rushing to see a doctor. Unfortunately the former has been the mind of the managers of our built environment for most of our national life post-colonial. The doctor influences and manages the health of human beings through consultations, medical procedures/treatments and advice just as the auto mechanic influences and manages the health of our vehicles through various means because they are trained to do so.

The BIG question is; who is trained to manage and influence the wellbeing, health, safety and productivity of the built environment? Generally, maintenance practices and level of consciousness is influenced by people’s level of education. If education influences culture, how much of it have we driven into the minds of the populace? Have we been educated as Ghanaians to appreciate maintenance and sustainability in the built environment? Do we have formally trained professionals managing the built environment? The answer to this I believe with no atom of doubt is NO!!!

We leave the management of the built environment (homes, offices, parks, hospitals, transportation stations) to untrained persons to handle.

The national dialogue has been on for a while, can we STOP talking about the lack of maintenance culture and start talking about the need to train in FACILITY MANAGEMENT. In my research, I was amazed to find out that there is no single tertiary institution in Ghana that runs an undergraduate program in Facility Management.

How can we as a developing nation train engineers, surveyors, architects, and project managers to create and not train professionals to manage? This is our greatest evil in the built environment not a lack of maintenance culture. The Independence Square, popularly known for the 6th march parade is deteriorating so wild. Broken seats, cracked walls, compromised structural integrity is what you will see in its view.

Same can be said about the national sports stadia, the jubilee parks around the country, the recreational centres like the Efua Sutherland Children’s park, the motorway, etc.… These were built with so much money! Why leave them to deplete in this manner? Who is designing its periodic maintenance plan and budget, who is supervising rehabilitation works to meet user standards, who is managing the broad asset base found in these facilities, do they understand details of building systems, do they have a written and designed Emergency Preparedness and Response Plan(EPRP), Do they have a capital replacement plan?

Of course the answers to these questions has been left unanswered for years. I have seen magnificent developments in the built environment in the last decade of our national lives, it will interest you to know that most of these facilities are managed by foreigners who understand the added value of facility management for sustainability and profitability.

Let us move on in designing the appropriate curriculum in our schools for a robust nation building.

The last time I checked with the International Facility Management Association (IFMA), there were only four known professionally trained and internationally certified facility managers in Ghana. That is an alarming situation for us as a country especially when we intend to industrialize this economy.

Policies like one district one factory(1D1F) will demand professionals to run its infrastructure after the engineers are long gone to ensure it remains in its operational best at all times because these are capital intensive projects. Let’s change our narrative to championing the course of professional facility management training in Ghana and I believe our “lack of maintenance culture” will be history.