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Opinions of Sunday, 31 January 2016

Columnist: aL-hAJJ

Government Becoming Unpopular?

Despite end of Dumsor…


As the November 7 general elections draw near, President John Dramani Mahama is faced with another challenge of restoring the confidence Ghanaians reposed in him in the run-up to the presidential election that elected him ahead of his main contender, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo.

Despite the good intentions and good works of the John Dramani Mahama-led National Democratic Congress government which has been lauded by the citizenry, with assurances that the President was on his way to securing a second term victory, the reality on the ground seems to suggest the government is increasingly becoming unpopular.

Barely ten months to elect the next President, many Ghanaians are on collision course with the Mahama administration over some government policies affecting their lives and adversely worsening their already dire economic situation.

Until recently, the Mahama administration has been praised for providing incomparable infrastructural projects in the area of school projects, water supply, road constructions, hospitals and most importantly; the stabilization of the cedi and virtually ending the nearly three year debilitating power crisis, christened ‘dumor’.

While many believed government was about taking a breather after stabilizing the power crisis and hoping it will enjoy some goodwill from the populace ahead of the elections in November; Ghanaians seem to be up in arms with government and protesting recent hikes in fuel and utility tariffs.

It’s like each day, each week; month and year come with its own challenges as far as the Mahama administration’s resolve to solving the problems facing the country is concern. As government strives to surmount one challenge, another rears its ugly head, often pitching the people against government.

Ominously, when new challenges rock government, it immediately pale into insignificance all the gains and achievements of the Mahama government as the people turn to concentrate more on the new problem; bashing government left right and center, accusing the administration of being insensitive or lacking competency.

Since the Christmas festivities, the Mahama administration has been applauded for virtually bringing an end to the unbearable power crisis to the chagrin of the main opposition New Patriotic Party.
However, the shine on this positive gain is gradually being whitewashed by nationwide complains by pre-paid meter users of how their meters are running “abnormally”, compelling them to spend more than expected.

What has worsen government’s public image in the midst of these complains is that while the Electricity Company of Ghana claims there were technical challenges in implementing the 59.2% tariff hike and that the problem has been corrected and consumers will get refund, media reports suggest that the supposed 59.2% increment in reality is 69 percent.

A letter circulating in the media allegedly authored by the Executive Secretary of the Public Utility and Regulatory Commission, Samuel Sarpong, revealed that apart from the 59.2% increase, the Electricity Company of Ghana has been directed by the PURC to charge an additional 10%, resulting in a cumulative hike of 69% beginning 1st January, 2016.

This may explain recent complaints by several power consumers that they were being charged more than what was proposed by the PURC last year and not the supposed technical challenges the ECG claimed it faced in implementing the 59.2 % upward adjustment.

The letter states the charges comprise a 5% increase approved by Parliament for a street light levy and another 5% billing for the national electrification charge which must be footed by consumers.
However, in a face-saving move following the revelations, the utilities regulator has given ECG and the Ghana Water Company a February 5 ultimatum to refund excess bills to customers following tariff increases last year.
The Public Utilities Regulatory Commission (PURC) has threatened to impose sanctions if the order is not strictly enforced.
PURC says it has come to its attention that Electricity Company of Ghana (ECG) and the Ghana Water Company Limited (GWCL) begun charging 59.2 and 67.2 percent respectively from December 1, 2015 instead of a December 14, 2015 timeline.
The PURC says if the utility providers fail to comply with the order by February 5 the ECG and the GWCL would automatically pay a surcharge of 5 percent of the excess amount over billed to each affected customer in addition to the refund.
Government slapped consumers of water and electricity with 69.2% and 59.2% tariff increases respectively in December last year. Shortly after that, a 28% levy was put on petroleum products.
Subsequently thousands of public sector workers across the country hit the streets last week Wednesday in a bid to pressure government to grant their demands by scrapping the levies on petroleum products.
According to General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress, Kofi Asamoah, 'It was, therefore, insensitive on the part of the government to foist on Ghanaians the act, considering the fact that workers had compromised in not demanding more than the 10 per cent increases in the wages for the year,'.
Meanwhile, government has explained that the recent upward adjustment in utility tariffs and fuel prices cannot be reversed since it would be inimical to the stability of the economy.

The Employment and Labour Relations Minister, Haruna Iddrisu made this known when he met organized labour, Ghana Employers Association (GEA) and Association of Ghana Industries (AGI) last week over the upward adjustment in fuel prices, as well as water and electricity tariffs.
But, government has in a compromised move on Tuesday January 26, with Organized Labour now agreed to adjust the electricity tariff from 59.2% to 52%. Organised Labour had earlier demanded that the increase be reduced to 50% for both power (59.2%) and water (67.2%) as announced by the Public PURC late last year.

Media reports suggest that the main opposition party, NPP, wants to cash in on the tango between government and organized labor to destabilize the Mahama administration.

Communication Director of Nana Akomea last week charged Organized Labour to disagree with any tariff increases beyond 17 per cent.

He argued that any increase in utility tariffs and fuel prices should be proportional to the percentage increase in salaries received by public sector workers.

“They should be asking for increases [in tariffs] of not more than 17 per cent to be in line with inflation and the 10 per cent increment [in salary]. Ghanaian workers have every right to protest, and the TUC has been generous,” he noted.