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Opinions of Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Columnist: Ata, Kofi

Has the President Joined the False Prophets?

By Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK January 3, 2015

In the last quarter 2014, President Mahama promised not to promise again after numerous assurances to Ghanaians that dumsor would be a thing of the past failed catastrophically to materialise. Not only did dumsor continue but it became intensified throughout 2014. It was therefore not only surprising but also shocking to read that the same President Mahama has given the same assurance on the last day of 2014 (see, “Dumsor will be banished forever in 2015 – Mahama”, Starrfmonline/Ghanaweb, January 1, 2015). This article is to analyse why President Mahama keeps on making promises and to make some policy suggestions.

Addressing a huge congregation of Perez Chapel at Dzorwulu after worshipping with them to cross over into the New Year, President Mahama was alleged to have told the congregation that “the year 2015 will be one filled with fruitfulness, joy, peace, good health and development and one in which we banish darkness from our land and put an end to dumsor forever”. On reading the report on Ghanaweb, a number of questions came to mind. First, when did the President gain the powers to banish dumsor and why did he not do it earlier with all the powers invested in him by constitution? However, it also occurred to me that perhaps, the President was overpowered or possessed by the euphoria of the moment and the atmosphere within which he found himself might precipitated such prophetic words from him or he is becoming one of the numerous false prophets in Ghana who continuously prophesy about the future or take credit for what happened in the past such as TB Joshua.

In fact, many, including myself will treat the President’s prophetic assurance with a pinch of salt for a number of reasons. Above all, it’s a clear indication that President Mahama cannot keep his own word (promise not promise again). Second, he is not learning lessons from his mistakes and finally, either he lacks full appreciation of what is required to bring an end to dumsor or he is simply not serious. He lacks understanding of what is required because either his appointees are telling him lies that he believes or he has not demanded to know the truth.

There is nothing wrong with President Mahama giving assurance that dumsor will end forever in 2015. In fact, as the President, it is his responsibility to inspire hope, confidence and enthuse his people as well as assure them that he has solutions for the nation’s problems and bread and butter issues that affect daily livelihood. Remember, FDR’s assurance to deflated Americans not to have fears for the future but the only thing that they should fear was fear itself? The impact on Americans was magical because he acted to end the depression soon after this assurance. What is worrying is President Mahama’s numerous unfulfilled promises. When FDR asked Americans to take their money back to the bank they did so massively. Can President Mahama command the same confidence?

By this time President Mahama ought to know that ending dumsor in Ghana will not require the creation of a new ministry of power and the appointment of a minister for power. It will also take more than a ministerial order from Dr Kwabena Dorkor to power generators in Ghana to end dumsor in six months. The problem will require short, medium and long term strategic policy decisions and effective implementation on generation, distribution, finance, infrastructure renewal, restructure of Electricity Company of Ghana (ECG), dealing with illegal connections, power loss, corruption by staff, new and alternative sources of energy, pricing and private investor participation.

In the short term, the government must secure adequate funds for power generators to purchase sufficient fuel (gas and diesel) to produce sufficient electricity in addition to what is produced by Akosombo, Kpong and Bui hydro electric power stations. At the same, immediate and emergency action by way of Task Force by ECG to identify and disconnect all illegal connections by individuals and corporate bodies throughout Ghana, as well as their arrest, prosecution and payment of power consumed illegally. Then, ECG must give all individuals and organisations, including public ones time to pay all outstanding electricity bills within a maximum of three months. Finally, ECG must identity and dismiss or even prosecute all its workers who collude with individuals and organisations to do illegal connections. I believe that above short term measures should improve the revenue generation of ECG to be able to at least break even.

In the medium term, the waste of electricity within the distribution system must be identified and resolved. It is not value for money to produce power only for a third to be lost through distribution due to outdated equipment. Again, ECG must improve on its management efficiency and reduce recurrent expenditure, especially staff cost by investing in IT that will improve revenue collection. For example, instead of workers going to homes and offices collecting money from customers or customers travelling to ECG offices to pay their bills, they should be able to pay bills online and at banks. Last but not the least, the planned reorganisation or privatisation of ECG must begin in earnest in the first quarter of 2015 so that ECG can attract private investment and become more efficient.

In the long term, ECG must not only become self-financing but must also generate enough income to invest in renewing equipment such as new pylons and substations as well as investment in solar energy. Sun is in abundant supply in Ghana and must be taken advantage of to increase electricity supply to industry and the people. Attracting private investment into power production and distribution will require new legal and regulatory framework by government. The government must therefore put in place without delay new legislation for the power sector to attract new investment. The energy market must be made attractive to investors by way of realistic unit price of electricity for individuals and industry. That will also require a review of the unit price of power given to Volta Aluminium Company (VALCO). I am confident Ghanaian consumers will be more than happy to pay for realistic price for power if there is regular and consistent supply of electricity.

These are some of the measures President Mahama, his ministers and appointees should taking to end the energy crisis and dumsor in Ghana. The prophetic banishment of dumsor will not bring power to Ghanaians, neither will a ministerial order to end dumsor do the trick. Only action, properly planned, implemented effectively and efficiently will ensure regular and consistent supply of electricity in Ghana. That will also lead to increase production by industry and subsequently, economic improvement, creation of jobs and additional income by way of tax revenue to government. Without these, all the prophetic assurance and ministerial orders will amount to nothing and President Mahama will go on record as the first Ghanaian President and False Prophet.

Happy and Successful 2015

Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK