You are here: HomeWallOpinionsArticles2014 12 19Article 339551

Opinions of Friday, 19 December 2014

Columnist: Amuna, Paul

Improve the Poor Arriving Passenger Baggage Services at KIA

What would it Cost to Improve the Poor Arriving Passenger Baggage Services at Kotoka International Airport?

Dr Paul Amuna

I read in the general News section of ghanaweb excerpts of Pastor Mensa Otabil’s sermon on Wisdom, (“Otabil Blasts KIA Managers”, ghanaweb 15 December 2014) in which he lamented the state of affairs at the KIA. In his sermon, the esteemed pastor vented his frustration at the fact that when you arrive at KIA in this day and age, you still have to make your way from the aircraft to the arrival hall by WALKING on the tarmac instead of via a “jet way” (a specially built walkway connecting aircraft to the arrival area) as is the case in many airports we see elsewhere. One of his complaints was that in not providing this facility for passengers, they are “exposed to the elements”. Very true and spot on. To be fair, on occasion, there have been buses to shuttle passengers across on that very ‘short journey’ between aircraft and the entrance to the arrival hall). His diagnosis of the problem was: “Lack of Wisdom on the part of the managers of KIA”.

On the flip side of this argument is that once upon a time, not too long ago (for those of us who still remember KIA before its apparent ‘upgrade’ and ‘transformation’), and as recently as the late 1980s, there was an upstairs restaurant and balcony area at the airport which allowed family and friends to come out and WAVE at their departing passengers boarding an aircraft for a trip abroad amidst scenes of jubilation, excitement, shouting out names and at times ‘exhibition’ on the part of some first-time travellers including ‘break-dancing’ (LOL). Tears of joy and sadness were also shed during what naturally were emotional moments for all concerned as indeed it was in my own case on my very first journey abroad as a student attending an international conference in 1987. That, at the time appeared to be a ‘wise’ and ‘appropriate’ way of allowing families to say farewell and also upon arrival, for the welcoming party to ‘spot’ their guest even before they got into the arrival hall.

The fact that Ghana’s foremost (and still the only) international airport and gateway into our country is stuck in the ‘nostalgic past’ and has not moved on along with other countries in a similar ‘division’ seeking to become middle and eventually high-income countries, is both sad and embarrassing. Compare the KIA to, say Lagos Murtala Muhammed, Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta, Cairo or Addis Ababa’s Bole international airports, or even Durban (not Johannesburg’s Oliver Tambo) airport in South Africa!! I guess Pastor Otabil’s reaction was in part a feeling of embarrassment especially for one who receives a lot of foreign visitors to the country, and also a lamentation of our clear lack of developmental progress in certain areas. This ‘small matter’ of lack of progress was clearly not lost on the ailing ‘Cente(ge)narian’ Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe when (out of the blue) he took a swipe at Ghana for remaining ‘static’ in her development since the 1960s!!!

For a simple minded person like me, I put the poor state of our ‘flagship’ airport in terms of its amenities, appearance and facilities down to a lack of COMMON SENSE, FORESIGHT and FORWARD THINKING in the PLANNING and execution of projects, rather than a lack of WISDOM per se. The fact is, ‘common sense is FREE and not sold in Kejetia, Makola or Kaduna markets. The fact that we seem to fail to use it begs the question: are we as a nation beyond redemption even with interventions such as we hear every week from our men and women in the pulpit such as Mensa Otabil?

In contributing to the debate, I have chosen to focus on the conveyor belts or carousels (or the lack thereof) in the baggage hall, after one has ‘negotiated the elements’ and ‘bulldozed’ your way through immigration and like me (if you are not a VIP), made your way to the infamous BAGGAGE HALL where at the time of writing, ONLY TWO carousels are installed for arriving luggage.

If I am correct, the renovation, expansion and ‘facelift’ of the KIA was completed not more than 10 years ago. The planning may have started much earlier, probably in the 1990s (if not earlier), and however ‘poor’ we are as a nation, surely common sense would have AT LEAST informed those planning the design of the new-look KIA to think about the increasing population, air traffic and our aspirations to become not only a middle income country (MIC) but also a regional ‘HUB’ for air transport, transiting etc. an aspiration which interestingly, president Mahama mentioned in his speech during his recent state visit to Kenya.

How on earth do we expect to be a ‘HUB’ for air traffic between East, West and the rest of Africa if we cannot even provide jet ways and a simple conveyor belt system and enough and efficient carousels to convey luggage from just outside the building into the baggage hall for waiting passengers? Typically it takes between one-and-a-half to two hours (in some cases even more) for waiting passengers on some international flights to receive their luggage! Look at it this way: I travel from Amsterdam to Accra, a journey of six-and-a-half hours. It takes me 30 minutes to go through immigration at KIA, and another two-and-a-half hours to retrieve my luggage in the baggage hall. If it takes nearly 3 hours to get from arrival to retrieving your luggage after a six-hour journey, what sense does it make? The time lost is substantial!!

My understanding is that KIA has contracted out baggage handling to a private contractor. Currently the manual process involved in transferring luggage as one observers at the airport is not only inefficient and unsatisfactory, it risks unexpected damage to luggage (for which there is no compensation), causes undue delay and is often a recipe for anger, rage, arguments and insults as I have observed on two separate occasions in the last year when I have been a passenger going through KIA arrival. By the way, whilst frustrated Ghanaian passengers are seen arguing (some on top of their voices) and gesticulating, you have fellow passengers, usually foreigners standing by, equally frustrated (and most likely angry as the body language sometimes suggests) but almost ‘resigned’ to the notion that well, “welcome to the real Ghana, we’ll simply flow with the tide and wait”. I share Mensa Otabil’s embarrassment in the sense that especially when you have an international conference (as indeed I was involved in organising in Accra in July of this year) and for your overseas visitors this is their first EXPERIENCE of Ghana, then you begin to wonder if we should even bother ‘dreaming’ of becoming a gateway or hub for air travel at all.

Here are my questions: who is responsible for running KIA? Who is responsible for awarding contracts in respect of passenger affairs – to- and fro- aircraft and baggage management? I know for a fact that people have complained a lot about this problem, this article and Mensa Otabil’s observation are merely additional to the complaints people have voiced on the issue. Therefore, if these are issues that we know of, and people continue to complain about, why hasn’t anything been done about it? If as this clearly shows, there is a ‘consistency of incompetence and failure’ on the part of KIA management to deal with what appear to be basic yet costly indifference such as we are observing here, why on earth should they continue to occupy those positions and why should the contractors continue to renew their contract with KIA for inefficient and unsatisfactory service? Whose overall responsibility is it to ensure that there is competence and efficiency in all aspects of the operations of KIA? Do the people running KIA have any key performance indicators (KPIs) against which their performance is judged and what is the Civil Aviation Authority doing about the situation? Does the voice of Civil Society matter in the functioning of KIA and if so, how much pressure has Ghanaian Civil Society exerted on this matter in particular to date?

In my considered opinion, it is wholly unacceptable to subject Ghanaian citizens to this level of poor service and frustration over such a long time, in the hope that we will simply accept that “well, this is Ghana for you” as I have often heard people say. It is equally embarrassing and disgraceful for us to ‘showcase’ Ghana in this manner to foreign visitors, especially when we ‘brag’ about how beautiful, welcoming and warm our country is, and how much we have ‘advanced’ and now want to be accorded middle-income status. Furthermore it makes a complete mockery of the government’s desire and ambition to “become a hub” for air transport in the West Africa sub-region although we hear of plans to “upgrade and expand the KIA”. Surely we shouldn’t wait for such ambitions to be realised (however short or long that may take) before our constant and present grievances, are dealt with?

I conclude by saying that despite all our positive national attributes, the political stability we enjoy and our apparent economic prospects (yet to be fully realised), the gateway to any nation are its ports and their appearance, facilities and the time-bound processes involved in negotiating them do matter. They say much more about who we are, where we are in our development, and whether we are making meaningful progress, compared to merely brandishing statistics of say our Gross Domestic Product. How much would it cost to fix these problems, provide e.g. properly functioning toilets, shuttle facilities and / or jet ways? How expensive and ‘unaffordable’ is it to completely upgrade and provide more efficient conveyor belt systems and other basic features for passenger baggage management? Isn’t it a matter of COMMONSENSE to ensure that at least we get these fundamentals right and as a matter of some urgency? If at all for no other reasons, fixing these problems will improve our image as a country, improve our time management, provide passenger satisfaction and lower the ‘temperature’ as far as our frustrations go, including from the pulpit.

Is someone listening, reading and taking notes I wonder?