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Opinions of Thursday, 10 May 2018

Columnist: Benjamin Akyena Brantuo

My experience with Nana Akomea’s STC

Crew members of the Intercity STC Crew members of the Intercity STC

I had an invitation to minister to the Pentecost Students and Associates (PENSA) at the University of Mines and Technology (UMAT), Tarkwa, on Friday, 20th April, 2018. I elected to travel in a State Transport Corporation (STC) bus because I wanted a comfortable and safe journey, where I could drive myself to the STC station, park my car for safe keeping until I return from my trip and drive back home peacefully.

But I had more than that!

The bus to Tarkwa on that day left on time; my luggage was weighed, tagged and secured at the basement of the bus. Before travelling, we had a beautiful place of convenience to use and I was pleasantly surprised when we were refreshed with snacks by some of the most beautiful ladies in the world. The driver was decently adorned in his STC branded uniform, had receipts for my car which had been safely parked for safe keeping, the help desk was helpful in answering all our questions and there was an atmosphere of business mindedness yet friendly and sensitive to the passenger, who is the reason for the business setup.

In fact, once a client enters the STC yard, they will not lack anything, from business to personal comfort as there are available shops and venders who render all kinds of services tailored toward the needs of all categories of passengers.

Perhaps, this explains why the company appears to be attracting prestigious clients and noble customers. It was delightful seeing an entire family of father, mother and kids traveling together. Even more remarkable were the foreigners, the business executives and known politicians who had parked their luxurious vehicles and were counting on STC to transport them in comfort and to their destinations safely.

Who will not want to travel in an air-conditioned bus while relaxing with movies and snacks, knowing that their lives and properties are safe and that they will arrive at their destination on time without harassment and intimidation from the police and street hawkers? As one bus arrives and another takes off, the sight of the buses adorned in the national colours with what looks like a star by it surged my sense of nationalism higher.

However, this has not always been the story of STC, which until recently, was bleeding from excessive central government interference, incompetent management, corruption and breakdown of law and order, as well as disregard for the welfare of the external customers which resulted in buses being ravaged beyond repair, cancelation of scheduled trips without prior notice, non-availability of buses, debt and huge losses.

It may be impossible to divorce the surprised comeback of STC from its present management even though Nana Akomea, the Chief Executive, has been careful to remit some of the credit to his predecessor, Mr. Nuamah Donkor, who he claimed laid a solid foundation for the company’s present buoyancy.

When rumors made the rounds that Nana Akomea was going to be the Chief Executive of STC, he was mocked by his political opponents on social media. They said he was going to be a bookman or driver’s mate. For his friends and colleagues in the NPP, they pitied him, thinking he had been unfairly treated. Indeed, Nana had to save face by issuing a rejoinder on his facebook page to the effect that he lobbied the President for that office.

He wrote, ‘I had convinced the President for this job assignment way back in January, to do a specific job of bringing the STC back into profitability. So how can I be reported to be upset about an appointment I myself had asked for?’

As the Director of Communications of the then opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP), whose work took a ruling government with the most formidable propaganda machinery to opposition, one thought that STC was not a better way to say thank you to Mr Akomea, who was vilified and personally maligned by his political detractors simply for doing his job well. How can we forget how he was once so much provoked on air until he could not hold himself back and had to engage in naked insults much to the disappointment of his admirers. Yet he did it while carrying a very unsellable candidate to power on his back. And he succeeded.

By accepting to work for STC and not as a Minister of State or any other luxurious office such as COCOBOD or VRA, Nana has demonstrated that public service is what it is: service. Even most commendable is Mr Akomea’s ingenuity in resuscitating STC from its collapsed state until it recently paid $ 1, 000,000 to government as part payment of buses Government bought for the company. I add that the building of the ultra-modern place of convenience for their clients, the introduction of snacks, having a bus crew of beautiful ladies, the uniform system by all staff on duty, the atmosphere of discipline which has whipped all staff into line and ensuring that buses are available for all trips and on time is indicative that Nana went to STC to give the company and not to take from it as we see happening in many public sector institutions. In some cases, the conditions of service of the CEO alone is enough to collapse the institution financially.

While praising the current management for a good work done so far, I wish to say there remains so much room for improvement. The following suggestions are humbly presented for their consideration to improve on their work.

First, the response to the reforms by some Ghanaians are most disappointing and need urgent attention.

On my return trip, where I connected from Cape Coast to Accra, consistently, I witnessed how some passengers made fun of the drivers and the crew onboard, especially with respect to their branded uniforms. There was a deliberate attempt by some to provoke them to anger, knowing that if they reacted negatively to their provocations they could easily report them to their superiors for sanctions. It was a lot of psychological assault which if not stopped immediately could get most of these ladies leaving the service to a place where they could be respected for the work they are doing.

Also, it is unclear to me what the role of the female crew onboard is beyond serving the snacks. On my way to Tarkwa, I noticed it was only the driver who kept getting down at every junction and helping passengers offload their luggage from the bus. The ladies could not play that role. If a male is paired with the driver for that purpose, it will be useful. Even when the buses break down on the way, as I experienced on my way back from Cape Coast, the ladies cannot be helpful to the driver who tries to fix the issues if they’re minor faults.

For instance, we had a fan belt problem and somebody needed to travel to the nearby village to look for a mechanic. Sending a young woman for this was not the best thing to do. But if there is a conductor onboard, he will do this since the driver cannot abandon the passengers and the vehicle. I am also looking at how the ladies will be helped to be comfortable. How do they freshen up themselves in a long trip to say another country and where do they sleep before the next journey is due? Will they not be violated or taken advantage of by men? I pray STC looks at the issue concerning female crew members very well not just on the aesthetic side of it but the more practical side of helping to make a journey on their buses more efficient and safe in order to protect these beautiful and dutiful ladies from harm.

Thirdly, some of the buses are old and must be phased out. Whereas the journey from Accra to Tarkwa was smooth, connecting from Cape Coast back to Accra was not. This is because in the former case the bus was strong and new but it was not so in the latter's case which broke down twice on the way and we had to wait for another bus from Accra before ending the journey.

Again, it is expensive to travel on STC. The bus fares in themselves are moderate but if you have to use the washroom at a price of Ghc 1 per each attendance, the cost of your luggage and also parking your car at a cost of Ghc 10 per day, I propose that the bus and luggage fares be maintained but the urinal and parking fares should be scrapped to give the company that competitive advantage over its competitors.

There is no transport station now in Ghana which boasts of such a wonderful parking lot and restrooms. If customers are charged commercial rates for using them, the advantage of using STC will not be much in monetary terms. Afterall in an economy like Ghana, that is what drives the decisions of people.

Imagine traveling with a family of four and waiting for three hours for your bus. How many times will you urinate before your bus leaves? Even so, it is a rule that every business provides a good parking lot and place of convenience for their customers. The transport business cannot be an exception because the reason we are urinating and parking our cars is because we are doing business with you and not because we want places to urinate and park.

Lastly, on discipline of their staff, I see the fear of losing one’s job driving their workers instead of an integrated business vision and mission principles. While weighing my luggage, I told the attendant to please hurry up as the process was a little slow, she nearly wept, pleading with me that if anybody heard that comment, she will lose her job. My heart was broken for that woman who could easily pass for my mum virtually begging me to keep her job. Actually, after she explained what was causing the delay, I realized it was not her fault but the system which was not programmed to be fast enough.

This runs through the operations from the drivers to the security at the gate as everyone fears if care is not taken they could lose their jobs. The problem is that most Ghanaians have taken undue advantage and are harassing the staff. One gentleman who was also weighing his luggage said the price of his luggage was too much. I reasoned otherwise because he was carrying a very huge luggage. Yet, he started making noise and threatened to report the staff to their bosses, knowing that the management takes customer complaints seriously. I want the staff of STC to be disciplined but empowered as well to do their work. This will require more than sanctions and threats. It will take the company ingraining in their staff their business vision and mission and helping them understand that their role in achieving it is what sustains their salaries and the company.

Benjamin Akyena Brantuo