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Opinions of Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Columnist: Appiah Kusi Adomako

Paying more for utilities in the midst of poor services

The Public Utility Service Commission (PURC) last week announced an imminent increase in tariffs for the electricity and water users.

The new tariffs have generated debate in public circles. Whilst some consumers believe that the increases in tariffs are not justified, the providers maintain that increasing tariffs is not an alternative but a must. Some consumers are of the view that they have not seen any improvements in services from earlier increases. Consumers have been made to believe that increases in utility prices would bring about quality and enhanced services. This has not been the case in this country. In many cases the consumer has been left disappointed. The regulator, PURC has not been very helpful to the cause of the consumer. The Ghanaian utility consumer only appears to hear about PURC when it comes to the fixing of tariffs but not when the consumer is given poor services.

I do not want to appear to gloss over the realities on the ground. At least some form of investment is needed by the utility companies to be able to offer decent services. The question is who should pay for the capital investment? In the past, loans acquired by the state by public entities to improve services do not appear to have had any significant impacts. For instance, a US $110.7 million loan facility for the Ghana Water Company, US$ 143.1 million for ECG and a colossal US $203.6 million to the ailing Ghana Railways Company (GRC) could not result in improvement of services. This tells us that there is something fundamentally wrong with the operations of these companies. Again, this means that what is needed is not only financial investment but something but then there are other ingredients required if services will improve.

Available information show that about 49 per cent of water produced the Ghana Water Company is lost either through theft or waste. The case of ECG may not be too different. If these companies are to exclude losses due to waste and theft, they should be able to make money for their services than to burden the consumer.

PURC: A CALL TO ACTION The Act of Parliament which established the PURC did not entrust to the Commission the only task of fixing tariffs only but also as a REGULATOR. The question is: has the PURC done this work as it is expected them? My answer to this question and it is simply NO. I do not want to be tempted to say that the PURC, the government and the utility companies are in the same bed and sing from the same song sheet.

COMPLAINTS AGAINST UTILITY COMPANIES AND THEIR SERVICES I have seen many consumers who have had their property burnt or damaged as a result of irregular power supply. Very few if any ever go to court to seek redress. It is not that consumers do not know their left from their right, but some of them are simply put off by what they perceive as delays in the judiciary system.

PERFORMANCE INDICATORS IN FOR UTILITY SERVICE PROVIDERS The utility companies need to work to challenging performance targets as part of binding service agreements. And someone has said ‘ if you do not know where you are going anywhere could be your destination’. ‘Anywhere’ as used in this context could mean pumping dirty water to consumers or putting the lights off more than ten times in a day without warning or excuse.

The ECG for example should be able to tell Ghanaians what to expect if the proposed tariff raise comes into force. For instance, by how much do we expect unannounced power outages to reduce within a given period? What will change in terms of their customer service provision, response to faults etc.

Similarly the Ghana Water Company should be to tell their customers that what improvements we will see with their services. For instance, how will the quality of water supplied – which in some places tend to be very dirty – change? What is the minimum level of service we can expect from them in terms of the frequency of flow of water in our taps etc.

CONCLUSION

The consumer has no alternative than to pay for the new tariffs when they do come into effect. It would be an insult on the intelligence of the longsuffering customers if there are no improvements in services. The PURC must rise up from the SLUMBER it has been in regarding standards of service.

And a final reminder to the utility companies: what is needed is NOT ONLY money but very importantly, to Reduce, Reduce and Reduce waste, as well as combat crime either from within or without. They should evolve new and pragmatic ways of collecting revenues because there is a great ocean of untapped revenue which they appear to gloss over. For a bird in hand is worth two in the bush.



Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.