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Opinions of Monday, 6 April 2015

Columnist: Frankly Speaking

Paying the 'dumsor' football

Since April 1965, Ghana has relied on electricity produced by the Akosombo Hydroelectric Plant. Ghana’s neighbours, Togo and Benin, have also become beneficiaries of the power produced by the plant. History was made by Ghana in 1962 when the perseverance of the first President, Dr Kwame Nkrumah, led to the implementation of plans made in 1949 by the colonial government in building the Akosombo Dam to produce hydroelectric power for the country. President Nkrumah needed funding to build the dam but the country did not have the needed funds. About 11 international organisations were approached; and though they were willing to loan to Ghana, they needed some form of guarantee as to whether the project was viable and that the loan could be re-paid. At that time, Ghana had no track record as far as contracting of loans and repayment were concerned and this might have scared many of the companies. Following Nkrumah’s visit to United States President Dwight D. Eisenhower in July 1958, and under Eisenhower’s influence, the Kaiser Aluminium and Chemical Corporation of the United States accepted to help Ghana raise funds for the project. Nkrumah and Edgar Kaiser, the Chief Executive Officer of the Kaiser Corporation, signed an agreement in Accra and Washington to enable the corporation mobilise the funding for the project. Ghana needed a company which would guarantee the purchase of a large chunk of the power to be produced by the hydroelectric project to raise enough funds to repay the loan. With the confidence shown in Ghana by Kaiser, a total of $98 million was loaned to the country by four institutions. The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (predecessor to the World Bank) granted $47 million, United States Agency for International Development (USAID) $27 million, United Kingdom $14 million and Export-Import (Exim) Bank of Washington DC, an agency of the US Government, $10 million. Ghana contributed an equivalent of $98 million, the largest single project on the whole of the African continent at that time. This therefore gave birth to the Akosombo Dam and the generation of hydroelectric power for the country. Though Ghana was compelled by the contract agreement to pay for over 50 per cent of the cost of the project, it was given only 20 per cent of the electricity produced with the 80 per cent going to the Volta Aluminium Company (VALCO) set up by Kaiser Corporation. Though some had argued in the past that the agreement amounted to neo-colonialism, it must be pointed out that at that moment perhaps that was the most sensible thing Ghana could do to get the dam built. Over the years, Ghana has had a renegotiated settlement which had allowed the percentage to increase. Despite the hydroelectric plant still functioning, Ghana has for some time now experienced severe shortages of electricity for both domestic and industrial use. Since the last three years, the situation has rather become worse with a number of industries and companies producing far below their capacity because they don’t have the requisite energy. Many small-scale businesses and artisans like hairdressers and barbers, dressmakers and tailors, carpenters, corn-millers, and cold store operators have either had their businesses completely collapsed or incurred huge debts due to the lack of electricity supply. In recent months, there have even been reported deaths associated with unannounced power interruption. This alarming situation has brought the term ‘dumsor-dumsor’ (literally meaning power-on-power-off). However, the seriousness of the situation doesn’t seem to be better appreciated by our politicians, particularly some politicians of the ruling government, hence, they have over the period been making some unimaginable utterances. Even President Mahama have had his share of the unacceptable statements. Like Moses angered by the Israelites in the wilderness and acted with profuse anger, Mr Mahama, in 2013, during an Institute of Economic Affairs presidential debate, asked Ghanaians to blame God, and not his government for the dumsor, because the breaking of the West Africa Gas Pipeline, which supplied gas to the Aboadze Thermal Plant, was caused by “an act of God” and not his NDC government. Was it the same God he prayed to, end dumsor this year at a church service on December 31? Following that, based on wrong information fed him by people who should have known better, the President has caught the displeasure of Ghanaians for making several unfulfilled promises on when dumsor will end. In his attempt to appease Ghanaians he recently sacked the Managing Director of the Electricity Company of Ghana but strangely left the heads of the institutions which produce the power. He also, in a knee-jerk reaction, created a new ministry of power, whose minister, Dr Kwabena Donkor, is struggling to find a solution to dumsor. In a typical Taliban style, he is reported to have given the management of the Volta River Authority and the Takoradi International Company (TICO) a six-month ultimatum to end the dumsor. “I urge you to put measures in place to end the current power crisis within six months”, he is quoted as having directed them. It reminds me of when the Talibans in Afghanistan while in government ordered all men to grow long beard within a fortnight. How can you give an ultimatum when the real problems have not been addressed? The minister must first find solutions to why the production is low, and provide the requisite production materials before issuing his military-style ultimatums. Our opposition politicians also seem to be only happy in blaming government without many of them making any concrete suggestions as to how to solve the problem. Last Thursday the People’s National Convention (PNC) leading member, Mr Atik Mohammed, and Mrs Ursula Owusu-Ekuful, Member of Parliament for Ablekuma West, in a radio discussion claimed the government didn’t care about the effects of dumsor on Ghanaians. Though not without the usual politicking, they however, unlike some of their colleagues, offered a solution by urging the government to buy light crude oil while the price of oil is at its lowest ever, to power the Emergency Power Plant and the Mines Reserve Plant which the country acquired some years back. No matter how one sees it, the President Mahama has shown concern, though his best is still not good enough, one can conclude that he lacks proper advice and support from his appointees and party officials. The NDC Communications Director, Solomon Nkansah is reported to have stated that the Kufuor government which left office at the end of 2008 must be blamed for the dumsor because it did not put in place the needed measures for the country to generate more power. He added that instead of Kufuor’s government concentrating on meaningful projects which could have enabled the country to have more power, it embarked on a ‘stupid project like the Bui Dam. It’s one of the weirdest statements I have heard from a young politician who should study and equip himself before making public pronouncements. As part of the talks between Presidents Nkrumah and Eisenhower in July 1958, which brought in Kaiser Corporation, Ghana and the U.S. governments tasked Kaiser to reassess the engineering aspect as well as the costs of the project. The report Kaiser presented seven months later recommended that in addition to the Akosombo Dam, there was the possibility of smaller hydroelectric projects at Kpong and Bui which could follow as and when the need arose. I am not sure Ghana embarked on a ‘stupid project’ as Solomon Nkansah wants us to believe. The Kpong Dam started by Acheampong’s government in 1977 was equally not a ‘stupid project’. People like Solomon Nkansah are the types who are digging under President Mahama. They are merely playing a political football with such a serious national crisis while the economy continues to suffer very badly.

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