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Opinions of Tuesday, 18 July 2006

Columnist: Bensah, Emmanuel. K.

Towards a More Effective Utility Regulation


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Just before the commencement of the World Cup, Ghanaians were promised uninterrupted supply of electricity. This was a promise so surreal that bodies needed to be pinched to ensure we were actually in Ghana—and not utopia. Thankfully, the promise proved true—up until the last week before the Black Stars came home.

As if to presage their defeat by the Brazilians, the lights started going off the week of the 19th of June. The intermittent nature of it suggested to my family that maybe, just maybe, the energy that ECG was unable to conserve – by virtue of a promise they had made – was coming to haunt them, and so the inevitability of darkness falling in the Manetville neighborhood was nigh.

It was with this frustration in mind that I spent the better part of last Friday’s lunchtime trying to chase down Ghana Water Company and Electricity Company of Ghana. Actually, I only managed to get hold of GWCL, whilst making a complaint about ECG.

My primary beef with GWCL was that they had switched the water off in my residential area since Monday evening, and it had not come back up until Friday, 30 June. Were they waiting for the Black Stars to come home before they switched it on, or what?

I pointed out that unlike ECG, which at least informs the public that they will cut the electricity off for maintenance work, those people at GWCL don’t even have the decency to inform us. Why was that?

When I spoke to the woman at GWCL, she asked me to hold on. Prior to that, she explained that "oh, I didn’t know", triggering much bemusement with me.

"You did not know??!", I wondered curiously, "then why didn’t you check?".

I had to repeat myself to the so-called foreman, who spoke with me about the issue. He said rather emphatically that "when we switch the water on, as far as we know, it has come on, so it should be for you to tell us."

"But not everyone likes to call—besides it’s expensive—so it should be you who should check with us."

He didn’t seem to understand, so I left the issue, and said "yes, yes", just to frustrate his record. I couldn’t still quite understand why he expected us, the consumers, to call.

Then I remembered that two days earlier, I had tried to call the Public Utilities Regulatory Commission (http://www.purc.com.gh), located downtown in Accra. They had given me one number to call.

Thankfully, the bright voice of a young lady answered, and she said that she could help. I detailed my complaints—that for the past two weeks, ECG, without any warning, has been switching the electricity off indiscriminately—and very much to a lot of people’s chagrin.

I wanted to know exactly what methods of redress would be given to me, especially as ECG was, before the World Cup season, informing us of ongoing works that would lead to blackouts on the radio.

She explained that they would take my particulars—phone number, name, etc—and call the district engineer in my residential area. They would then try to establish what the problem was. If he knows, then he tries to explain why it is happening, and what can be done about it. If not, then they will check their equipment.

She promised to get back to me. I was certainly hoping so! If not, especially with the celebration of 1 July, which has been commuted to Monday as a public holiday, I was deeply afraid that they might pull an indiscriminate lights-off on us.

I wondered whether there was no hotline, and she claimed the number I had called was the hotline, and that they regrettably do not work on weekends, but at least during the week, they work from 8-5pm.

I asked her surname, and she wondered whether I was a journalist. I, in turn, wondered whether I should not put their names. Perhaps, if they knew a "journalist" was complaining, they might take me more seriously

Whatever the case was going to be, I vowed to get back to them. I was really hoping PURC would prove to me that they could be an effective regulatory body—not just a toothless one!

On Tuesday morning, I received a call from the PURC—it was the same lady, who wanted to check the status of the electricity over the long weekend, as well as inform me that she was unable to get through. By some happy coincidence, there had been no lights-off over that period—ECG had been seriously vindicated. What, for me, was most important was that the lady had gotten back to me, suggesting that if we test our public officers a bit, some might begin to demonstrate some degree of efficiency.

That PURC contacted me was great, but what, in my view, would be even better is having a nation-wide 24/7 hotline. If we are to accept that there will be lights-off – indiscriminate or not is a moot point – what we can, for sure, expect is that we will not have permanent uninterrupted electricity. To that end, I have created two things.

First, a Yahoo groups (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/manetville_spintexroad-watch/), which aims to monitor, and report to the wider Ghanaian public the goings-on, such as the number of times the electricity goes off; the quirks of the area; the lacklustre attitude of the Manetville head to improve the roads for the residents, etc, of the Manetville Estates on the Spintex Road. This group serves to act as a complement to the very good work of the Manetville Residents Association (MRA).

Secondly, I have created an eml: campaign4_247purc_hotline@yahoo.co.uk for residents and Ghanaians living outside the Manetville area to submit their emails. This is with a view to collecting as many names as possible, by way of a petition, to PURC. I am hoping that PURC, with this 24/7 hotline, can serve as a focal point for residents to inform the PURC when there is a blackout, especially during the weekends, so that they can take necessary and effective action.

Emmanuel.K.Bensah
http://ekbensahinghana.blogspot.com


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

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