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Opinions of Monday, 6 September 2010

Columnist: Danso, Kwaku A.

Vodafone - Bringing Ghana Back to the 1950?

Days Without Internet -same as without Electricity or Water!!

By: Kwaku A. Danso

Folks

Some of us remember the days without electricity, perhaps without even a phone line, and with the old dusty roads without any tar in the villages in the 1950s. And yet today some cannot imagine a day without their cell phone. For some of us the Internet has become a daily requirement, not only for keeping in touch with loved ones around the globe, but for doing business.

The controversy around Vodafone and their purchase of Ghana Telecom in the late days of the Kufuor administration, with reported pressure from President Kufuor and skipping the bidding process, as well as current rumors on the ground that Vodafone paid the former President some large amount of money makes good press report. A very reliable source told this writer that the current President is aware that former President Kufuor took $30 million from Vodafone to give the contact to them. Bringing the evidence out may take forever, as we are all coming to know! Folks, we should definitely pressure our leaders to provide truthful and honest leadership devoid of the greed and corruption! And we should also pressure the foreign corporations who offer bribes to our leaders and find means to nullify their transactions and prosecute them if the evidence comes out!

For the ordinary Ghanaian, the pain is in the kind of lousy services these corporations offer once they offer bribes to take over these state-owned Ghanaian companies. They reduce staffing which is one way to reduce cost and increase profit. Whiles that may be legal, what hurts and could be illegal and actionable is the poor quality of service they continue to offer whiles prices go up due to the monopoly they have bought. The Malaysians who were given the contract to work as Managers and partners did not make any meaningful investment in Ghana Telecom; and eventually the new government of the NPP hired the Norwegians whose CEO was reported to be taking $1.5 million annually and still did not produce any meaningful and measurable improvement in telecommunication services in Ghana.

After these two failed attempts in the 1990s and 2000s to have Ghana telecom stop bleeding the Ghanaian taxpayer of losses, Vodafone was reported to have purchased 70% of more of Ghana Telecom for a reported $900 Million. There were reports of members of parliament being paid $5,000 cash each who were present to vote for the last minute approval of the deal made by the former President Kufuor. Once again for the ordinary Ghanaian consumer the critical issues are the service delivery and improvement. For the lawmakers their duty is to find means to make business clean and provide services to our tax-paying people who elected them to office. So far there are too many disappointments and dissatisfaction!

I have been in Ghana for 2 weeks after an absence of months, and the Internet has been down all day for about 6 of these days when I really needed to use the service for valuable business communication. I am paying a flat rate of about $48 (Ghc 65) for a download speed of 256kbps and upload of 512kbps. In the USA I pay $39 per month and get uninterrupted service with a speed of 10Mbps or 40 times the speed offered in Ghana by Vodafone. Last November when I was in Ghana at my office and I tried to download a file, the speed showed 15kbps, a whopping 6% of what the company promises! For these last two weeks some of my emails were sitting in my Outbox for 2 or more days. Certain business responses I needed to make for my business in the US suffered due to my inability to respond. Question is: Would it make any difference to Vodafone if my business suffers and theirs grow without any punitive damages for delivering poor quality service and for the same fees to me, a fee that is 5-10 times higher than one would pay in say the US or UK for that speed!

Please don't get me wrong. I am not suggesting that Vodafone has not made any progress. A friend in Kumasi reported on our GLU forum that there has been some improvement in service since Vodafone took over from GT. However, is that good enough? It makes no sense how some of these international companies behave! Is profit the only motive in business! What a short-term mindset! Do they forget the basic philosophy behind business? We are all in life to provide a service or produce products for economic gain for our survival, and pay the necessary fee in exchange. Why should a company gain at my expense when they do not suffer any consequences for delivering poor service or products? Would the executives of Vodafone like to purchase some rotten tomatoes from Ghanaian farmers, or say have their electricity cut off for days and be happy about it paying the same flat rate?

It is time our leaders in Ghana, under the Public Utility Regulatory bodies, stood up to the mega-corporations like Vodafone, GhaChem Cement company, Viterans Water Management Company, who think just because they bribed their way to monopoly business they can offer any lousy services, which they know full well they could not offer in their own native countries, to us poor Africans, and charging 10 times or more to profitability. In most cases, they sell the companies to others when the heat gets close. Within the year I see so much deterioration in service delivery in the Cellular phone communications. Why and who is regulating these companies to provide quality service!

Ghanaian leadership of the 1980s were not smart enough to develop line phones at the same time as the cellular phones. With the short term mentality and lack of vision, now the people of Ghana are paying the price when drop calls make any call of duration impossible and line phones are very scarce also! Due to greed and silly decision making, Ghana did not even develop or deploy Data communication networks such as Broadband cable lines already built by VRA's Voltacom, to even make facsimile transmission popular. Now Ghana is very much behind other nations and being charged ten to twenty times for a very slow Internet that is also not reliable!! Ghanaians have been screwed! - as a friend put it recently in a conversation, because our men in executive leadership thought they were smart and only cared about taking their shares from the cell phone companies to quick profit while ignoring the backbone line communications that is used for low cost Internet delivery through Broadband in the modern era!

It is time that our people stood up to our leaders. President Mills should stop the silent diplomacy in the slave Castle and tell the people of Ghana what he is doing behind closed doors to let the people of Ghana know he stands by his own word to bring a "New Ghana Agenda", and with integrity, and a new standard of Quality in such services as Water, Sanitation, Electricity, Telecommunications, Traffic design and Road and transportations, and overall service delivery to the public. If the Directors at the PURC cannot do their work to regulate, monitor, and push these companies to deliver better service, then these Directors should have their employment terminated! Period! Of course if the President is unable to do his work, the polls will very soon come for the people to decide if his new Agenda worked or not. However, politics should not deprive our people of good quality services during any leader's term of office. We are behind many years and decades, and cannot wait on 4 years do-nothing leadership anymore! So please, Mr. President, let's push for better services now!!

Cheers,

Dr. Kwaku A. Danso

President - Ghana Leadership Union (GLU) & Moderator -GLU Forum

East Legon, Accra, Ghana