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Opinions of Monday, 24 April 2006

Columnist: Agyeman, Harold

Whipping Public Service Into Action

The case for national standards in zipping up

If you are one of those expecting a sensational and scandalous item, as the sub-title might suggest, we are sorry to disappoint you. But if you are interested in how to push forward the frontiers of Ghana?s effort to modernise itself and become an effective African State, then we encourage you to read on.

Recognition of need for change exists

On page 29 of the February 10, 2005 edition of the Daily Graphic, a news item was reported of the attempt by the Accra Metropolitan Assembly to undertake a civic house numbering exercise. Quite recently a similar report was put out in the papers on the matter. Also, on page 28 of the May 7, 2006 edition of the Daily Graphic, a report was made of the ZIP Code Street Project of the Shama Ahanta District, being undertaken by a company known as ASI Zip Code Systems Limited. The spokesperson of the contracting company noted that the ZIP Code Street Address and House Numbering Project was an application of the United States of America system being implemented to suit the Ghanaian situation to identify places and people living in communities. The attempts being made by the two above-mentioned local government units to ensure some logic to house numbering and location identification gladdens our heart. We have not been able to verify, but we suspect that it is not the same company doing the project in Takoradi that is undertaking the project for the AMA.

We are therefore concerned by the likely patchy outcome of the projects and the frustration that this may create if the project is not able to fully deliver because it does not fit into the overall system. Systems analyst suggest to us that everything is a part of a system and, as a result, each problem must be reviewed and addressed in a holistic manner lest a good remedy for a deficient part react badly with the entire framework and lead to a serious malfunctioning of the entire system.

We need a national standard for Ghana?s ZIP codes

In this article, we basically argue for the establishment of a national standard in developing Ghana?s ZIP codes and logic for house numbering to ensure coherence and consistency in the projects being undertaken by the districts as well as to enhance the value and usability of the data derived.

The history of ZIP codes

It may well be important to recall the history and basic elements of the ZIP codes, which were developed by the United States of America.

Robert Moon, an employee of the post office, is considered the father of the ZIP Code. But since 1944 when he submitted his proposals while working as a postal inspector, the ZIP code system has evolved up to the system in use today. ZIP Code was originally registered as a trademark by the U.S. Postal Service, but its registration has since expired.

A ZIP Code is the postal code used by the United States Postal Service; with the word ZIP standing for the Zone Improvement Plan. The basic ZIP Code format consists of five numerical digits, which is extended by a four numerical digit code to allow a piece of mail to be directed to a more precise location. For example the ZIP code for a neighbourhood could be 10009 (five digits) but to locate the street, a city block, a group of apartments, an individual high-volume receiver of mail, or any other unit that could use an extra identifier to aid in efficient mail sorting and delivery, an extended four digit code such as 1957 would be added. The full format of the ZIP code would thus be 10009-1957. In addition to the ZIP+4 codes, the United States also introduced two-letter abbreviations for states, eliminating the need to write the state's name out in full.

The Structure and allocation of ZIP codes

In the United States the ZIP Codes are numbered with the first digit representing a certain group of states, the second and third digits together representing a region in that group (or perhaps a large city), and the fourth and fifth digits representing more specific areas, such as small towns or regions of that city, in numerical order.

In the case of Ghana, therefore, an easy logical structure for allocating ZIP codes would be to allocate the first digit of the ZIP code to the various regions in the English alphabetical order as follows:

0 = Ashanti Region (AR); 1 = Brong Ahafo Region (BA); 2 = Central Region (CR); 3 = Eastern Region (ER); 4 = Greater Accra Region (GA) 5 = Northern Region (NR); 6 = Volta Region (VR); 7 = Western Region (WR); 8 = Upper East Region (UE); 9 = Upper West Region (UW)

Thereafter the second and third digits would be allocated sequentially on the basis of the ranking of the districts in the region along the English alphabetical order, with the fourth and fifth digit representing the villages, towns and suburbs of boroughs of the few cities in the district.

In such a situation if you live in, for instance, Nkwatia in the Eastern Region of Ghana, your address using the ZIP code system could be akin to something like this ?

Kwame Onipa
20 Nyamebeye Street
Nkwatia, ER 30914

It would be noticed from the above address that the two-letter abbreviation of ER was used for the Eastern Region. Also, through the use of the ZIP codes, you can be assured that your letter would not land in Akwatia, also in the Eastern Region, which spells almost similar save for the first word.

Let our public institutions spring into action

Establishing a ZIP code system for Ghana is therefore not a difficult proposition as some may consider it to be. Other societies have already invented the wheel and ours is the rather easy task of emulating and adapting what they have done.

Perhaps in Ghana the problem is with which institution must lead this public service charge. In the United States it was the Postal Service. But in Ghana if the postal service is unable to take on this responsibility at this time for reasons of capacity, other institutions of State such as the Ministry for Public Sector Reforms or the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development, if that tortoise can finish thinking about moving and move, should be empowered to act. This is because the benefits of the ZIP code system extend beyond the intense use by the postal agency. It has benefits for Government?s statistical tabulations and analysis, the national identification system, civil security matters, marketing analysis, and in analyzing geographic factors in risk, an insurance industry and banking practice pejoratively known as redlining.

Necessary Corollaries to ZIP Codes system

However, for a ZIP code system to be useful it must be accompanied by an effective and logical location identifier such as proper street names and house numbers. But that is a matter we shall revert to in the next publication of ?WHIPPPING PUBLIC SERVICE INTO ACTION.?

Harold Agyeman
Antoa, AR

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