Feature Article of Saturday, 19 May 2012

Columnist: Oti, Douglas

Accountability and Culture – Solution to Our Water Problem

Water is abundant in the southern part of Ghana and is free so why is there no tap water to drink? This question has been bugging my mind for a long time. Now is the time for me to discuss it with other concerned Ghanaians. In fact 2 out of the 3 most important natural resources necessary for the survival of humanity are free of charge in many countries including Ghana. These 2 natural resources are air and water. The third one, fresh vegetation produce, used to be free from the time of Garden of Eden but lost its free status probably due to scarcity.
Because water is free of charge, and so we can swim, fish, and enjoy boating as much as we like, all for free in Ghana. Similarly, because air is free, we can breathe and enjoy the breeze as much as we like. The United Nations however, has predicted that in the near future, water will be scarcer than petroleum. Maybe during that time water like the vegetation produce will lose its free status. But until then, water remains free. The United Nations, again, has proposed carbon emission cap with an objective to limit how much carbon dioxide (CO2) gas a company or a country would emit into the atmosphere over a range of time. A country/company will have to buy an extra carbon credit from another that under utilizes its credit if the country/company wants to release more than the permitted amount. The goal of this proposal is to put a brake on global warming. But some critics have said alarmingly that UN will want to charge us (everybody) for the “air” (CO2) we, as humans, will exhale in the near future. I see this as untrue and funny but interesting. Well, these are hints that water and air are also not insulated from the possibility of losing their free for all status. But until then, they still remain free for use.
One may ask if water was free, then why do we pay water bill? The answer is we don’t pay for the water per se, but the treatment processes and the transportation to our homes. In the same sense, we don’t pay for the air surrounding us in our enclosure but the energy and equipment we use to cool and blow around us. In Ghana, and especially along the coasts, fresh water is abundant. From Jehu Wharf to Aflao, there is a continuous streamflow into the sea throughout the year. Yet our taps are dry, devoid of waterflow.
The purpose of this article is to express my humble views on why our taps are not spewing out water, yet our sources of water are flowing full and at high rates straight into the sea. Well, my views might not be 100% right but they are my views and I stand corrected. It is very important for people to have their views and more so to express them. This is what moves a society from one level of understanding of the universe to another - a higher one. This is also why we have PCs, Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo, etc. because Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, etc had their own views and more importantly were allowed to express them.
Talking of views, last year, I was interviewed over a phone by a panel of Professors and a Registrar at KNUST. I was in the United States seeking a Lecturer position in the Geological Department at KNUST. There were 3 parts; first I was interviewed by the department, followed by the school of engineering. Prior to the interview by the school of engineering, I had a chance to speak to the Dean expressing my view about the poor standard of the University’s website and the use of yahoo.com domain by the lecturers for their official work. This professor apologized and assured me that they were working to improve it. And I was so excited about his approach to my question. He sounded like an American professor, who would attentively listen to his/her students’ view despite the age differences and the life experiences. S/he would then patiently explain back what s/he knows or feels about it in a respectful manner. Anyway, my interview was successful at the school of engineering level and so, the next and final stage was to be interviewed by the panel of Professors and the registrar including the Vice Chancellor. The interview was cool until it got to the turn of the Vice Chancellor to ask his question. And his question was this “So Douglas, what are you bringing to Ghana?” Fellow readers, this question has infinite number of answers. This means any of the infinite answers is right. Right? So I could have said; I was bringing home a TV set, a car, or anything and would be considered correct. Right? But I chose to say that I was bringing home knowledge because I wanted to impact people’s life through teaching. After answering, he told me I was wrong. He continued, “Douglas, I am giving you the last chance, what are you bringing to Ghana?” I repeated the previous answer. I could sense he was very irritated. I was perplexed about why what I said was wrong but I remained calm and waited for the next question. But instead, he asked if I had any question. I also took the opportunity to ask the panel of what they were doing about their website and the yahoo.com domain the lecturers were using for their official work. Dear readers, what the VC said was that the lecturers used the school’s domain for their official work and the yahoo domain for their personal mails. But few months afterwards and to date, I still read on their websites the yahoo and gmail.com domain use for official work. The school’s website has not also improved to the best of my knowledge. And finally, I was never issued an employment or a rejection letter. One year later, I am still waiting and understand the school is in need of lecturers but would not accept one with his/her own view, diverse views that are very essential for the growth of our mother nation.
My experience leads to the possible reasons water is not flowing in our homes. The reasons are simply lack of accountability and the Ghanaian culture. The Water Supply Facilities like the premier Engineering University of the nation is not held accountable for under performance of their systems, for under performance of their websites, for under performance of their programs. This is so much that the nation has to depend on report from external bodies like the United Nations to issue out their analysis, their reports of the state of the nation and for the nation to decide on a line of action. An example was the recent report on how much money the nation loses as a result of poor state of the nation’s water and sanitation stand. It was not reported by any Ghanaian institution but by an external body – the UN. This trend needs to be stopped and reversed. Ghana should know its issues even if it cannot solve them. Professors and lecturers need to write and should write high quality articles and books relevant to the nation. Researchers and scientists should also write for the UN and other bodies to quote and not otherwise.
For accountability does not mean issuing out threats, shouting rebukes, or doling out punishment but rather:
• establishing high expectations, eg. Water for All 2013, Better website 2012, or Vision 2020 etc
• communicating our expectations to everyone, line-up and line-down along the expectation line
• alignment of our actions, thoughts to the expectation
• continuous monitoring of our progress towards the expectation. And the progress should be measurable
Accountability begins with self assessment of the leaders where a principled approach can be developed to successfully hold others accountable to fulfill the expectation. And doing it in a way that the others feel good about.
Currently, our culture keeps the motivated, trained, and accountable workforce from taking initiatives and it also keeps the smart starters on the floor. But a culture of accountability is where people think and act on a daily basis, in a manner necessary to develop successful solutions, find answers, overcome obstacles, triumph over any trouble that might come along and deliver results. In short, a culture of accountability is where people think and act in the manner necessary to achieve organizational results. But the Ghanaian culture has now developed and multiplied into culture of complacency, culture of confusion, culture of intimidation, and culture of abdication.
We need to get out of dogma, dust off ourselves and get our acts into gear. Water is so vital and elemental that Ghana, as it is now, should not be in this situation. Ghana EPA and Food and Drugs Board should be instrumental in solving this problem. A visit to Akoben section of EPA website clearly paints a picture of the state of that institution. Akoben, a program designed by EPA to monitor and grade companies and corporations, the impact they are having on the environments as well as their social responsibilities is left hanging. The last time it was updated was 2 years ago. It seems there is a lack of motivation or most probably lack of accountability, organization culture, and some training with motivation in the institution.
I am writing this because Ghanaians are intelligent people. We just have to be bold and admit our mistakes. We have to set up bold expectations and get to work to achieve them. Nobody else will do it for us and so we stop relying on others for directives. We can share ideas though. For we are as smart as everybody else. Let’s get to work. Let’s use proactive approach and should not intimidate others. We should also stop using “Resists a people – oriented approach.” Thank you very much and may we all have the courage to pursue what is right and beneficial for our dear nation. Now that the economy is booming whilst others are failing, we should keep our eyes on the ball and consistently get it right. Accountability is the way to go. God bless Ghana and make us bold to build and to defend it.
I would like to thank my big sister Magdalene Oti and Meri-Nana Ama Danquah, a prolific writer, for their impact on my writing. Thank you once again.

By Douglas Oti, Ph.D (Civil and Environmental Engineer)
Tampa, Florida