Benjamin Franklin, one of America’s Founding Fathers is credited with the famous quotation “Nothing in this world can be said to be certain, except death and taxes”. Mr. Franklin was a very clever man – scientist, inventor, editor, politician and more, but he did not know of one of life’s main permanent features: the incompetence of our very own Electricity Company of Ghana. This is probably a little harsh so let us look at it another way. Given that ECG does not produce any electricity itself and does not know how, when and how much of the stuff it markets and distributes is produced, the company ought to be made the Eighth Wonder of the World.
Or perhaps a better way to look at it is that in ECG’s failures we are only feeling the sharp and bitter end of national incompetence. To put this in perspective, there are said to be 24 million Ghanaians, although no-one can be sure of this because the last census was bungled, but let us accept that there are 24 million of us. Out of this 24 million Ghanaians some are very clever indeed. We have produced great teachers, stylish coffin makers, mathematical geniuses, farmers and fishermen, scientists and technologists, great mechanics, medical doctors (other doctors in various shapes and guises), pastors, evangelists and prophets, lawyers (you can find them examining pink sheets on any normal day), even journalists and politicians. And yet, despite this abundance of talent and genius we cannot PLAN how and when electric power may be put off and on!
This is a national disgrace; there is no other way to put it. We accept that there is not enough electricity to share among all of us; in any case we are short of everything you can think of: water, clean air, fuel, healthcare, teachers and money, to name a few, so being short of electricity is only a further and better illustration of what we have in a basket of goods and services in chronic shortfall. We accept that this shortfall will affect us in one way or another. But can’t we be spared the spontaneous and unplanned nature of our suffering? Or is it really as unplanned and spontaneous as we allege? This was a question I put to a chap at one of ECG’s Call Centres in the middle of the night last Sunday. You can argue on humanitarian grounds that it was probably not fair to confront the man at one hour past midnight, but I was left with no choice. The power had been taken, as they say in Nigeria, two nights out of three, and this was the third night in 96 hours that we had been deprived of electricity. This was strange even if the power outages were occurring randomly. The law of averages states that over a period of time the occurrence of the same event will even out. This means that it is most unlikely that the same area would suffer DUMSO three times in a row even if it was occurring unplanned. The conclusion therefore was that our area was being unfairly targeted for power outages. As a socialist I can mentally agree with the choice of our area for such execution, if the idea is driven by revolutionary principles. I live in an area where a small but powerful minority of residents (I am not in that group) can boast a disproportionate consumption of electricity because they have more of everything; fridges, air conditioners, lawnmowers, deep freezers, electric toys for Junior, electric fences and windows and perhaps electric shavers and Jacuzzis. Ironically, these same people own the biggest generators God has placed at the disposal of the Third World, so when the power goes they race to put on their gen sets and sleep to the sweet sound of wealth. The point is that when power is taken from my area the reduction in the power consumption may be so noticeable that the people who take the decision do not have to worry about anywhere else. This was my theory when I called the Call Centre.
Before I go on, let us look at the idea of the call centre, especially as it relates to our ECG. I have taken the trouble to check the Wikipedia definition of “call centre” and this is what it says: “A call centre is a centralised office used for the purpose of receiving or transmitting a large volume of requests by telephone. An inbound call centre is operated by a company to administer incoming product support or information inquiries from consumers…” It appears to me that a company that has no information or product support has no business setting up a call centre. Those who want to experience ECG’s rich provision of information and product support can call their call centres on 0302611611.
Let us give credit where credit is due. ECG has trained its call centre staff very well in how to mention their names and greet you courteously when they are responding to your call. That is the only thing they can provide; from there things go downhill very quickly. They cannot tell when the power is coming back because that is down to Gridco or someone else. Can we find out when next we will be taken off? The answer is no; that is down to Gridco… Their strategy is to wear you out without providing a single shred of information useful or otherwise. The only important information I got from the gentleman at the other was that the call centre staff had recommended to the bosses the need for a free telephone line for customers but the bosses had so far not agreed to do this. My conversation with the call centre supervisor told me a number of things. The first is that the electricity problem is probably much bigger than the ECG and the authorities are making it out to be; that it is a management and political problem disguised as a technical one; that there is neither rhyme nor reason in the whole operation and therefore complacency could be the default position, and that ECG is wasting our money by setting up useless call centres. However, there are 24 million of us. Someone somewhere can surely do a better job than what we are being offered at the moment. In simple and plain language, no matter the difficulty with producing electricity it should not be beyond our collective ability to plan it the way it was done in the Kufour period when we knew almost precisely when our power would go off and come back on. This, as they say, is not rocket science; talking of which we even have a rocket scientist at NASA.
It is just that whoever is “managing” this situation is taking us for granted and making life unnecessarily tedious for all of us.
GAW SUNDAY TOMORROW
Tomorrow June 2nd is a GAW Sunday at PAWA House, Roman Ridge in Accra. GAW Sunday is a literary and cultural entertainment event organised by the Ghana Association of Writers on the first Sunday of every month. Tomorrow’s activities include poetry, book readings, storytelling and a book launch. Admission is free and children and young people are especially welcome.