Opinions Tue, 20 Feb 2007

How (not) to light up the Accra-Tema motorway

The anti-corruption law that seeks to prosecute government officials who “willfully cause financial loss to the state,” has come under intense scrutiny since the verdict in the case of Mr. Dan Abodakpi, the NDC Member of Parliament for Keta and former Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry. Mr. Abodakpi was found guilty two weeks ago for causing a loss of US$400,000 to the state, and sentenced to a 10-year jail term. Apart from the talk about the NDC reacting to the verdict by boycotting parliamentary proceedings, the airwaves has also been filled with a debate on whether the law should be completely scrapped. Proponents of doing away with the law claim that it is not easy to ascertain whether the loss to the state was willfully caused by an individual, or a result of plain incompetence. This is can be tricky: if we prosecute all who cause the state to lose money, we risk stifling creativity, innovation and risk-taking in the public service. But not prosecuting many of these cases will let too many people off the hook. Is it then possible to draw a fine line between pre-meditated theft or just the “wrong person for the job?” With so many problems facing the nation, every cedi lost willfully or through sheer incompetence has a huge opportunity cost.

As I drive along the Accra-Tema motorway, I could not help but notice a classic example of what seems to be a financial loss to the state. First, let me commend the highway authority (or whoever is in charge) for working to provide lights along the 16-kilometer stretch of motorway. This will make the highway safer for drivers, pedestrians and folks trying to hitch a ride back home after a hard day’s work. I am not an engineer, and would not claim that I am an expert in streetlights. But I believe a better design could have saved us some money. First, what is striking is the closeness of the poles to each other. With their tall design, and the availability of technologically improved, cheap and energy efficient lightning, the 800 or so poles could have been placed many more feet apart and still have a very well-lit motorway. In effect, the job could have been accomplished with a lot fewer poles, saving the state some money.

More importantly, I am amazed at the lack of creativity in the project. As at now, all the poles have been erected without the light fixtures (see photo). It seems to me, and everyone that I have driven with on the motorway, that it would have been far cheaper to fabricate the poles, add wiring and the light fixtures, all on the ground, before erecting the poles along the motorway. So why was this not done? The contractor (may be, a different contractor) will now have to lease a crane that will move workers slowly along the highway, stopping under each pole so the workers can mount the light fixtures. This will be a terrible waste of money and an unnecessary distraction to motorway traffic.

And get this: the Tema end of the motorway has adequate lights thanks to the newly constructed Tema-Ashaiman overpass. So why should we be adding about 40-50 more light poles to an already well-lit segment of the highway. A financial loss to the state? You bet. Is it willful or plain incompetence? You be the judge.

Edward Kutsoati,
Univ. of Ghana, Legon

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

Columnist: Kutsoati, Edward