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Opinions Wed, 4 Aug 2010

My Standards Board Mission

"When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the LORD shall lift up a standard against him."-Isaiah 59:19b

MTN's Charger sold with Nokia 2630

Such scriptures give me the conviction that even the good old book will agree that Standards are a protection to a nation. Similarly, I harbor strong doubts that many will disagree with my assertion that the privileges of technological and market democratization must be tempered by strong regulatory regimes to protect nations from sub standard goods. Even with the knowledge that our markets are full of fake and sub-standard goods, several times have I failed to avoid paying for and picking the chaff home. I don't want to believe that I am the only one who scouts the market moving from one shop to another trying hard to convince myself that a gas regulator I want to buy will meet all safety requirements when used at home, or that the electric fan I'm about to pickup will not pack up before the first spin. Is this not why the Standards Board exists- To protect the ordinary man's exposure to such market derailments?

I admire the enterprise of many Ghanaians as they lay claim to their economic portion of the land by lining shops of different sizes with goods of all kinds from countries big and small once they can be located on the globe. Through these efforts, no matter how little, biblical miracle is recreated as bread is multiplied on the table to feed families too large for the spaces they occupy. I've always wondered how some of our kinsmen live on the petty trading that engage them. But poverty is no good excuse to innocently set our houses alight with substandard cables or to populate the intensive care unit of our hospitals with people burnt to several degrees because the wrong gas cylinders were sold. Our shops are filled with all manner of goods whose usages are not understood by the people who sell them. I hope I am not wrong in thinking that the Ghana Standards Board is the nation's armour bearer that must hold aloft the standards that protects us. This is what I was thinking when in early June 2010 I drove into their office in Accra to clear up a little matter.

I had purchased a Nokia 2630 from the MTN shop at the Accra Mall. That was my third time of buying a phone from that shop. The receipts usually bear the name Sell Phone even though the shop is MTN-branded. Three days after my purchase I realized that the charger included with the phone was a strange one I'd never seen. It has two plucks that look like an 'A' with the intersections removed. I took the phone back to the shop and wanted to know why they were selling phones in Ghana with strange plucks that will not fit into our electric sockets. The lady I spoke to didn't understand the fuss I was making since I could buy a converter in any electrical shop to help use that charger in Ghana. A gentleman stepped in to diffuse the argument by rendering an apology, and I left the shop angry. I can understand buying a phone outside Ghana and getting a converter to charge it, but for phones bought in bulk to be sold by a company like MTN, would that be right? Unfortunately, my many years of education both formal and informal in Ghana couldn't help me answer that simple question, and after making two calls to a Customs Officer and a lecturer who teaches electrical engineering in one of the nation's Polytechnic with the question still unanswered, I decided it was time to increase my knowledge with some basic fact that most Ghanaians should know by the time they go through high school. So I drove to the offices of the Ghana Standards Board not too far from the Mall.

When I posed the question to the first lady I was directed to see and showed her the plucks, she misunderstood it and thought I wanted to import phones that use that charger into the country. She was quick to advice that since that is not the nature of sockets we use in Ghana, why import those chargers into the country? Then I explained to her that I had just bought the phone and I needed to know if MTN had the right to be selling phones using those plucks, because if they didn't, I was ready to make a formal complaint to the GSB. Here again I couldn't get an answer to the question I thought was a simple one. In the thirty minutes that followed, I spoke to six other people , some at the engineering unit who claimed that was not their specialty and some people at Marketing where complains were to be made. The last person I spoke to has a director (or deputy director) designation and his counsel was comforting in deed. He asked me "why not return the phone if you don't like the charger?" to which I smiled. Anyway, since the people who had answers to my question were all out of the office and could not be reached by phone, I was advised to leave and wait for a call. To be fair the last of three ladies that I spoke to actually tried hard to get somebody on phone that could speak to the issue but to no avail. She did call me again after a couple of days, I cannot recall her exact words but my question was yet to be answered because somebody wasn't available. It is almost eight weeks now since I went to the Standards Board with my question and it is still not answered. I still do not know if MTN had the right to import phones with the plucks pictured above, so I'm still not sure if I had any right to assert in that shop to ask for a change. If you know, would you be so kind to send me a response on ogyakromian@gmail.com. As for the Nokia 2630 I bought from the shop, I gave out in protest and know where not to buy a phone again.

The Plug

Moving away from my little question, I think our general attitude to standardization in this country leaves much to be desired. We have a huge informal sector oiling the wheels of our economy and daily lives, yet little effort is expended to encourage them to serve us with the right goods and services. The guys who build our houses, those that repair our cars, those that we entrust our hairs to, can we independently certify their knowledge levels and ensure that without the requisite certification they are kept away from the mistakes that spell doom for us? Can we ensure that the woman who sells tiles next door has the capability to advice on the usage of these tiles? We must get into the habit of driving mediocrity a small step away at a time from our culture by raising the standards.

Source: http://ogyakromian.blogspot.com

Mail: ogyakromian@gmail.com

Columnist: Ogyakromian