Reform Ghana's Utility Companies Now

Thu, 31 Jan 2013 Source: Thompson, Kofi

By Kofi Thompson

It is intolerable that in the 21st century ordinary people in Ghana continue to be inconvenienced regularly by the utilities providing water and electricity.

Surely, it is time the top management of Ghana's utility companies were held directly responsible for the unacceptable lapses in their organisations - which result in the inconveniencing of millions of households across the nation?

Over the years, those utility companies have asked - and received official approval from regulators - for tariff increases.

And on each such occasion they have promised an improvement in service provision to consumers in return: to justify those requests for tariff increases.

Yet, consumers continue to be inconvenienced - and Ghanaians still experience power outages and disruptions in the supply of treated water to their properties, as we speak. Literally.

Clearly, the business models of our utilities don't work. Neither consumers nor those who manage and work in those entities are satisfied with the current state of affairs.

The question is: should those entities not be allowed to seek alternative forms of investment to enable them modernise their plant and equipment without being saddled with crippling debt that taxpayers will have to pay eventually?

Perhaps the time has come for Ghanaians to find a creative solution to this collective nightmare.

If it will enable us finally have a regular supply of power and treated water, should Ghanaians not consider agreeing to new tariff rates, and in addition allow the government to carry out root and branch reforms in the operations and management of all the utility companies in Ghana?

That task can be outsourced to reputable consultants - local or foreign: or a combination of the two.

The aim of those reforms should be to make Ghana's utility companies sufficiently attractive to overseas and local private equity investors - who will risk investing their own money in modernising them: in the hope of exiting after five or six years with a healthy return on their investment.

A one-off tariff increase that will be attractive to investors is the key to that happening.

Mickey-mouse and smoke-and-mirrors privatisations such as the Aqua Vittens Rand type, will not solve the problems of Ghana's utility companies.

We must bring the dark days of frequent power outages and disruptions in the supply of treated water to an end in Ghana.

After nearly 56 years of independence, it is totally unacceptable that Ghanaians do not have a reliable supply of electricity and treated water.

Ghana's utility companies must be reformed now - with a view to making them truly world-class utility companies: responsive to the concerns of consumers and providing value in regular payment of dividends to their shareholders.

Our ruling elites must understand that in 21st century Ghana, nothing less will do.

Ghanaians deserve better than is currently the case - in the quality of the service they receive from the nation's utilities. The authorities must act decisively now to improve the situation. A word to the wise...

Tel: 027 745 3109.

Email: peakofi.thompson@gmail.com.

Columnist: Thompson, Kofi