The main reason for illegal seizures of public toilets

Sat, 28 Jan 2017 Source: Adofo, Rockson

It is very shameful to see a political precedent set for unlawful seizures of public toilets on change of governments in Ghana. The supporters of the late President Atta Mills’ NDC-led government upon winning Election 2008, embarked on a spontaneous nasty crusade throughout the country, especially in Accra, to seize public toilets then manned by perceived members of NPP and supporters of the outgoing President Kufuor’s NPP government. There were allegedly reported cases of fatal injuries inflicted on some of the people from whom public toilets were being forcibly, but illegally taken.

Now that the NPP has come back to power under the august leadership of His Excellency President Nana Addo Dankwah Akufo-Addo, the supporters and members of the NPP feel it is their God-send turn to take over or repossess the public toilets by any means possible. They are determined to pay those NDC guys who eight years ago resorted to sheer wicked violence to take over the toilets, back in their own coin hence what we hear and see certain people do as regards the possession, ownership and operation of the public toilets.

What is the real reason behind this trigger-happiness in some people to taking over the operations of the public toilets? The main reason behind such exhibited behaviours borders on selfishness and the perpetrators’ insatiable quest to make immense money for themselves as individuals, but not for the government, or for the community or for the Ghanaian taxpayers.

It is not for the collective interest of Ghanaians that certain people fervently embark on seizing public toilets but for their selfish ends. The public toilets, although are badly maintained, yield a lot of money for their operators. The toilets fetch their illegal operators or owners more money than a cocoa farm would bring to a farmer hence the ongoing craziness by some crafty people masked in political cloaks to enrich themselves through violent takeovers.

How do they make their money after forcibly taking control of the operations or the running of the toilet(s)?

I am going to use my personal experience to vividly explain to you how these operators make their illegal wealth. Many years back in London, I came up with an idea to help build public toilets for the people of Kumawu during one of our monthly Kumawuman Association meetings, through raising special funds for the project. Many were those that pooh-poohed the idea even though Kumawu lacked, and still does lack, sufficient and decent public toilets where people could conveniently attend to nature’s call.

I was never perturbed but did arrange a special meeting in my house where those having “a meeting of minds” were invited. Even though many attended, agreed with my plans, in the end, only six people including my already deceased sister out of the lot did contribute a £100 each towards the project.

Four of my family members of whom I included my already deceased sister, paid her contribution myself, and the late Opanin Kwaanto alias “Oh Yes' son Kwasi Frimpong and his nephew Kwasi Gyesaw were those that contributed financially towards the project.

We arranged with the late Zongohene Larbue through one Teacher Nketia and Kwaku to see if he could supervise the toilet project we had decided to start, first at the Kumawu Zongo. He agreed and arranged his elders and community members to assist where other non financial help was needed.

The toilet was started and at some point, I had to single-handedly pump my own money into it. The project got stuck at about ¾ (three quarters) through and nearing completion due to lack of funding. I was investing heavily in my Wraponso citrus, cocoa and teak farming, and at the same time spending heavily on the attendant High Court litigations over the ownership of the land brought against me by some Asante-Akyem Yawso and Okaikrom family members even though, the 200-acre farmland was sold to me by the late Kumawuhene Barima Asumadu Sakyi II and the Kumawu Traditional Council.

As I was stuck on funding, overstretched due to the farming and its related court issues as mentioned, an American White lady through some NGO did step in to complete the toilet for the people of the Kumawu Zongo. Before she could come in to complete the toilet, she first arranged to seek my permission which I never hesitated to grant.

Below is the interesting part that explains the madness about the seizure of public toilets by some selfish and insatiably greedy individuals. When the toilet was completed, the Kumawu District Assembly began to run it as a public property. I had no qualms about that. However, the information that constantly kept reaching me was, the person the Council elected to man the toilet, to collect a little payment from those patronising it, was duping the Council and the people.

The Council would give him their toilet paper in the form of some old newspaper sufficient for say hundred people a day. Nonetheless, the person manning the toilet would buy his own toilet paper, say Graphic newspaper, sell just about twenty of the Council’s to the toilet users and then for the rest of the day, would be selling his to pocket the money. This was the ongoing daily occurrence to enrich himself.

I always wondered how those little pieces of newspaper given out as toilet paper to those using the toilets were enough to give them clean bottom wipes when they used the toilets. The question of personal hygiene creeps into mind here.

The Council only determined how many people had used the toilet by the number or the quantity of their own newspaper-type toilet roll sold a day of which they expected him to account for.

Information kept reaching me, advising me to proceed to Ghana to kick him out, take over the ownership from the Council since it was privately built. I told all those requesting me to step in as said, that it was not started by me alone so I could not do as they were suggesting and after all, the objective was to help the people, but not to run a private business to enrich myself regardless of how lucrative running the toilet had become. Providing the people with the toilet was simply an act of philanthropy to help a people in need.

The fact that those manning the toilets without properly maintaining them, but could resort to attitudes as just described to make money for themselves, there will always be this frenzy of taking over the ownership of public toilets on every change of government. Those doing that think their government has come to power so they have every right on earth to make money for themselves at all costs. To me, that is not right!

I will prescribe two solutions to putting a stop to those deplorable and harmful attitudes. The public toilets are to be made free for public use without anyone collecting money from the users.

Money for running and maintaining the toilets could be raised through increasing say, the daily car park taxes, market taxes, home taxes, etc. but by a very small percentage of say, 0.2 to 0.5%. This will not be felt by those being taxed by the insignificance of the increment. The money raised through the taxes just cited can be used to employ people on full time basis to run the toilets, by just cleaning and maintaining them in good order and shape but not collecting money from their users.

On the other hand, the toilets can be divested (sold) to private individuals but at ongoing market rate and then make them pay taxes commensurate with their profitability as demonstrated by the savagery of their takeovers. If we had public pay toilets with coin-operated turnstiles to minimise or stop the desire of people to enrich themselves illegally through keeping the greater part of the daily proceeds as aforementioned to themselves, I could have suggested differently.

Any of the above two solutions has the potential to stop the periodic seizure of public toilets on change of government but which sad attitude only goes to profit some crooks as it was in the case of the mentioned Kumawu Zongo public toilet.

Let the government come out with a durable solution to end this disgraceful and violent seizure of toilets which is becoming the norm in Ghana on change of ruling political parties or governments. Everywhere you go in Ghana today, the operators of the public toilets built by either the government, municipal, district or local councils, are keeping the chunk of the daily proceeds to themselves hence their violent propensity to illegally take over the running of the toilet facilities.

Why should we continually allow these selfish and greedy individuals to lawlessly enrich themselves at the expense of the Ghanaian taxpayer?

Rockson Adofo

(Written on Saturday 21 January 2017)

Columnist: Adofo, Rockson