Why does privatization scare workers of ECG ?

ECG Meters Electricity Company of Ghana workers

Fri, 26 Aug 2016 Source: Bokor, Michael J. K.

Folks, I have already made my voice heard on the woes of the ECG, especially any move by the government to privatize it so it can function more efficiently to help solve problems in the electricity sector. That explains why I won't support any needless agitation by or among workers of the ECG and their allies in the TUC (especially the Public Utility Workers Union) to muddy the waters.

For far too long, the ECG has performed below standards—be it at the level of power distribution and prompt provision of services to consumers or the collection of bills to raise productivity, or just any other lapse in that entity. Of course, the ECG's power to generate electricity vanished when the VRA shot into prominence, pushing the ECG into the shadows.

The Kufuor government's push for GridCo further sidelined the ECG, making it responsible for functions that I don't know much about to criticize. But the truth is that the ECG is still responsible for a lot that turns round to make a mockery of the electricity sector in our part of the world.

In truth, the ECG has been under-performing all these years but hasn't been re-structured or retooled to perform efficiently. Be it at the top management level or down the common floor, nothing seems to be working well in the company.

Of course, it is suffering the scourge of being a "public institution" or a government entity, meaning that "anything goes". For as long as "anything goes", the company isn't able to stand on its feet to serve the needs of consumers. Why should it remain so?

State-owned enterprises like the ECG that were established by Dr. Nkrumah ended up in private hands under Rawlings' Divestiture Implementation Programme (Committee). Whether the manner in which these enterprises were "divested" is right or wrong doesn't come up here. The fact is that the state isn't burdened anymore in supporting them as non-performing assets (indeed, better characterized as liabilities).

The Ghana Water and Sewerage Corporation has been turned into the Ghana water Company and is doing better than it used to do. Why can't the same thing be done to make the ECG more responsible and productive? If the government sees privatization as the best option to revive this ECG, it must go ahead to do so in a transparent manner so the company can serve the country and consumers better.

Within this context, I consider the threats coming from workers of the ECG to plunge the country into total darkness by Friday if the government doesn't heed their call for the ECG not to be privatized

(See http://www.myjoyonline.com/news/2016/August-24th/ecg-workers-threaten-nationwide-dumsor-to-protest-privatisation-bid.php).

From reports, it is clear that the main motivation for the workers' agitation is their fear of losing their job if the ECG is privatized. Why should it be so? The 6,500 staff of the company need fear nothing of the sort if they really are qualified to remain in a revamped ECG. Threatening to plunge the country into darkness won't solve any problem for them.

Instead, it will provoke the authorities into taking more drastic measures to weed out the bad nuts among them.

In this sense, what the leaders of the Public Utility Workers' Union (PUWU) have mobilized staff to do (going on demonstrations for three days between 8am and 11am) to register their discontent is a mere useless arm-twisting move that will boomerang to hit them hard in the face.

(See http://www.myjoyonline.com/news/2016/August-24th/public-utility-workers-union-begin-3-day-boycott.php).

The government shouldn't bow to pressure if, indeed, it has set the parameters right for privatizing the ECG. After all, those who are worth their sort to work with the ECG will not cringe but organize themselves for any new wind that blows. They will boldly step forward to help the company transition smoothly from the doldrums to the height of success to be appreciated by consumers.

The government must begin taking drastic measures, including durbars with the aggrieved workers to lay everything bare. Only then will they be informed properly to end their needless agitations.

The workers' leaders must also be taken on board and properly educated on the rationale behind the privatization of the sector so they can be taken on board in the conscientization process. Only then will their apprehensions evaporate so they can see beyond the narrow confines that have blinded them to the negative factors pushing the ECG further down the drain.

They must be shown records of the ECG's poor performance and what a bright future for it can draw from privatization. Hanging on to quaint socialist-oriented beliefs that have sustained such a non-performing institution as the ECG won't solve the problem. Times have changed and the ECG must change with them too.

No blame game should be played, which is why I don't want to agree with the Deputy Power Minister, John Jinapor, who has accused aggrieved workers of the Public Utility Workers Union of breach of faith.

(See http://www.myjoyonline.com/news/2016/August-24th/jinapor-accuses-ecg-workers-of-breach-of-trust.php).

The truth is that once workers become disaffected, aggrieved, and alienated because of happenings that have eroded their confidence in those managing the affairs of institutions on which their livelihood depends, they can go to any extent in registering their discontent. That is why it is important to work closely with them so no room is created for mistrust, distrust, and doubts.

The government must come out openly on this issue and move ahead to bring the aggrieved ECG workers on board for a common purpose, which is to re-position the ECG for the tasks of the 21st century that were not considered at the time that the company was established. After all, a viable ECG will do Ghana good. No single individual can claim to be the achiever or beneficiary of the reliable service that a viable ECG is tuned to provide.

The vicissitudes of "dumsor" should alert Ghanaians to what lies ahead. No show of force by the government will solve the problem. Only education and a clean slate shown to the workers on what the privatization programme entails will allay fears, doubts, and suspicions. It is all about cost-effectiveness vis-a-vis maximum productivity to serve the purposes of the ECG and its community of users.

Of course, the consumers will be prepared to pay any price for as long as they can get reliable and decent service. Is that what privatization will lead to? If that is it, why shouldn't all the partners come together to strike the balance—to agree on a common platform without all the heckling going on now?

Unless the right and decisive moves are made, this problem will quickly be politicized to muddy everything. In that sense, we shouldn't be surprised if some negative elements resort to selective sabotage (burning electricity transformers or doing just anything to create a bad name for the government). Vigilance is required. Honesty and truthfulness should also be on the menu.

It shouldn't be difficult for the government to level with the ECG workers to bring them on board. Only the first decisive and positive step will help bring cool heads to the negotiating table. Anybody listening?

I shall return…

Writer's e-mail: mjbokor@yahoo.com

Columnist: Bokor, Michael J. K.