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05.08.2003 Feature Article

Urgent Appeal to President Kufour

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I have read that your government wants to sell (divest) Ghana Commercial Bank to private investors, on the advice of the World Bank/IMF. As a born entrepreneur and capitalist, I would normally hail such divestment. However, I think this particular divestment must be reconsidered. To wit, Ghana Commercial Bank is a linchpin in the financing of development projects in Ghana. It has supported government initiatives and projects such as the granting of loans to students to pay for their education, as well as financing government projects that private banks would not have provided financing.
We need a national bank to support certain government development policies in our nascent path to development; something that a privately owned bank may be reluctant to do. There is no doubt that the bank is afflicted by corruption and mismanagement in the manner that most of our public enterprises have been. What is needed therefore are effective policies that can help to sustain the bank and return it to profitability. I must submit that as the purveyor of Positive Change, you must be a bit tougher in confronting the debilitating problems of corruption and mismanagement that have turned companies that ought to be profitable, into debt-ridden national cancers.
Please do not behave like Jerry Rawlings who sold off national assets left and right. The last ship of the Black Star Line Shipping Company for example, was sold on the high seas, according to Reuters news agency which reported on the sale.
Mr. President, if you really want to rid our nation of unprofitable, non-performing assets; the leading company you must divest, and do so with alacrity is Ghana Airways Company. Yea, I have heard the claims that Ghana Airways is a national asset, blah, blah, blah! But compared to Ghana Commercial Bank, which of these two companies registers deeper in the national conscience?
Ghana Airways has always been badly managed. It now has debts over $100 million; it gives Ghana a rather bad image in the way it treats customers, and the way it is managed. Here are a few things pertaining to Ghanair, that I thought your government would have changed by now. These problems were of course inherited from the Rawlings regime. Positive Change ought to have redressed these problems a long time since, though.
Ghana Airways is perhaps the only airline flying to and from the USA that does not accept a credit card as a medium of payment for services. That is to say, if I were flying on British Airways from Baltimore to Ghana, and I happened to have excess luggage (i.e. more than the 2 suitcases weighing about 70 ibs or 32 kilos each allowable under the law), British Airways will encourage me to pay by credit card. In fact, at the time I purchase my ticket, British Airways (BA) would ask me if I had any excess luggage. Should I answer in the affirmative, BA will accept payment (by credit card), at the time I purchase the ticket. I will also have a choice of paying at the check-in counter on the day of my flight, of course.
Not so with Ghana Airways. Ghana Airways accepts cash only. Why in this 21st century of our Lord, a company like Ghana Airways does not accept credit card payments beats me. There are several advantages gained by accepting credit card, a few will be mentioned here.
First, it is as good as gold. The fear (if such is Ghanair's concern) that someone may use a fraudulent card is as nonsense as nonsense is. Ghana Airways is not the only company in these United States. You will not find a company or a store in these parts that does not accept credit cards. Once a check of the customer identification such as a drivers licence matches his photo, and the name on the card; payment to the company is assured even if it were to be discovered later that the customer used a fraudulent card. As long as the credit card company certified the transaction at the time the transaction took place, the company is assured of payment. That is the law.
Second, the amount of the transaction is transferred electronically to the company's bank account. This is most beneficial and salient to the company. It eliminates fraud and stealing by company agents. No money changes hands, therefore the temptation to steal is removed, under the circumstances. Finally, accepting credit card brings Ghana Airways into the mainstream of modernity and current corporate culture.
So why is Ghana Airways refusing to accept credit card payment for services rendered at the airports in New York and Baltimore/Washington? Ghanaian travelers can only adduce one reason, and that is corruption.
Any visitor to the check-in-counter of a Ghanair flight from Baltimore/Washington or New York will agree that it is a hellish experience. Ghanair travelers fly with at least three excess luggage each. Each excess luggage costs the flier $160.00. So, you can imagine how much money is collected by Ghana Airways agents at these airports. And one can also imagine why Ghanair insists on accepting cash only for payment of excess luggage. Let me say that I am not indicting Ghana Airways employees here. But questions must be raised; and the truth must be told.
We know that even under watchful eyes in Ghana, at Makola; the harbour; airport; as well as at the various stadiums; etc., illicit tickets are printed by some employees, to supplant the legally produced ticket. Can the public be ever assured that what money is collected at the above airports really go into Ghanair coffers? Or, is the money being used as a sort of imprest account by certain senior officials such as was the case under the Rawlings regime when some government and party officials used the money accrued as their personal cash boxes?
In order to alleviate any hint of corruption by its agents at the above airports, would it be too much to ask the Ghana Airways bosses in Ghana to finally come of age and accept credit cards for payment?
The new managing director Mr. Philip Owusu retired from the World Bank after several years of employment. I would think that it is individuals such as him, who can make a difference in our work ethic and managerial mentality. The reason being that Mr. Owusu would hardly need even his salary in order to survive. Therefore he could remain incorruptible. I am convinced that his retirement benefits can adequately take care of him. He can make an excellent name for himself and Ghana by streamlining the management procedures at Ghana Airways.
One of the measures he could take, is to bring order to the chaos reigning between Ghana Airways and travel agents. I have it on impeccable authority that when a customer pays for his/her ticket, the money does not go to Ghana Airways immediately, if ever. Rather, the travel agency keeps the money until Ghanair officials ask for the money, the way a market woman would ask a customer who owes her money! This has led to the unique occurrence whereby it is intermittently reported that such and such travel agent owes huge debts to Ghana Airways.
Again, unimpeachable sources tell me that at a later stage when the money is supposed to be collected, a deal is made whereby the Ghanair official and the travel agency split the money, to use an American slang. Folks, this explains why most travel agencies that do business with Ghana Airways are either related to, or are friends of very senior officials of the company. Why can't Ghanair adopt policies that are used by others such as British Airways or Lufthansa?
Mr. Owusu can also help by streamlining the way whereby Ghanair tickets are reserved to these travel agencies in Ghana. The phrase often told to the potential customer is that the flight is full. More often than not, such a flight is not even a quarter full! Yet, because these agents sit on these tickets to make a profit, Ghana Airways flights are sometimes half-empty at take-off time.
The new managing director can also assist by reducing tickets that are provided to employees and their families as a job incentive. While most profitable and well-run airlines have either eliminated or cut such fringe benefits to its employees, Ghanair continues to offer such perks. What is damaging about this practice is that there is hardly a clear jurisdiction as to what constitutes a ‘family member' in the Ghanair context. Hence, extended aunts, cousins, sisters-in-law, etc., etc., are included. In the context of running an airline, this perk such as it is, does major financial harm to Ghanair.
The fact that some of these employees reserve seats on a flight even when they do not intend to travel, further complicates matters for the paying customer. As a result, on flights from Ghana, customers who are completing a return flight, suddenly are told, "your name is not on the list". The new boss at Ghanair can do something to stop this blatant abuse of privilege; and a major cause of customer disenchantment, not to mention financial loss to Ghanair.
Finally, as someone jokingly but seriously told to me, it appears Ghanair crew is the most wealthy among the world's airline flying crew. Why this contention? Well, just visit the airport whenever a Ghanair flight is due to arrive. The hostesses and stewards and even pilots (the Ghanaians amongst them) carry large numbers of luggage. My investigations has revealed that some of these luggage belong to people who were not even on the flight. Since these luggage are checked in without cost to the employee, you can add up the real cost accruing to Ghanair over the years.
I am sure if the managing director decided to implement some of these suggestions (rather than going on a prayer crusade with some employees in hopes of a providential miracle intercession, as he reportedly did some weeks ago), he is bound to face stiff opposition from the employees akin to what Dr. Wireko Brobbey has met at the Volta River Authority. But with excellent managerial skill, proper public relations touch, and firm government support; the employees will come to understand the wisdom in such policies.
So Mr. President, there you have it, which state enterprise must be divested? Should it be the profitable, efficiently-run Ghana Commercial Bank; or the corrupt, decrepit Ghana Airways? Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.


Kofi Ellison
Kofi Ellison, © 2003

The author has 60 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: KofiEllison

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author(s) and do not neccessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana. Modern Ghana will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

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