15.01.2004 Feature Article

Politicisation of VALCO: A recipe for Ghana's economic reputational damage

Politicisation of VALCO: A recipe for Ghana's economic reputational damage
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Reference: Ghana Home Page article of Monday, 12 January 2004. Title: “Govt Cautioned Over Purchase Of VALCO”.

Under the subject heading, I have read with disbelief and dismay the following: “Senior economists and technocrats from other political parties have described the intention of government to invest hard-earned foreign exchange in VALCO as an attempt to cause financial loss to the state.”

Well, I am an engineer-cum-metallurgist with qualifications in management studies and business administration. So one can put me in the category of technocrats as well. BUT I am not speaking on behalf of any political party. I am debating the issue from purely an engineering point of view and on behalf of mother Ghana.

First and foremost, on what technical basis, test and trials, calibration of existing installed equipment and their ancillaries or any benchmarking did our learned ‘economists and technocrats’ come up with such a statement? Let’s be real and stop this sensationalism.

Which part of the VALCO plant is obsolete? The parcels one and three conveyor systems and their controls? the rectifier station and its auxiliaries? the pot cells and control systems, the carbon bake and carbon rodding machinery? the production equipment including the ball mills, the shakers etc, the metallographic and chemical laboratories’ set up? the metal products lay out with its casting and homogenisation furnaces and the non-destructive testing equipment etc?.

VALCO was built in the mid 1960s initially with three potlines. The construction of the fourth potline, of which I was part as electrical (construction) engineer, was built in 1970-1971. Prior to VALCO coming into being there were aluminium smelters like ALCOA, ALCAN, COMALCO, REYNOLDS, KAISER et al in USA, Australia, Europe and with subsidiaries world wide. And almost ALL of these plants are in operation - generating jobs and wealth globally.

During my time as a maintenance engineer for the rectifier station and plant power (later to become a metallurgist after further university studies) VALCO had in place (and may still have in place) an effective preventative maintenance program for every piece of installed equipment or machine and their ancillaries on the plant and we hardly experience equipment breakdowns or malfunction. And most importantly, we had a well-trained, dedicated, committed and disciplined workforce.

In an industry of this type, research and development is continuously carried out coupled with benchmarking with other companies in the industry to upgrade procedures, processes, and overall performance. And where deemed necessary configuration or re-engineering of processes is carried out for efficiency and effectiveness.

Additionally, continuous improvement (via training) of the staff - management, operatives and tacticians – is designed and implemented to enhance a culture of best work practice and productivity

One thing that shouldn’t be ruled out is TECHNOLOGY TRANSFER. Our young engineers and technical officers will benefit from technology transfer and upgrade their engineering knowledge and skills, jobs will be created and wealth will be created in the nation with an attainment of an integrated aluminium industry.

What our dear learned economists and technocrats can do for us (Ghana) is simple. They can start working on the marketing aspects of Ghana’s integrated aluminium industry by ‘global scanning’ - starting from the intra-African trade platform - demography of the populations, potential industry growth in respective African countries, possible market share for the various aluminium products and by-products of the industry. This is because apart from our local ‘small’ market, Ghana would need an outlet to sell her various types of aluminium products in the future.

For example from alumina one can produce abrasives for furnace linings, electrical insulators, porcelain dinnerware etc; from aluminium one can go into the construction industry (widow frames, gutters, roofing sheets etc; transportation industry (airplanes, automobiles, boats, rail road cars, trucks; packaging industry (beverage cans, bottle caps, frozen food trays etc; electrical industry (light bulbs, power lines, telephone lines etc) and of course the commonly known pots and pans and cutlery and thousands of other products containing aluminium.

From the above one can see the multitude of aluminium industries/manufacturing plants that can spring up in the nation if Ghana owned a smelter of this kind - thus enhancing the manufacturing base of the nation. The employment that will be created and the wealth that will be generated right from the bauxite mining, to alumina refining, to aluminium smelting, to fabrication of aluminium products and aluminium recycling would be GREAT for our mother Ghana.

Please let’s all pool resources and think strategically - 10, 15, 20 years and beyond and bring into reality a dynamic and forward looking ‘Ghana’s Integrated Aluminium Industry.’ I can be contacted via my e-mail address: [email protected] Charles Agyeman Manu, MEng (Electrical), MAppsSc (Metallurgy), MBA (Technology Management); Assistant Director Professional Development, Australian Public Service; Member of National Institute of Governance, Australia.

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