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17.05.2022 Feature Article

Bringing Quality To The Services We Pay For

Bringing Quality To The Services We Pay For
17.05.2022 LISTEN

Wonders will never end?

Why do I summon this cliché to my screen this quiet Monday morning?

It's because I had no internet service at all in the past weekend. And then, on Monday morning, at exactly seven a.m., we also had a power cut!

I was as miserable as you can imagine. Can you imagine? Starting the week with a power cut not only arouses bad feelings in those who are prone to superstition but also, it forces even the very rational people among us to examine our way of life objectively, to see whether there is something we can do better. Not that anyone will necessarily endeavour to benefit from our advice.

But gloomy though I was, and as if something intangible was guiding me, I chanced upon an article in Graphic Online that ran as follows:

QUOTE:

“Cabinet approves National Quality Policy - It’ll guide production of quality goods, services

Date: May - 13 - 2022

Cabinet has approved the National Quality Policy to operationalise a National Quality Infrastructure (NQI).

The NQI is a system that spells out how goods and services must be produced to meet acceptable standards by all sectors of the economy, whether private or public....It will ensure that the production and provision of goods and services meet internationally acceptable quality standards” UNQUOTE

The article specified that the “Cabinet approved the implementation of the policy at its meeting on Thursday, April 28, 2022”.

I confess that almost jumped for joy on reading this piece of news. Had someone been reading my thoughts and communicated them to the Cabinet?

But reality soon set in. Could well be one of those schemes announced by the authorities to convince the populace that they were aware of what our society needs, but which are left to gather dust in the offices of Ministries and Corporations, as soon as the public has swallowed the bait.

To begin with, my suspicions were aroused by this question: why did the announcement not come from the Office of the Secretary to the Cabinet, or the Chief of Staff, or the Ministry of information, but from “The Head of Public Relations at the Ghana Standards Authority (GSA)”?

Isn't the Ghana Standards Authority already charged with some of the responsibilities the “new body” is supposedly going to take on?

In any case, if I were the government, I don't think I would need a Cabinet decision to tell the people who distribute electricity in Ghana that their work falls below “internationally acceptable quality standards”! For they they cut power off without any prior announcements. But such announcements are needed to alert consumers of electricity to prepare for a loss of service. Preparation enables them to avoid the destruction of perishable goods in their fridges, by resorting to an alternative source of power, if possible.

Does the Ghana Standards Authority ever monitor the “standards” of service provided to the Ghanaian public by the electricity suppliers? If not, why not? Doesn't electricity production fall into the category of “services” sold to the public? Even if bureaucratic limitations currently preclude the Standards Authority from ascertaining whether the electricity supply system is serving the public in a manner “acceptable to international standards” or not, can it not, on its own, study the problem and draw attention to its shortcomings? Of course, not – there needs to be a new “body”!

In case anyone is listening, I have observed that whenever we have a power cut in our area and I make enquiries about it, all I am told is that the electricity suppliers are facing “challenges”! What “challenges”? There never is a precise answer, because an opaque shroud has been drawn over the issue. So, the next power occurs without explanation. And the next. And the next. And the next.

I have a suspicion, not entirely bred by the cynicism to which one is driven when one surveys the Ghana bureaucratic system, that what the Cabinet has been sold could well be is another block in the “empire building” stakes. With the new overhead expenses that that implies. And, of course, a larger environment into which the sources of blame can be dumped!

The reason why it occurs to me that we may merely be experiencing another public relations exercise is that these power cuts are occurring in areas, some of which are occupied by relatively well-off people. The evidence for that conclusion? Whenever there is a power-cut, one begins to hear the loud sound of electricity generators being put immediately into operation.

The generators disturb people who want to work at home; or who need a quiet repose because they are unwell; or who want to enjoy sports or other TV entertainment programmes after a hard day's slog in the office.

Surely, the economically affluent people who reside in these relatively new estates do know bureaucrats and politicians who can change the power supply situation if they cared? If the bureaucrats and politicians have heard from persons known to them, socially (who can give them unbiased and accurate information on the occurrence of these power cuts) but have done nothing about it, out of sheer indifference (as anyone who has tried to change inefficient systems in Ghana must know!) merely transforming a public supervisory body into another public supervisory body, won't solve the problem, will it?

The question is, why don't these public utilities ever talk to us? Do their problems stem partly – for instance – from the activities of estate-builders, who need to deprive their residents of power sometimes, if they need to supply power to newly-erected premises? If this is happening, why doesn't the electricity supplier tell the public? Or are they in collusion with the estate builders? Anyway, where has the Ghana Standards Authority been all this time, whilst the problems I have outlined have been taking place? But “silence is golden!”, say both Ghana's service providers, and the managers of public bodies established to supervise the provision of essential services.

And now, I come to another old chestnut of mine: the billing system employed by our internet service providers, the mobile phone companies. When I lived abroad, one bought credit for internet and voice services, and (if it was a pay-as-you-go service) that one purchase of credit was used for connecting to the internet, speaking on the mobile phone or whatever service one used. . When the credit was exhausted, one merely topped up.

But here, when one wants to “top up”, one must specify whether the amount paid is for (1) air time (presumably for voice conversations) or (2) internet bundles and I think a third category known as data!

Can you imagine how frustrating it is that after one has paid money to a mobile phone company, one can still not use the particular service one needs, because one's money was paid for the wrong service?

What do I care whether my money went into account A, B or C (as pre-determined arbitrarily by the same company?) whilst I am being denied service because my money did not go to Account D (of the same company)?

I have told friends in the communications industry many times about this completely unnecessary problem which can confront customers who do not know the system in Ghana and so ask someone to “please go and buy me credit!”

More often than not, the messengers manage to buy the wrong credit! Why? Obviously because the purchasing system is too complex. So, it should be made IMPOSSIBLE! Credit must be credit. Period.

After all, the communication company has only one account for REVENUE, doesn't it? Why should it be difficult for it to convert say, 200 Cedis in a Voice Account to 200 Cedis in an Internet account if the latter has run out and yet the customer is desperately requesting Internet service?

Is the division of credit payment into different categories possibly caused primarily by a primitive, outmoded categorisation of payment system, that falls below international standards? Certainly, our National Communications Agency must investigate this frustrating system and abolish it as sub-standard? A mere top-up cannot occur without customers being deprived of Internet services for hours on end? Just imagine the frustration and lost business that that can bring about.

Sometimes, I think that we are lost!

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