Mr. Albert Kan-Dapaah, Minister of Communications, took his turn at the last week ending January 25, 2006 in the 'Meet the Press' series at the Ministry of Information.
The hitherto garrulous and combative Minister appears to have either been tamed by the comfort of his office or is simply “as sick as a parrot” (apologies Charles Sam of 'Hotel Kufuor' fame) arising out of his personal sense of satisfaction and achievement.
As he rolls out the statistics – “at the end of 2000, the total number of telephone subscribers in Ghana was 218,000, but this has shot up dramatically to over 3 million subscribers at the end of 2005 – 331,000 for fixed lines, 11,037 payphones and 2,655,000 mobile with Areeba controlling more than 60% of the mobile market. This brings Ghana's tele-density up to 15%, that is, out of every 100 people in the country, 15 owned telephones”.
Well, the world of statistics can be interesting and funny. 15 in 100 people owning mobile phone in Ghana? – Exciting nonsense! When many Ministers of State and their hangers-on are carrying 3-4 mobile phones when people in Zabzugu-Tatale and Abor are struggling with the coverage, it is comforting in the ambient atmosphere of the Conference Room of the Ministry of Information to be singing such lullaby.
The National Communication Authority (NCA) still remains the fall guy for Mr. Kan-Dapaah's Ministry.
All the positive results are as the result of the progressive decisions of the Government and the Ministry whilst all the lapses are left in the laps of the NCA to clean up.
“The Ministry is aware of complaints made by the public on the quality of telecom services and this is the concern of the Ministry”, says the Minister. “——the NCA had been assigned the responsibility to evaluate the performance of the service providers as recorded in their respective network management systems.
He said the first evaluation process had since commenced to cover the period January 2005 to December 2005 and it was expected that the NCA would publish the results and sanctions, if any, for the attention of the general public by the end of next month”.
Soothing balm for the public in a matter of great public agitation. The Minister's offhand reference is indicativ! e of the level of seriousness attached to the public “theft and deceit” perpetrated by some network operators when two phones lying next to each other or on a common table register “out of coverage area”.
The unit pricing regime is intolerable as compared to several countries and some believe that the near-monopolistic placement of some of these operators enables them to call the price and the shots. Ghana Telecom with its nationwide infrastructure is expected to do more to break th! e back of the private monopolies. The last time the Managing Director of Ghana Telecom was out in the media shrieking hoarse about alleged strong-armed tactics of some other competitor.
What should be the role of the state in such critical area of national development? As Ghana Telecom, state-owned, plods on lethargically, unable to break loose and free to fly, President Kufuor and the NPP unfortunately added to the national load. “Westel now state-owned!” is the lead story in the 'Daily Graphic'. Minister Kan-Dapaah confirmed that, “the troubled Western Telesystems (Westel) Company has now become a fully-owned state entity.
This follows the Government's acquisition of the two-thirds equity share of ACG Telesystems Ghana in the Company through the Ghana National Petroleum Corporation (GNPC). Previously the state owned one-third shares in the Company. The move now makes the Government the sole shareholder of the nation's two fixed line telecommunications companies, having recently bought back the 30% stake in Ghana Telecom it sold out to Malaysia Telecom.
The total sum disbursed for both acquisitions was in excess of US$150 million——Westel, which was licensed to become the second national fixed line operator to break the monopoly of Ghana Telecom, has, in the past six years been able to roll out less than 3,000 lines thereby not being able to meet its target of about 100,000 lines per annum”.
What the 'Daily Graphic' story does not say is that Westel has spent the last f! our years out of its six years of existence battling and fending off the NPP Government, including President Kufuor's famous “aerial writing” shown on TV when talking to US Assistant Trade Secretary William Lash III about sending a message to President George Bush to discipline his official.
Many, however, question the direction of the NPP Government, which espoused free trade, liberalised environment, Golden Age of Business and the democratic right to do business as well as due process.
Today, Valco is fighting the “5 killer diseases to survive infant mortality”. Yet this is a company that is over-40 years old, mature and the pride of Ghana and Africa as a truly private mega- company. A lingering price war saw this mature company mowed down to near-extinction. It was believed from some sources that the NDC had had too close a relationship with Valco, a charge which! Westel and Ghana Telecom (per Telecom Malaysia) are still stained with.
Significantly, these three companies like many others, which were seen rather chummily linked to the NDC or ex-President Jerry Rawlings or his spouse were pronounced to instant execution and extinction.
So what happens the next time round when the NPP is out of office? Must companies perceived to be linked to President Kufuor and the NPP face imminent execution and extinction?
The private sector must be freed of political interference. The current situation where all businesses feel obliged to call on the Head of State or Ministers of State who may chaperon their good health is not only unacceptable but carries the seed of its destruction. “higher, faster economic growth – Ghana can make it——” but “policies would have to be redirected – Nankani”, Daily Graphic of January 25, 2006. “The Ghanaian born Vice President of the World Bank in charge of sub-Saharan Africa, Dr. Gobind Nankani, called for more support for t! he private sector to play a leading role——The private sector should lead and must target specific markets”, he said, adding that Ghana's private and business sectors possessed many good characteristics that made them some of the best in Africa.
But he said bottlenecks such as improving infrastructure for the sectors, the long periods spent in registering business, the lengthy processes involved in exporting products from the country and the collateral for accessing credit facilities should be addressed. He called for improveme! nt in the telecom industry saying it was very important to provide reliable telecom connectivity across the country (Hello, Mr. Kan-Dapaah are you listening?). He underscored the importance of the public sector in playing a catalytic role——”.
Of course, Dr. Nankani's interview comes within days of President Kufuor's meeting with members of the donor community, captains of business and industry as well as senior members of his Cabinet at which he expressed his own frustration at the! slow rate of growth of the economy.
Why the slow rate of growth? Ask institutional corruption, Governmental takeovers, deliberate and slow institutional approvals, lack of executive decisiveness in decision-making.
Instability in the business environment, the excruciating effect of HIPC, fuel price increases and “Wahala” conditions in Ghana, and who else will race to invest in Ghana?
Yes, we still can make it, but let's turn round! Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.