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12.03.2007 General News

Mr Wolfowitz’s Score Sheet

The world was in town this week for our great jubilee, except perhaps for George Bush, Fidel Castro and the fiery colonel living in the desert.

Even Old Bob, the white farmer's best friend, was able to make it down here from Harare, creaky bones and all.

I got nowhere trying to conjure up mental pictures of Old Bob bumping into the Duke of Kent at the jubilee dinner.

What do you reckon would fill the space between our brother-in-law and the Duke: Mutual resentment, indignation, dislike or indifference?

Never mind, Jomo. . .Ever since the British colonial administrators lowered the Union Jack for the last time and headed back home, there has never been such an influx of global dignitaries into Osagyefo's good old country on the West coast of Africa.

There were hundreds of delegations from around the world and more than a dozen African Heads of State, led unofficially by Oga Olu, who got a brief respite from managing the forbidding problems back at home and an Accra street named after him into the bargain.

Many came no doubt curious to see what we had managed with independence in 50 years. What have we done with precious freedom, Jomo? I guess it depends on whom you ask.

A foreign journalist ticked off some of our achievements after 50 years of independence: Above average quality of infrastructure for a developing country, a sustained five to six per cent GDP growth rate for several years running now, basic social services better than those of many African countries and a standard of living above the average for African countries.

He was apparently also impressed with some good roads, paved streets, plush residential areas, great restaurants and tower blocks reaching skyward from the heart of the capital.

Others present a picture they insist is nearer the reality of our circumstances: Serious problems of waste disposal in towns and cities choked with decaying garbage and filth, very high levels of poverty and appalling living conditions as conceded by the World Bank, serious problems of road safety and one of the highest road accident fatality rates in the world:

They point out the high levels of unemployment and armed robbery statistics that paint a picture of a country, which has become increasingly unsafe to live in.

The energy sector, a most critical base for socio-economic development is in a crisis; a crisis so grave that the nation has had to endure a miserly rationing of power to consumers for the past nine months.

Mercifully, the visiting dignitaries and the international press did not know that our nation is facing such a severe electrical energy crisis. Thanks to the jubilee celebration, we have had virtually uninterrupted power supply since March 1.

My fear is that it is a temporary relief we shall pay very dearly for when our visitors have left.

After a week's suspension of power rationing last Christmas, the power cuts returned with a great vengeance:

The voltage was what you might expect from dry cell batteries and the frequency of the cuts increased to several every second. The ECG had apparently flogged the last few volts out of the ancient machines during the celebrations, Jomo.

Talking on television about this great national embarrassment as we got set to celebrate the jubilee, a Director of Operations of the Electricity Company of Ghana told us that the ECG needs $70 million annually for the replacement and minor upgrading of equipment.

Me, I had no problem with that, Jomo, but then, the man went on to say that about 67 per cent of the ECG's debts are actually owed by we consumers.

I wondered what the man was talking about: My neighbour Jack Okito and I do not owe the ECG a darned pesewa. We use pre-paid electricity supply meters. That means we purchase units of power in advance.

If anyone owes anyone else, Jomo, it is the ECG, which owes Jack and your buddy for power purchased in advance, but not supplied when we need it.

The ECG says 24.3 per cent of the power supplied to the ECG by the Volta River Authority annually is lost and guess who is doing the stealing: We consumers, or so the man claimed.

What is worse, consumers are not paying economic tariffs to keep the ECG in profitable business.

Poor consumers! When they are lucky to have power supply, they lose billions of cedis worth of machinery, appliances and equipment everyday to surging power fluctuations and abrupt cuts.

Yet there they are, Jomo, portrayed as power thieves and tariff cheats heavily indebted to the ECG.

It is going to be a long haul before stability of the national distribution network comes anywhere near being restored. To begin with, it is a bits-and-pieces project that is being implemented:

A sub-regional power pool, a consortium of local mining companies, the construction of a hydro dam and several other independent small projects, are expected to contribute power to our supply grid in the short and medium term.

The authorities say the crisis may be over by August, but the technocrats at the ECG insist it will take five whole years to replace their obsolete equipment and parts! I wonder what is really going on.

World Bank Chief Paul Wolfowitz was in town too, charming market traders and slum dwellers all over the place with his concern for the underprivileged and dispensing high marks to Ghana for being a star pupil of the bank's developments programmes in the Third World.

What is this business about First, Second and Third Worlds, Jomo? I tried looking it up in the book of Genesis and nowhere did God make any such distinctions during those seven busy days of creation. So, what are these guys up to, do you know?

Anyhow, I was talking about Mr Wolfowitz wasn't I? Wolfowitz said he was impressed with the way we had applied creative talent to the formulation of policies that had brought about progress.

See, Jomo? Development science appears to be based on rather contradictory concepts of progress. As for me, Jomo, no concept of progress makes sense unless its cardinal objective is the development of the human being.

The same World Bank which Wolfowitz heads has conducted its own research and found that an average of eight out of every 10 people in the Northern, Upper East and Upper West regions are poor.

These are not statistics concocted in the skull of some cynical critic, are they? Would you call them impressive statistics in our pursuit of human development, which began 50 years ago?

Article by George Abugri