Letter to Jomo: Dumsonomics and the return of the axe man …a review of the crab’s development manifesto

Letter to Jomo: Dumsonomics and the return of the axe man …a review of the crab’s development manifesto

From house wives and neurosurgeons through corporate data entry clerks and researchers to mine captains and factory foremen, everyone is working and glancing nervously over the shoulder or rather at the ceiling, just in case electrical power suddenly goes off as it is wont to do every couple of seconds.

Walking from side to side and taking a step back from time to time before ambling on again, is the weirdest form ever of human physical locomotion, don’t you think, Jomo?

That is why I call whatever development planning module it is that Ghana has pursued all these years, the Crab’s Manifesto.

At a time when manufacturing, commerce, information, communication and other energy-powered industries and sectors are driving national economies, Ghana appears helpless in reining in this galloping beast of a power crisis that has plagued us unrelentingly for decades.

We now appear to be heading back to the basics of modern living.

Coming at a time when the nation is already reeling from massive electrical power cuts across the country, the momentary loss of 400 megawatts from the grid on Monday night, has confirmed just how close we are to the power crisis of the century.

The shedding of a colossal by our standards 400 megawatts of electricity from the system cut off nearly half the nation from power supply and the republic was plunged into darkness from Atlantic coast to northern Savannah.

That is a terrible development in the crisis if ask me or even if you don’t bother to.

Kofi Jack is suspicious about the whole darned thing and so am I: The sudden massive power load shedding came only hours after a removal of government subsidies on petroleum drove up fuel prices by up to 20 percent and in the case of liquefied petroleum gas, by an incredible 50 percent.

The generators of electricity The Volta River Authority the transmitters GRIDCo the distributors the Electricity Company of Ghana and the Petroleum sector had been singing the same chorus about tariffs in one grand orchestra.

The petroleum sector obtained the price hikes it sought following the withdrawal of subsidies on fuel. So mayhap, the electricity gang wanted us to be aware that they too mean business, yah?

Hours after the veiled threat to take us back to the days of the firmament, when Jehovah’s spirit was moving above the waters, the VRA urged us to be happy all over again because they had retrieved the missing 400 megawatts.

Its partner, the ECG, would revert to the “normal power cuts”, which statement is conceivable only in our little corner of the planet, where the abnormal is normal in the most abnormal way!

Having come to distrust repeated but unfulfilled promises by the VRA, ECG and GRIDCo since last year, that the crisis “will soon end”, shop owners, owners of cold stores, night club operators and others have gone into a virtual electricity generator buying frenzy and retailers of the portable plants are in a roaring business.

Folks across the country are getting them out again: The metal laundry-press boxes fired by charcoal, candles, coal pots, kerosene lamps, dry cell batteries, hand fans woven from palm fronds etc! For many, charcoal will probably become a preferred source of fuel once again; charcoal burners and wood fuel axe men will take hefty axes to forest trees once more and deforestation come charging back at us from across the Sahel with a vengeance.

I am wondering who should take the rap for this chaos should the political administration decide to crack the whip in some of the energy sector agencies and let some hard skulls roll:

People come along with PhDs, MBAs and other big, big academic and professional degrees and we give them managerial jobs in critical public sector institutions.

Politicians come along asking politely for the mandate to manage our affairs and we hand them the mandate. The next thing you know, Jomo, the whole band of them begin blaming us for their chronic failings and bumbling.

This economically very crippling power crisis if we are to believe them, is partly because we consumers are wasting electricity and not paying realistic power tariffs, and unless we are willing to cough up some more in tariffs, we must resign ourselves to a life of perpetual power cuts. Imagine that!

Good Lord, the people of this country have been taken so very for granted for so long you wonder what is really up with us.

The way it is all going, you would think it is criminal on our part to be citizens and legitimate consumers of a public utility.

They are also complaining about state sector organizations owing them tons of cedis they need to replace and upgrade near obsolete equipment.

If only we knew in the good name of mystery, what the hell all that has got to do with us, Jomo! The vexed issue of tariffs remains central:

At international oil and gas conferences and seminars I have attended, I have heard those in the energy sector who are opposed to government subsidies argue their case: Government subsidies tend to lead to higher consumption and waste, place a heavy burden on government budgets and weaken the potential for developing countries’ economic growth.

Subsidies, they argue, also undermine private investment in the energy sector, hamper the expansion of power distribution networks and do not always help the people that need subsidies the most. Hear, hear..!

The World Bank’s view on the matter of subsidies if I recall, is that while subsidies to commercial businesses are not justified and should certainly not be used to cover the operating costs of companies, it is reasonable in some circumstances, to use subsidies in increasing access to energy by poor households in developing countries.

The definition of poor is debatable in our circumstances where a huge labour force earns pitiable fistfuls of grade three peanuts per annum and is barely able to make ends meet in spite of being in employment.

Finance Minister Seth Terpker says the problem with government subsidies in Ghana is that they have not been “properly targeted” and this has left the poor and other socially disadvantaged segments of the population who were supposed to beneficiaries of the subsidies worse off.

Supposedly then, the government’s new regime of partial subsidies will “properly target” government subsidies to ensure that they now benefit the poor.

We shall need to make a comparative assessment of the rate of access of the poor to power in coming months to be able to determine if the government has pulled a fast one on us or not and we shall, so help us Lord.

In the meantime, Jomo, I would recommend the typical agenda for most of the international energy seminars I referred to for consideration by the government if it deems it necessary to hold an urgent national conference on the state of the energy sector:

The encouragement of further private sector investment in the energy sector, feasible strategies for improved energy production and distribution, the appropriate choice of energy source options available to us in Ghana, mutually acceptable formulas for fixing tariffs and the respective roles of the Public Utility Regulatory Services Commission, Parliament and the government in the management and regulation of the sector.

Article by George Sydney Abugri

Writer’s email: [email protected]