Feature Article of Wednesday, 3 April 2013
Columnist: Baidoo, Philip Kobina
The above is the sixty four thousand dollar question, which needs to be answered one way or the other by every concerned Ghanaian. Without doubt, it is a question that is not limited to only VRA workers, but almost all government workers, and for that matter all productive members of our society. I am only trying to play the devil’s advocate here so don’t take me to the shed yet. However, this is what Dr Charles Wereko Brobby said in the affirmative in a lecture at Legon not too long ago. The current unsettling problem with load shedding and water shortages is making everybody edgy. That of electricity is very frustrating for both commercial and domestic users, and the instinctive reaction is to point accusing fingers. Don’t get me wrong the bug definitely stops somewhere. Nonetheless, for Dr Brobby, he is pretty certain where the vortex of the problem is. Well, the VRA workers can be proved empirically to be lazy if I have to answer it glibly, but is this what really happens on the ground?
From the East to the West and from the North to the South if you should ask any Ghanaian the cause of our problems that person will not hesitate to off load everything on our leaders. For over a generation it has become the standard alibi, which in some circles it is laughable. I am pretty certain that there is enough blame to go around, nevertheless, Dr Brobby thinks the VRA workers should bear the blunt of the current load shedding, and I couldn’t disagree with him more. I don’t know whether to describe it as a class war, or an over indulgent academic with a microphone talking gibberish. Be that as it may, I emphatically believe that the problem lies much with the leaders than the plebeians.
There is a military cliché that there are no bad soldiers, but bad generals. I will stick my neck out without any reservation that the problems we face in the country collectively are nothing, but managerial. The main culprits are the politicians and the power nexus. All the major utility companies are dysfunctional, because they are government owned, or she is the largest shareholders, and therefore calls the tune. Much of our current problems will be solved if all these utility companies are 100% transferred to private management with the government just keeping an oversight responsibility. But to push for such a proposition will leave Ghanaians fighting pitch battles to the hills with Molotov cocktails. I made mention of the fact that part of the problem rest with all Ghanaians, because we will cry foul if the remaining essential SOEs are sold. We cannot just bring our head around the fact that a private business can manage a water company and deliver lower bills, because they believe that water is too vital to be left in private hands. But the alternative is currently not delivering. I have a friend at Madina who once told me that he can count the number of times that water has flowed out of their faucet after living there for over twenty years.
We have a classic example on our doorsteps, and we don’t have to go further afield for the answers. The privatised Ghana Telecom now under the nom de guerre Vodafone, still employs Ghanaians for her operations, yet they are nothing compared to pre Vodafone. What changed in between? If you cannot answer it I don’t mind to spill the beans; it is management and their severance with government meddling. They are delivering the purpose for, which it was sold. However, for those who are against privatisation all that they see is the shedding of jobs, and of course that is what seems to grab the headlines. Though, the employees of Vodafone have been reduced drastically, nevertheless, the efficiency of its operations gives multiple employments to a lot of Ghanaians whose pay cheque does not directly come from Vodafone.
Having outlined this fact, it is important to note that nobody wants to accept the reality of over bloated SOEs, which is basically bursting at the seams with superfluous workers. This is an obvious phenomenon, which a person like Dr Brobby seems to have the wrong diagnosis that it is Ghanaian workers that are lazy. When you have two workers doing the job for one person, both will appear to be lazy. We all know that identifying the problem is half of the problem solved. On the other hand, those who can do something about it are misdiagnosing the cancer that is gradually squeezing the life out of the organism called Ghana.
One of the biggest headaches for those who are against privatisation is the fear that the SOEs will be gobbled up by foreign interest, besides the repatriation of profits when they are released for sale. But in fairness the profit that a foreign company takes away is insignificant to the benefits it brings to the country and the economy. Foreign companies bring specific knowledge that is lacking locally. And mind you, it is not only Ghanaian companies that get swallowed up; even companies in Britain go through the similar traumatic experience if that is the way they see it. When Thames Water was privatised, it was picked up by a German company because they had the requisite skills to manage it. London Electricity was bought by EDF a French company, whereas Heathrow is own by a Spanish consortium just to name a few. Currently, the British government has given the green light for the construction of the new generation of nuclear power stations. Strangely, it is a French company that is going to build those power stations. It doesn’t mean that the British don’t know how to construct the power plants. They do, but the French are currently better at it than their British counterparts.
Let us not be disturbed by the fate of Nsawam Cannery. That state asset is rotting away, because it was sold to someone who does not have the knowledge, skills and the ability to raise capital to get the cannery off the ground to function at its optimum best. There is one simple criterion that can be applied to solve the cronyism that surrounds the sale of national assets. The public will have to make sure that it is sold to a consortium that is involved in the same business, and not any Tom, Dick and Harry opportunist.
When Henry Ford entered the automobile industry, the most efficient car maker could manage 6 cars per year. His style of management and the application of technology shot to the roof the production of cars in America. At its peak, the Ford car company was rolling out a car in every 24 seconds. What filled in the missing jigsaw was Ford’s ingenuity and indomitable skills of management. So the success of a venture does not depend on the workers per say, but the quality of its management. And this is what government cannot deliver.
The keeping of very essential businesses in the hands of the government is the bane of our problems. Government is only a necessary evil. Their main remit is the provision of law and order due the complexity with the nature of providing national security. And it all stem from how to manage the philosophical mine field of dealing with multiple definition of the law, which will only produce anarchy. But government now fills every conceivable space in our national life and they are stifling it.
The way the government does its business does not follow logic. Perhaps, I have to take a crash course in government logic in order to follow their train of thought. Let me ask a hypothetical question. Do you think a private company will be taking on additional employees when the bottom line of the company does not look very good? Now, how can they increase the number of parliamentarians when the economy of the country is struggling? They will tell you it is a constitutional demand. Well, does it mean that even if the country is heading towards a financial precipice the constitution will still have to exact its pound of flesh? It is only a government, which is out of touch that will do this; literally, creating 45 new jobs for scroungers who will sit in parliament to do nothing, but sing the tune of their party bosses.
Based on 13th February information, TOR has not processed crude oil since July last year as a result of the breakdown of a catalytic converter in their production. Would you say it is the inefficiency of the workers or managerial problem? There is no way the management will have a good night sleep if TOR is in private hands. Initially, the stock of the company will plummet. Of course, the stock owners will not be happy, and will start calling for the head of the management. And that is why the management will not sit for the breakdown of a component to curtail their operation for even a week.
This my parting thought to Dr Charles Wereko-Brobby. Change is not going to come from the bottom up, and when it does the result is a revolution, and I can bet my dollar that you do not want anything of the sort. For me, the problem is leadership. And to be a successful leader you sometimes have to walk with the boots of grenadier, and this is what some of our leaders lack – toughness.
Philip Kobina Baidoo Jnr.