Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Ex-Prez Rawlings’ Ridge residence razed by fire

14thFeb-In the early hours of Sunday morning, around 4:20am fire gutted the official residence of former president Jerry John Rawlings leaving nothing to be salvaged. Accra experienced a heavy downpour of rain amidst power fluctuations, which many Ghanaian journalists speculate may have been the cause of the fire.
The house currently stands roofless on a brick frame that serves as a mount for the building. Smoke from the fire has left black patches on the walls as the fire decimated the entire house. No one was hurt.

Meanwhile, GRIDCO, the main power distribution company in Ghana has confirmed that a fire outbreak the critical sub-station equipment in Tema was the cause of the energy fluctuation that happened around 1.00am. The Public Affairs outfit of the company has described as “unfair and premature” comments blaming them for the fire at the ex president’s residence before even investigations have been completed.

Five fire tenders from the Ghana National Fire Service headquarters got to the grounds in 4minutes after a distress call was made to them. But public comments have suggested the need for government fully resource the Service as they could not help the situation.

This incident is coming after recent fire attacks at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the offices of the Ghana Education Service at Tudu, a section of the Ministry of information, the Tema Oil Refinery and the Kumasi and Accra Asafo markets within the last one year of the President Mills administration. Former president J.A. Kuffour, in a statement to show sympathy and solidarity with the Rawlings, said the latest fire unpleasant incident was “one too many” and called on government to act swiftly in looking in to the affairs of the fire service to make them efficient.

At the time of posting this article, the cause of the fire had still not yet been established. Government says it is treating this occurrence as a national security issue. President Mills, in a directive, have asked the office of the Chief of Staff to hastily look for a temporary residence to house the former first family.
The president was among top government and National Democratic Congress (NDC) officials, who went to witness on first hand the ruins of the devastation. Police barricaded the residence to prevent party activists and sympathizers as well as surging reporters.

But there is an interesting twist to this ill fate suffered by Rawlings. Days before the fire attack, a well-known NDC activist and supporter of Jerry Rawlings was widely reported in local tabloids to have cursed the former president. Alhaji Bature said Rawlings would incur the wrath of God if he did not stop being overly critical of the current regime.

Rawlings founded the National Democratic Congress party in 1992 after 12years of Military rule. The NDC lost power in the year 2000 only to return in 2008 under the leadership of President Mills. Interestingly, Rawlings has been more critical of the government than the opposition parties, describing the president as “slow” and calling Ministers in the regime as “greedy bastards.”

Mr. Rawlings, who described the situation as a “painful loss” to journalists was not in the house when the fire broke. He had to drive to Accra from the Volta Region where he had gone to help local farmers at Wume, near Sogakope in a weed clearing project over the weekend. Former first lady and wife of Rawlings, Nana Konadu, was alone with eldest daughter, Yaa Asantewa at the time the inferno started. The Rawlings’ have lived at the colonial designed ridge bungalow since the 1980’s during the PNDC (Provisional National Defence Council) days till date.

Monday, February 8, 2010

In search of water-AccraWest hit by crisis

It’s been four days since Thursday that residents living in Accra-West saw the last drops of water flow through their taps. People have had to travel long distances looking for portable water. Wielding water containers of all sorts from yellow jerry cans to washing basins and buckets women and children are seen in long queues at fortunate neighborhood spots with running water or wells.

The management for water distribution in Ghana, Aqua Vittens Rand, a merger of two companies of the Netherlands and South African origin, cannot assure residents of the affected areas when the situation will be finally resolved. Stanley Martey, PRO for the company says "there is an on going repairs work at the Accra-West sub station where the control panel and some equipments have broken down,unfortunately we cannot say when the works will be over".

Mr. Martey told Kojo Oppong-Nkrumah, Joy fm’s Super morning show host, that the company has organized a number of water tankers tasked to distribute water to the affected areas. But many have sent in complains that they are yet to be reached. The situation has forced some households to purchase bags of water sachet to bath and cook. Sometime later in the weeks ahead, the price of a sachet of water, famously called “pure water”, is expected to increased from 5pesewa to 10pesewas.

Tap owners have taken the opportunity to cash in on the crisis before it is solved. They charge 5pesewas for a bucket of water and 10pesewas for big basins.

Over the weekend, some workers have also had to visit their family relations with large storage plastic tanks in to do their laundry. Seth Quartey is an audit trainee with a Chartered Accountancy firm and lives at Anyaa –one of the areas hit by the crisis, he says, “...the situation is unbearable and I plead that work been done on the equipments must be done quick time because I don’t know what I’m going to do if I don’t get water in my house by tomorrow morning”.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Looming danger of energy crisis in Ghana-Masses to pay?

Three years ago the Electricity Company of Ghana started a pilot program to install prepaid meters in homes to replace the postpaid ones which comes with often delayed monthly bills. The postpaid system was fraught with a lot of problems.It allowed customers to accumulate high bills over long periods.

A task force had to go round to disconnect the electricity of defaulting customers, who were only reconnected after the payment of a reconnection fee in addition to the outstanding bill. Daring households would sometimes look for a local "electricity physician" who used the crudest means to put power back through the lines or other times temper the metres to read irregularly. Others tapped main electric poles to connect wires into their houses for power, the unlucky ones were occasionally caught or got burnt to a charred state. With the new prepaid metres now,customers consume wisely what pay for.

In 1997/98 and 2006/07 Ghana suffered major energy crisis having to undertake a power rationing programme which lasted a full year each in both cases.

Thursday the Daily Graphic reported that Ghana’s capacity to generate energy for industrial, commercial and domestic use is in serious crisis because of the failure of mining companies, industries, ministries, departments and agencies to pay the huge sums of money they owe to the Volta River Authority (VRA).

Admittedly the VRA says that it can no longer sustain its operations from the regular returns paid by loyal consumers. The Authority is therefore pressing for an anomalous 150% increment in tariffs, as it appears that the big companies are reluctant to pay their huge debts that have run the authority into a financial distress.

Therefore the urgent solution being proffered is to shift the burden on to masses of the country while the mining companies and industries are left free. It’s so unfair that household consumers will have to suffer for the inefficiency of VRA to mobilize its debts from defaulting companies. By common sense understanding, the situation suggests that mining companies are having a field day in Ghana at the expense of the ordinary larger majority of Ghanaians (no apologies for my bias against Mining Companies). So much gold, diamond and other resources that these companies mine out of Ghana every year, they pay next to nothing using our energy for free while repatriating abnormal profits to their foreign owners and entities who have turned Ghana into a client state. This is undoubtedly draconian and sinister to say the least.

To make valid the excuse for the suggested increment in tariffs, the Head of Public Relations at the VRA, Mrs Gertrude Koomson said in an interview that the currents tariffs are out of date, owing to the reason that their body was allowed to increase tariffs in November 2007 sanctioned by the Public Utilities and Regulatory Commission (PURC). But the reasons do not only end there, we are also being told production cost of one unity of energy has depreciated by 50 percent. In my opinion these are only diversionary to cover up how the debts have been accumulated all these years. Again it’s very difficult to acknowledge the reason that in November 2007 when the tariffs were revised there was an understanding that Ghana would receive natural gas which was cheaper to augment operations, to run the plants. Guess what? “The gas has still not arrived”, they say, forcing the VRA to rely on the relatively expensive crude.

Its likely that the VRA will have a hard time to push through the proposed 150% increment to the PURC. Public commentary seem to be against the move. I would have supported a lesser percentage increment if the reason was to expand operations to non-connected and deprived areas other than bail out a certain mining company that pollutes water bodies with cyanide and destroys the environment,when its profits benefits me not.

The question to ask is whether the looming crisis is the effect of mining companies, industries, ministries, departments and agencies failure to pay the huge sums of money they owe to the Volta River Authority (VRA)? Or the current tariffs are stale? Or is it the VRA’s inefficiency to collect its debts?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Mopped up in National identification

A couple of hours ago I got mopped up in the zone 4 mass National Identification exercise, the lastphase for the Greater Accra Region. Ghanaians residing in the following areas of the region; ie Adabraka, Tudu, Asylum Down, Osu, Ringway Estate, Labone, Cantonments, La, Burma Camp, Teshie, Nungua, Alajo, Pig Farm, Kotobabi, New Town, Kokomlemle, Roman Ridge, Airport Residential Area, Dzorwulu, Abelenkpe, Shiashie, Okponglo, Legon, Mempeasem, Maamobi, Nima, and Kanda have until next Thursday 11th February to register if they have already missed the first four days of the exercise. Lucky me, I took advantage of a Mopping Up exercise in another community outside the ones I’ve listed above, I missed the train at my residential area.

The National Identification registration exercise has been characterized by long queues and sporadic skirmishes since it started last November. Apparently this is not an unusual phenomenon to law abiding Ghanaians who always have to spend long hours waiting in winding “lines” to get their particulars filed. The last time a similar thing occurred was in 2008 during the registration for the voter’s identification card and seemingly during the presidential election in December. Folks who live in largely populated areas sometimes wake up at dawn to go queue up in wait for registration officers.

To avoid squabbles from trouble makers who do not appreciate the “luxury” of queues, a “common-sense” man in the community who lives close to the centre may decide to assign unsolicited numbers as and when the line keeps maturing. Occasionally one is replaced by a proxy, when he is tired or has some house-hold duties to carry out but comes back just on time to register when its his turn after getting a “flash” on his mobile phone. Else the waiting would be in vain and if you’re “lucky” the best thing to do is to perhaps start all over again from the back of the queue. You probably do not want a fight, do you?

These tendencies often discourage me to partake in the process until I’m convinced that I will spend not more than 10 minutes at the registration centre. So like I always wanted, today I spent approximately 15minutes to go through the entire process of getting my particulars filled in and having my passport-sized picture taken. At the end of the process I was given a printout to vet the details I had provided at the first point of call desk. There, an earlier identification document was requested it can a baptismal card or certificate, birth certificate, birth weighing card, voter’s ID card, passport, driver’s license, SSNIT card, National Health Insurance ID card, sworn affidavit, immigration permit, dual citizenship certificate, naturalization certificate. But I was reliably informed that persons without any ID documents will be registered on oath, and voila! Here’s my passport. I thought it was interesting to be asked where my parents were born (in my father’s case I wasn’t too sure, maybe I lied) and who my next of kin is. In my moment of soliloquizing, I thought, “yo! Lady, it’s too early for a young single guy to talk about "who will take after me?" especially when I would not be receiving any freebie or largess after the process when I’m no more.” I suggested my junior sister, Kiki. I took my height from a wall with chalk markings, 158cm it read.

Now here I am facing the lady in the video, submitted the filled out sheet of my particulars to her from which she keyed in the data on to her laptop. Obviously this is the reason for the long queues; the lady was too slow at typing. But in Ghana things are done in reverse, and even with the advent of computers and technology, “so-so” bureaucracy! Here I think my data should have been directly entered on to the computer at the first desk to avoid double processing and time wastage. Both my left and right index fingers and thumbs were digitally scanned twice; my signature was required on a digital plate by way of an electronic pen. And then I straightened up for the camera. No hustle!

I’ll get my national ID card later in the year when a general announcement is made about its readiness. I foresee looming long queues again. This is Ghana; nothing is done without long queues. If you doubt, check out the public toilets in the slums every morning.

Unlike the voter’s ID registration where you’re required to register within the constituency of your residence, one can register at any place in the country. But if you miss the mass registration phase of this exercise, plans are afoot for Regional Offices to remain opened for your sake.