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Elizabeth Ohene writes: Why is paying for power so painful?

Veteran journalist Elizabeth Ohene shares her thought on the ongoing nationwide revenue mobilisation exercise by the Electricity Company of Ghana to recover GHC5.7 billion debt

I have been trying, so far without success, to understand what the issue is with us Ghanaians and electricity.

We like electricity, we just know we cannot do without electricity, we believe we deserve to have electricity and we do not want any interruptions in the supply of electricity.

Indeed, we rate the availability of electricity so high that unreliable electricity supply can cost an election. Just ask a certain John Dramani Mahama.

He heard us so loud and clear that he tried to get us electricity supply, no matter the cost. The word on the street was just give us the power.

Programme

It is against this background that I am watching, like the rest of the country, the drama unfolding with the Electricity Company of Ghana (ECG) Revenue Mobilisation Programme.

This programme is the phenomenon whereby the electricity company announced the closure of all their offices to enable them to go round, house to house, office to office, factory to factory, structure to structure and collect monies owed to the company.

According to the Managing Director of the company, Samuel Dubik Mahama, between September 2022 and February 2023 alone, an amount of about GH¢ 5 billion had accrued in outstanding debts, mostly owed by state institutions.

The company had apparently employed every known method to try and get us, their customers, to pay our bills and had failed.

They had therefore resorted to this totally unorthodox method of shutting their offices and turning every ECG employee, from the Managing Director to the lowest ranked officer, into a debt collector.

It was going to be a very public, very loud, very in-your-face operation, where they would not only disconnect you from the grid, but announce to the whole world how much you owed.

When the exercise started, they went to the high-end, big-name customers first, probably chosen to demonstrate that there were no untouchables.

The Parliament of Ghana scrambled to find money to pay part of the shocking debt they owed, the oil refinery was disconnected, the Kotoka International Airport, our pride and joy, was disconnected, probably the current number one leading businessman in the country, said to be highly connected, had his business outfit disconnected.

Private people went to queue to pay their electricity bills and businesses suddenly found money to pay bills that had been outstanding for years.

It became obvious that everyone and everything owed ECG.

Impression

One got the clear impression that paying of electricity bills did not rank very high on the list of our priorities. If you could avoid paying for electricity, you did and it is the last obligation you found money to discharge.

It is considered disgraceful to be indebted but it is okay to owe the power company. We frown upon stealing and defrauding, but it is okay to steal power.

You can be part of the great and the good in our society, have something to say on immorality and dishonesty in our public and private lives; if you can find a way of using power without the power company knowing about it, you do.

Some neighbourhoods pride themselves on being no-go areas for ECG meter readers and bill collectors; they simply don’t pay for electricity.

Once the exercise got underway, it soon became clear that the illegal connection phenomenon was more widespread than anyone had imagined.

Conversation

At this stage, a conversation took place on one of the WhatsApp groups I belong to that I will reproduce here with the permission and apologies to my friends in the group:

Friend Number One: Hopefully, they won’t find and disconnect a Church or Mosque for an illegal connection.

Friend Number Two: The way these ECG people are charged, anything is possible.

Friend Number Three: And so what, if they disconnect a church or a mosque for non-payment or illegal connection.

They should disconnect all of them.

Church, mosque, whatever, they must all pay, who do they want to be charged extra to cover their usage, if they don’t pay, they don’t get light, that is all.

Then it happened.

An illegal connection was discovered at a police barracks.

You can read that backwards and slowly and as fast as you want; an illegal connection was discovered at a police barracks and they were disconnected.

Then an illegal connection was discovered at a Catholic church and they were disconnected.

When the Managing Director of ECG told the world that he was receiving calls from lots of big men urging him to stop the exercise, I said a prayer for him.

Question

So, I have been asking myself this question, what is it that we, as a people, have against paying for electricity?

Thinking along these lines takes me back to an incident a long time ago, in one of my earlier, other lives, when I interviewed a young man in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

He was of the very firm conviction that water should not be paid for, no matter how much the water company might have spent to pipe it into your house or to the pipe stand or in purifying the polluted water to make it fit for drinking.

Water, according to this young man, is like air and free from God and should not be paid for.

He was therefore trying to organise the people of Freetown not to pay for treated, piped water.

Needless to say my articulate, persuasive young man did not get very far with his campaign

I have not heard anyone try to argue that electricity is from God and should therefore be free.

So, why are we so unwilling to pay for something we all crave so much?

Why do we not prioritise the paying of electricity bills?

Why do we not regard it as something to be ashamed of that someone has accumulated electricity bills?

Why does Parliament find money to do everything else but not to pay its electricity bills?

And Mr Samuel Dubik Mahama, I am told that all the illegal connections and fiddling with bills and meters that cost the ECG so much money is only possible because your staff lead and show the way.

Would you consider another exercise in which you will smoke out those within the ECG who aid us the customers to steal electricity?

Believe me, your task is easy.

This business of people calling to ask you to stop the exercise is pure bluff.

There is nobody in this town who would rather have DUMSOR.

We are all cheering you on secretly.

 

 

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