Sunday, November 25, 2007


Increasing utility tariffs is the sole preserve of the Public Utilities Regulatory Commission (PURC), the Chairman of the commission, Mr Kwame Pianim, has stated.
“It is, therefore, sad that after 10 years of existence and setting tariffs, Ghanaians blame the government for any increases by the PURC,” he added.
He was speaking in Accra yesterday at a workshop organised by the Legal Resources Commission (LRC) and the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES), both non-governmental organisations (NGOs), as part of their good governance watchdog series which started about a year ago.
The workshop was on: “The role of the PURC in ensuring good governance in the public utility industry: Prospects and challenges,” while the good governance series is a forum for knowledge sharing and dialogue on governance issues.
“The PURC, in deciding tariffs, is not accountable to, controlled or managed by the government,” Mr Pianim stressed during his presentation.
He said the decision of the government about two years ago not to annul the PURC’s tariff increases but rather subsidise them showed “democratic maturity where the functions of the different entities are respected and accommodated”.
Prescribing a new dispensation of utility management and growth, Mr Pianim stressed that tariffs alone could not ensure good services for Ghanaian consumers.
He said a three-pronged approach, consisting of concerted efforts from government, consumers and utility service providers, was what would bring in the desired results of efficient utility services in the country.
From the government, Mr Pianim demanded “national discipline, with long-term planning to balance demand and supply, and consistent, long-term investments”.
From consumers, he demanded the payment of adequate tariffs to meet operational and maintenance costs and attract investors into the sector, while the utility service providers were charged to engage in sound management practices to deliver value for money.
Mr Pianim said the PURC, as an independent regulatory body which was not directly managed or controlled by institutions such as the Executive or the Legislature, posed a challenge to traditional concepts of democracy and good governance.
He added, however, that the contribution of such bodies to good governance lay in their ability to collect, analyse and present data objectively in support of their actions for public discussion.
He said it was imperative for all who participated in good governance to do so on the basis of a “creative listening” paradigm, which he said involved dialoguing and arriving at judgements based on facts.
An Economist, Dr Nii Moi Thompson, in an appraisal from a consumer’s perspective, said the inability of utility companies to manage basic structures of service delivery showed that increasing tariffs was not a solution to efficient services.
He said consumers expected three basic things from utility service providers — reliability in service, fairness in delivery and ease in dealings with service providers.
He pointed out, however, that the lack of innovation and managing change by the country’s utility organisations had entrenched a system of inefficient services that sometimes caused frustration for consumers who wanted to pay their bills.
Dr Thompson said with the current state of affairs, no increase in tariffs could guarantee any efficiency in the system, since the utility agencies needed a total overhaul of institutional systems, processes and attitudes.
The Director of Consumer Service of the Electricity Company of Ghana (ECG), whose speech was read on his behalf by Mr M.F. Biney, said the greatest challenge of the ECG was getting consumers to help in delivering efficient service.
He said a customers’ charter was in the offing and call centres were soon going to be established to help respond to complaints from customers.


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