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The other day I had a vision, Jomo: In this dream, the government’s big man in charge of water supply is wearing a big suit and making a big speech in big English, see? He says the Ghana Water Company has been subjected to bad management for many years. There has also been no investment whatsoever in the water sector for as long as anyone can remember. 

He says the water company has been running monstrous operational losses for years. The company produces hundreds of millions of litres of water a day for national consumption but half of the lot is lost due to leakage. What is more, water consumers are not paying for water consumed. He says this cannot go on, and the government has hit upon the solution to the problem. 

He then reveals a resolve by the government to privatize the management of the country’s water supply. Privatization would remove the inefficiencies of a loss-making public enterprise and make potable water available to thousands of homes not connected to transmission lines, he says. 

When I wake up and tune into my small transistor radio, Jomo, a band of socialist-minded activists led by one Mr K. Pratt and a group called ISODEC are chanting “We Say No to Privatization of Water Supply.”  If the management of water supply is privatized, they argued, its price will take a hike and get tossed mercilessly   about by market forces. That would put water out of the reach of poor communities, which would be most unacceptable, since access to water is a basic human right. 

They ask the government instead, to strengthen the management capacity of the water company. They also suggest more efficient conservation of water through the prompt reporting of leaks, the protection of pipelines and the minimizing of wastage of water in general. The anti-privatization activists are called leftist trouble making, busy bodies for their troubles.

Substitute electricity for water and Electricity Company for Water Company and the theme of the tale about utility services is the same: Poor or unreliable service, attempts at privatization and a demand that consumer pay more for water and electricity.

They are it again with a vengeance, Jomo: This time, they want up to 100 percent hike in tariffs. In all this you wonder whose side the chaps at the Public Utilities Regulatory Commission are on: The utility companies or consumers.  Let me tell you a true story so that you can make up your mind whose side they; may be on:

One day not long ago, while the usual arguments were raging on across the republic over the question of whether or not utility service providers were justified in seeking increases in tariffs at a time when the quality and regularity of their services were appallingly dismal, traditional rulers from across Ashanti assembled in Kumasi City for a meeting of the Regional House of Chiefs and guess who showed up asking to sit in with royalty, Jomo?

Presidnet John Mahama? Nope. The Minister of Chieftaincy Affairs, no doubt? Nope. The press, perhaps? Nope. The most unlikely of uninvited guests, Jomo: Representatives of the utility companies and {surprise, surprise}, a representative of the Public Utility Regulatory Commission!

It is uncertain what they doing in each other’s company but we surmised that representatives of the Volta River Authority, the Electricity Company of Ghana, the Ghana Grid Company and the Water and Sewerage company hit upon the idea of trooping together to a meeting of the traditional rulers to court their sympathy and obtain their support to kill utility consumers  dead with new, murderous tariffs.

The Asante king, Otumfuor  Osei Tutu II who is the President of the Ashanti Regional House of Chiefs spoke up for his chiefs and for consumers. He started by conceding that the nation’s utility service providers needed periodic increases in tariffs to be able to meet the cost of production. He proceeded to add that it would however be unfair to make consumers pay for institutional failings which had led to the poor service by utility services.

That the paramount chief must have disappointed the utility companies by speaking up for consumers and demanding that improved services precede any hikes in tariffs is not the point. I had expressed some suspicion and misgivings about the fact of utility service providers hobnobbing with those who regulate utility tariffs!

Now the utility services want up to a 100 per cent increase in tariffs.  If they manage to obtain the outrageous tariff increases they are demanding, we can only wait for them to lapse into their bad old ways and then we shall hit them with the great grandfather of all public demonstrations from Bukum to Bawku-Zongo, so help me, Lord.

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