The Public Utilities Workers Union (PUWU) has said it is shocked by a publication attributed to the Minister of Energy, Boakye Agyarko, to the effect that the Electricity Company of Ghana (ECG) is deep in debt due to faulty meters and irresponsibility on the part of staff.
PUWU said the Minister’s comments, published in the May 15 edition of the Daily Guide Newspaper, “are very much regrettable, and as workers of the company, we find it very unfortunate that at such a critical stage in the life of ECG, the sector Minister will make such sweeping statements”.
In a statement signed by PUWU General Secretary Michael Adumatta Nyantakyi, the Union said “the assertion that ECG’s debt stock appears to be worsening by the day due to its faulty metering system and avoidable employee recklessness is not supported by the facts”.
PUWU emphasised that ECG’s current average weekly collection is GHS 103,918,594.11, as against a target of GHS130,000,000.
“This excludes indebtedness by Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies (MMDAs) and Ghana Water Company Limited, which are state entities,” PUWU added.
However, the group explained that if there was any accumulation of debt, “then it is just coming from the angle of the MMDAs, and this has come about because of political directives not to disconnect the MMDAs because government has promised to pay the bills of the MMDAs”.
It continued: “However, as at the end of 2016, the MMDAs’ debt stood at GH¢1,390,966,034.74. For the first three months of 2017, the MMDA debts totalled GH¢226,967,736.08, and of this debt for 2017, government has paid GH¢18,133,575.17.
“As at the end of March 2017, total debt including that of GWCL was GH¢1,599,800,195.66, so it is strange for the Minister to attribute this accumulation of debt to the reckless acts or behaviour of ECG employees.
“If there is any debt accumulation, then it is the direct action of government for non-payment of MMDA bills and not any inaction on the part of ECG employees.”
PUWU observed that there have been several instances where efforts to collect amounts owing from MMDAs have been frustrated and sometimes interfered by political pressures, such that even organisations that were disconnected were asked to be reconnected by political authorities.
Concerning the assertion that the US Embassy demands bills and ECG has not been able to provide the Embassy with bills is also “very strange because as far we know to date, the US Embassy does not owe ECG in terms of bills”.
For them, if the embassy were not receiving bills “would they have paid all their indebtedness till date?” adding: “So this is a statement we find very unfortunate and ask the Minister to provide further details.”
On the issue of spare parts, PUWU said ECG was experiencing shortage of materials which was affecting the one-day service that was introduced by the company.
With respect to MTN owing ECG about GH¢35,000,000, as asserted by the Minister, PUWU said it “is basically an issue of billing arrangement and some challenges with the initial CMS as it was deployed, which has been identified, and efforts made towards correcting this situation”.
“MTN has over 1000 sites, and some MTN sites are already being billed through the Automatic Meter Reading (AMR) system, so bills are read automatically from remote areas. It is the few areas which are not on the AMR that arrangements are being made to sort out the actual amounts that MTN has to pay, which some of the residential sites are being made to pay,” the statement outlined.
“However, the billing anomaly has been identified and the corrections are being made, so it is not accurate to say that MTN owes that much and nothing is being done to collect monies from MTN.”
For PUWU, it was “strange for the Minister to assert that ECG’s networking capital is negative” adding: “It is a fact undisputable that Africa, south of the Sahara, with the exception of South Africa, ECG has the widest coverage in terms of electricity distribution, about 80%. Despite the challenges with supply upsetting at a point in time, ECG has been distributing power to significant numbers of its customers, so it is strange that a company which has a negative networking capital of GH¢2,000,000 will be able to continue servicing its customers on such regular basis.”
PUWU is challenging the Minister to come up with specifics with regards to statements about the negative GHS2,000,000 networking capital of ECG.
PUWU said it wanted the sector minister to provide strategic direction and policy guidelines for the company, and not to descend into “these minor operational areas which the management of the company can easily deal with”.
For the Union, there are bigger issues to make the company operate efficiently, and they thought that these are the issues which should occupy the mind and attention of the Minister.
“Four months into the new government, a company like ECG has no board and with an Acting Managing Director. How do you expect key decisions to be taken to ensure improvement in the company’s operation? Is it the question of giving the dog a bad name so to hang it? And we also want to draw the attention of government that such kind of pronouncements will not inure to the benefit of the company or Ghana, because at the end of the day, even if you are going ahead with this PSP, you are projecting a very weak company that will weaken the negotiations with any prospective bidder, and we think that the Minister ought to look at the bigger picture and see how to position ECG to be a company that can provide value for Ghana and for Ghanaians,” the statement concluded.