Ghana: Ghana media report abnormal power tariffs, hints of social media ban on Election Day

Accra, Ghana (PANA) – Abnormal electricity tariffs, which have seen consumers’ bill climb by more than 100 per cent, and the hint by the Ghana Police Service that it may block social media on Election Day this year were some of the stories played up this week.

The media also reported the arrest John Paintsil, former defender of the senior national football team, the Black Stars, for allegedly stealing his wife’s car and assaulting police officers.

Consumers of electricity have been up in arms against the state-owned electricity distributor, Electricity Company of Ghana (ECG), for the astronomical hikes in power tariffs, even after accepting the official increase of 59.2% ordered by the regulatory body, Public Utilities Regulatory Commission (PURC), in December 2015.

Some have branded the pre-paid meters “Usain Bolt”, as they are said to “run” faster than the Jamaican world 100 metres record holder.

Availability of electricity and the cost are huge political issues in Ghana and with presidential and parliamentary elections due on 7 November this year, the opposition parties have capitalised on the high tariffs, pushing it to the front burner, after the government appears to have resolved the critical power shortages that struck the country for some three years.

“PURC descends on ECG,” was the headline of the state-owned Graphic after PURC ordered ECG to suspend the use of its new billing software until further notice.

It said a statement that the order had been necessitated by the overwhelming complaints received regarding over-billing.
The PURC said after a thorough investigation, it concluded that “there were, indeed, anomalies associated with the use of the new billing software”.

The PURC said one of the key issues that came to the fore during its monitoring and investigation was that the ECG was billing customers over irregular periods from 18 to 43 days, which was in contravention of the 28-day billing cycle.

The exercise also indicated that “some customers are billed above the PURC approved service charge and approved tariffs by the PURC in December 2015” while customer billing data showed clearly that the ECG had challenges with migrating customer information from the old billing system onto the new one.

It directed the ECG to engage an independent billing software expert to audit the new billing system and present a report to the commission within 10 working days.

“ECG admits discrepancies in billing system,” was the headline of the Graphic of another story on the subject.

The newspaper stated that ECG had admitted to discrepancies in its new billing system but said it could not entirely stop using the new software as directed by the PURC because that would halt the whole billing process.

The General Manager (Public Relations) of the ECG, Mr William Boateng, said the company and its consultants who worked on the software were currently conducting an audit to establish the anomalies or otherwise.

“Depending on the outcome, we will let the public know and if we have to refund payments to them, we will do so,” he said.  

The PURC had said “some customers are billed above the PURC approved service charge and approved tariffs by the PURC in December 2015”.

It also directed the ECG to reconnect with immediate effect any customer who had been wrongfully billed and disconnected.

Mr Boateng raised concern over the tariff structure currently being implemented, saying it was one of the major problems working against the company. He described the tariffs introduced by the PURC in December 2015 as complex.

The pro-opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP) has waded into the debate with its presidential candidate Nana Akufo-Addo being quoted as saying he would “reduce the killer electricity tariffs (light bills) if Ghanaians give him the mandate to become president in the November polls”.

The pro-NPP Daily Guide newspaper said Nana Akufo-Addo believed that the several taxes imposed on electricity consumers were the major cause of the public agitations, and called on the government to scrap them or reduce them to bring relief to the people.

Meanwhile, an Accra-based radio station, Starrfm, said on its website that President John Mahama had assured Ghanaians that their frustrations over the electricity over-billing “will be fixed”.

President Mahama said cabinet had approved the Inter-Agency Taskforce put together to resolve complaints from the public regarding the bills.

“The present situation has to end, and I assure my fellow Ghanaians that this too, like other challenges we have faced together, will be fixed,” he said.

With increasing public concern and anger at the misuse of social media in Ghana, the Graphic reported that the Ghana Police Service had indicated that it was considering blocking them on Election Day.

“We may block social media on Election Day – IGP,” was the headline of the Graphic, which reported that the Inspector General of Police, Mr John Kudalor, said the abuse of social media platforms by political parties and ordinary Ghanaians had often created unnecessary tension in the country.

During an interaction with the media on Thursday, Mr Kudalor indicated that given the strain that preparations towards the elections was putting on the country’s security agencies, it would be unwise to ignore the potential of social media as a critical point for violence.

“At one stage I said that if it becomes critical on the eve and also on the Election Day, we shall block all social media as other countries have done. We’re thinking about it,” the IGP said.

The IGP therefore called on the media to be non-partisan and neutral in their reportage of the general election in order not to endanger the peace and stability of the country.

He said the role of the media would be crucial in ensuring that the general election was conducted fairly and peacefully come November 7, 2016, “Ghana is the only country we have and we must place it first at all times."

But the police chief’s statement has been rejected outright by the media, political parties and social commentators.

“‘Don’t go there’: GJA to IGP on proposed social media ban,” was the headline of Starrfmonline, which reported that the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA) had appealed to the Ghana Police Service not to shut down social media platforms during the elections.

GJA said this would adversely affect the operations of the traditional media since they relied heavily on social media platforms for story ideas.

GJA President Affail Monney said the law enforcement agency’s move would not favour the mainstream media.

“We’ll humbly appeal to him [IGP] not to go there. Social media are cousins of traditional media because we rely on them for tips. So we beg him not to contemplate it,” Monney stated.

The state-owned Ghanaian Times reporting on the troubles of footballer John Paintsil in a story under the headline “John Paintsil arrested” said the player was arrested last Tuesday for allegedly stealing his wife’s vehicle and assaulting two police officers.

It said the former Fulham player was invited by the East Legon police in Accra over a complaint filed by his wife, Richlove Paintsil, that he had stolen her vehicle.

According to the police, the footballer became angry during interrogation, and hit the District Police Commander, Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) Emmanuel Basintale, and also pushed the investigator.

He is expected to be put before court.
-0- PANA MA 28May2016

28 may 2016 07:54:51

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