Ethiopia: Life Without Utilities

Addis Fortune
13 OCTOBER 2014
These days, functioning utilities are exceptions, rather than rules. What is more mysterious is that they exist together, side-by-side.
utilitiesIf there is a power interruption somewhere, say for an hour or so, one should also expect an interruption in the telecommunications and water supply system – even for a longer span of time. It is rather unfortunate that the public relations officers of these utilities only give occasional press releases to explain the possible causes for such interruptions.
Of late, however, these officials seem to have been prompted. They have been running out of new excuses.
Many customers are no longer convinced by what these officers utter to impress their viewers or listeners. In fact, the unsustainable utilities services and the repeated explanations given at press releases are no more than a lip service.
In some extreme cases, there are discontented people who question the credibility of what even the inner most echelons of power are presented with as reports.
Utilities, especially the supply of electric power, are not only prerequisites for any kind of economic and social activities in the capital city, but also the rest of the country, wherever electric power is needed. The interruptions are so frequent, almost everywhere in the country, that one tends to suspect that such actions could well be sabotage or deliberate malice. In this age and time, where advanced technology has brought about rapid changes in every aspect of our lives, it becomes imperative and appropriate to pose the relevant question – why?
The good portion of the blame is seen falling on the shoulders of the capital’s roads authority. Problems are often attributed to the ongoing construction work of the inner-city rail line or the upgrading of roads.
The Authority, on its part, has its convincing excuses, such as the change of design due to unforeseen hurdles or a lack of funds to pay for evicted owners of properties. In some cases, the hurdles could emanate from other organisations, like the Addis Abeba Water & Sewerage Authority (AAWSA).
Often, the telecommunications line passes through complex landscapes. Relocating these communications networks is usually a time consuming and expensive undertaking.
It has to be carried out by a gang of experts, who have probably been moved from other similar engagements of urgency. The whole project can suffer, cumulatively speaking.
The relocation of telecommunication cables and the associated problems are only a part of the issue. Power interruptions, however, can occur due to other causes as well, such as the inability of the transmissions lines to carry the voltage of the power.
The quality of the lines, as well as the transformers, has to be considered as well. This involves transparency – from evaluating the specifications and drawing up tender documents to the evaluation of tender documents and the awarding tenders as per international standards.

All this finger pointing does not seem to reveal the real causes of the problems of power interruptions. I will try to put some light on the possible root causes of the whole mess.
My finger points at the City Hall officials. I could be wrong, but I stand by my right to express my views, right or wrong. Be it underground or high up on air, I believe that whatever takes place within the domain of the city concerns City Hall officials.
It is my hope that City Hall has the capability to know the number of its population, the number of telephone and electric power subscribers and the projections of services in due time, because these are essentials for planning the supply of the services. The planning needs to be detailed – in terms of time, manpower and the materials needed for the project.
City officials are responsible to look over the detailed plans of all utility organisations and should be able to licence their progress, if and when all the detailed plans are broken down into action plans and then coordinated.
More often than not, mayors and their subordinates are screened while they pay visits to project sites, be it road or housing constructions. These visits may help to profit some currency in good governance to indicate that proper follow-up is accorded to these projects.
But what we hear at the conferences held with the residents of Kebeles or other units of political administrations, where attendants usually sport coloured golf caps, is expressions of dissatisfactions and queries that often touch upon the facts on the ground, rather than the worn out rhetoric reverberating from one state media to another.
Some complain about their vulnerability to unexpected expenditure – buying “injera” for over three Birr when they could have made it at home, if only the electricity was functioning. Others protest that they had paid taxes expecting they would be getting connections as promised. Some allege that they could not make use of coffee machines or the refrigerators due to the lack of power.
Frankly speaking, City Hall functions only if revenues are taxed, collections are duly carried out and the whole socio-economic machinery functions. It is not really an issue of whether or not the power interruption will soon resume or not. It is not even a question of blaming this or that organisation.
It is indeed a question of having a coordinated action plan broken down into sequences and a timetable of actions. This chart of coordinated actions should be delivered to all the utility providers, and should be made public so that every resident can know what to expect and when.
That would also be the best and fairest way to hold all those responsible accountable for not performing their duties on time. Then, officials can have some strong nerve to call a spade a spade if necessary.
I know it is not that easy to draw a coordinated action plan so elaborated down to the lowest unit of organisations. I also know that keeping a grip on action plans is not easy. But there is no choice. It is a commitment that has to be executed if the train of economic and social growth is to be kept on track.
A lack of coordinated action plans do not only cause power interruptions, but also socio-economic costs. We may get back to analysing these costs at some time, God willing.

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