Monday, May 24, 2010

Ghana - complaints over unaffordable charges and indiscriminate siting of masts

[modern ghana] In a free market economy like that of Ghana, the term “corporate social responsibility” has come to be part of the country's development and business agenda. In essence, multinational companies have been operating in various sectors to maximise profits, generate employment and contribute to the overall growth of the economy. The economy of Ghana has as well been supportive by creating favourable business climate for the growing volume of investments.

They are known to have “good” corporate social responsibility (CSR) when multinational and local companies especially in the mining and communication sectors of the economy undertake social projects for the benefits of local communities that are deprived. These projects may include building schools, recreational centers, hospitals or even sponsoring scholars and students. Nonetheless, the term “corporate social responsibility” being used by these companies has with it exceptional flaws and negativities that have plunged the economy into a state of backwardness. In no uncertain terms, the corporate image of most companies in the country are being tainted and the worse of it spurring chronic poverty.

This article seeks to expose the “real” image of CSR as being used by companies in their operations in the mining and communication sectors. It is such a grim experience and it would pose a big challenge if the hidden risks of the tagged “corporate social responsibilities” of companies in the emerging oil and gas sector are not made clear. The lack of easy blueprints for examining the irresponsibilities of companies do indeed point to the need for a critical consideration.

Telecommunication Companies
Corporate social responsibility as defined by the Encarta Dictionary (2009) is “the belief that a company should take into account the social, ethical, and environmental effects of its activities on its staff and the community around it”. In one way or the other, the various telecommunication companies operating in the country have strived to display their good corporate image by helping in developmental projects. But it is be interesting to know that these companies have not significantly helped the country in finding solutions to the country's development challenges and consequently fighting chronic poverty.

There is no doubt that these telecommunication companies have helped in projects including building and renovating schools, provisions of health and sanitation facilities, and even to the extent of sponsoring students. In a similar vein, these same companies are charging call rates that are absolutely above the ability of the ordinary Ghanaian especially with those living on less than one dollar a day. Even disheartening is the fact that Ghanaians pay high charges for services that are very poor. It is in its way unique for the man in the rural area to trek to a higher height before being connected to make calls. The high charge rates for calls simply write the poor man off the competition of sustained livelihood. The forgoing is hinge on the simple reasoning that these companies are rather contributing to poverty than eradicating it in the display of their so-called good corporate social responsibility. We are in the era where users are now bombarded with confusing text messages of promotions and raffles that have no clear guidelines.

The most unfortunate part of the whole chronicle of empty good corporate social responsibility is inclined to the indiscriminate siting of telecomm masts in the country. Without regarding the medium to long term consequences of radiations, these telecommunication companies preferably site masts close to houses with impunity. This is an unfortunate act to inflict deadly cancers on people. They capitalise on the regulatory obstacles in the telecommunication industry in the country. One cannot help but to blame our leaders for this mishap. After all, the ban on the telecomm masts has been lifted when the country yet do not have the right constitutional footing to tackle excesses. However, the Minister of Communication, Haruna Iddrisu has said, at the recently held World Telecommunications and Information Society Day & Consumer Forum, that guidelines have been drawn for the issuance of permits by the Ministry of Environment, Science and Technology for the siting of masts. Let us hope these guidelines will have the capacity to bring sanity in the not only indiscriminate but irresponsible siting of telecomm masts. The burning question that deserves to be asked is that where are the good corporate social responsibilities being trumpeted by these companies?

The mounting calls for the improvement in telecommunication services by the Consumer Protection Agency deserve an unflinching support. Ghanaians should help in the action of switching mobile phones off for 6 hours to impress on these companies to better their operations. This is because connectivity forms a major aspect of development.

Mining Companies
Business activities that serve to invalidate the effectiveness of corporate social responsibility are commonplace in the mining sector. In the mining sector, the term corporate social responsibility has been of significant use especially when mining companies are communicating their intentions and plans to local communities. Meanwhile, the worst of activities that taint corporate social image are rife in the mining sector. Apart from the fact that deserved priority projects are not given to the people to who feel the pinch of inefficient mining, the already poor people are subjected to brutalities and gruesome abuse of human rights. This explains why the terms “paradox of plenty” and “militarization” have come to be associated with the mining industry in Ghana.

The context of environmental damages provides grounds for concern. In the 21st century, seeing the gaps in the minerals and mining act, most of these mining companies spill harmful chemicals into water bodies with impunity.

The Case Demystified
The reasons for these irregularities in the business environment of Ghana are not very complex. Good corporate social responsibilities which are made manifested by charitable contributions to development projects at best become a distraction that sidetracks the taking of right decisions. Too often, social projects that are undertaken by these multinational telecommunication and mining companies are deemed honourable and mostly public-spirited. As an example, apart from the fact that the building of schools, hospitals and market centers provide good image and cement community relations for a company, such benevolent activities attract favourable press.

These conditions provide a protective cover for these companies when they operate against the laws of the land or in contravention to their stated corporate social responsibilities. This explains significantly why call rates are that aside from poor services. And there are indiscriminate siting of masts that pose health risks to innocent people and it seems nothing is being done.

In the case of the mining companies, benevolent contributions in terms of providing employment and undertaking social projects have served to deflect government from negotiating difficult issues. These difficult issues include and not limited to compensations. Apart from the fact that most mining companies renege on their responsibilities to fully compensate people affected by mining whether with land, farms or properties, government has not been able to exact fines that makes up for real compensation.

It is not surprising that telecommunication companies after undertaking a particular project hijack the television stations with repeated broadcast of those projects. Again, mining companies are fully protected and make headlines when mining revenues are known to be a significant contribution of the country's GDP or when communities are provided with borehole water system, schools and market facilities. The country, as a matter of fact, is failing to put across the reality of issues.

The people in the various mining communities deserve not only the best of development projects but improved standard of living considering the increasing prices of gold in the world market and even the negative effects of mining. It is well unacceptable for children to walk for long kilometers before having accessing to education in another community (this is happening in Ghana).

It is enough for telecommunication companies in the sponsoring of entertainment programmes when the country lacks basic research institutions, good schools, incessant supply of potable water, to mention but a few. The ostentatious attitude of these companies ought to stop.

The Oil Industry
Without shred of any doubt, these are the negatives of “corporate social responsibility” that Ghana is grappling with. If this is happening in the mining sector, can it be repeated in the nascent oil and gas industry? In a more significant manner, the governments agenda in the emerging oil and gas sector should be to maximise real compensation and not be misled by “charity” that are very common in the hydrocarbon industry. Oil companies have all the resources to provide the most beautiful and meaningful projects to communities and the country at large. But that should not compromise the government's ability in making oil a blessing and not a curse. This is especially so with the application of the regulatory and legal frameworks to clamp down on the excesses of resource exploitation. In contractual agreements of the country, it is important that social projects are not tied with negotiations if really this dilemma can be extirpated. And even what is the state of Ghana's contract with oil companies when these agreements and negotiations remain secret?


The contributions of multinational companies especially with the telecommunication and mining sectors to the economy are enormous. But with the ever-increasing global significance of free market economy, these companies should augment the efforts of government in fighting poverty and not be concerned with only their profit-making agenda. Definitely, the true meaning of corporate social responsibilities should reflect the ideal path of livelihood improvements. The favourable business climate should be used to solve the seemingly intractable socio-economic challenges and long track records of poverty and stagnation in the country.

Lifting the Veil of “Corporate Social Responsibility” in Ghana

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