Friday, 1 November 2013

Wayside Food And Our Health

Rural urban migration has assumed serious national proportions in recent times. This rural urban drift has brought in its wake many human problems such as pollution, lack of accommodation, poor sanitation, street boys and girls and the sale of wayside foods on our streets, schools, in industrial areas, and lorry parks. Transportation and other household chores make it impossible for majority of the working class and school children to eat before leaving home for their various duties. Research has shown that many of those who patronize street food are people in lower average income brackets, who cannot afford to eat in restaurants. Street or wayside food business has therefore come as a 'saviour' to these groups. Some of such foods include 'waakye, banku, koose, yakayaka, bread, konkonte and agbli kaaklo' just to mention a few.

The business is serving as one of the main sources of employment to a great number of our women folk who are catering for the needs of many citizens and thereby enhancing efficient use of time. Even though some food sellers protect or cover food with napkins, nets and plastics, the insanitary conditions in their areas of operation leave much to be desired. In our markets and lorry parks, the situation is horrible as dust and flies continue to be a source of worry. Others keep both currency notes and foods like groundnuts, cakes, bread, koose, in the same containers, forgetting that currency notes are sources of germs. Some roadside sellers of bread, when unable to open the transparent plastic in which the bread is to be put, blow air into them to force them open. Little do such people know that a disease like tuberculosis is communicable. Again, keepers of Public Restaurants - popularly known as 'chop bars do not ensure that their 'fufu' pounders clean off their sweat and allow it to drop into the fufu. They also, sometimes in their zeal to attract customers, expose their meat to files and dust. It will go a long way to improve the health of our people if 'chop bar' operators remove food serving bowls and plates used to serve their customers just after they have finished eating to prevent files from dinning in them. Conditions under which some food vendors operate are appalling. Some of these vendors sell their food close to choked gutters, others by dust-prone areas, not to mention those close to refuse dumps and sewage disposal points. Some also do not observe personal hygiene. Apart from the insanitary practices, others are in the habit of using contaminated cooking utensils, poor quality ingredients, as well as poor storage facilities which are all health hazards to consumers. It is important to note that hands contaminated with any form of dirt should be prevented. Our unkempt environment and wayside food joints are major contributors to deadly diseases like cholera, typhoid fever, diarrhoea, tuberculosis and others.

To effectively deal with the situation, the various District, Municipal and Metropolitan Assemblies should be strict in the implementation of by-laws banning wayside food sellers from operating in certain areas. The Ghana Prepared Good Sellers Association should also be reactivated in all the Districts and effectively supervised by the various District Administrations, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Ministry of Health. There should be thorough and regular screening of food vendors for their certificates to avoid unhealthy persons from operating in the trade. Health is wealth; therefore the relevant authorities need to ensure that the right structures are in place to ensure the safety of all.


Strike Declared By Organised Labour

Developments on the labour front is not one any Ghanaian will be enthused about. It is unfortunate the friction between organised labour and the PURC and by extension government over the hikes in utility tariffs has been allowed to deteriorate to the extent that organised labour has declared a nation-wide strike effective the 18th of next month. Before the strike workers will embark on nationwide demonstrations in protests over the increases. At a meeting early this month, organised labour issued a ten day ultimatum to the PURC and government to reduce the tariffs or face the wrath of workers. Following the ultimatum, government constituted a technical working group to among other terms of reference examine mitigating measures that would allow industry and consumers to adjust to any new level of tariff increase The Technical Committee warned that anything below 60 per cent will be dangerous for operators of the utilities but labour is unimpressed. According to the Secretary General of the TUC, Kofi Asamoah, the Committee's job in no way addresses the concerns of workers. In the view of organised labour, government cannot increase salaries of workers by ten percent and turn round to slap such astronomical increases on them. At a forum in Tamale, President Mahama urged Ghanaians to bear with government and pay a little more for electricity until March next year when the gas project comes on stream. It is true the tariff increases have been quite strangulating. According to users of pre-paid electricity meters, a 50 Ghana cedi purchase of power which formerly took them more than a month can now take the average consumer barely three days. What is most annoying is that some of the new meters introduced by ECG in recent times are said to run fast. It is possible the utilities are making matters worse. Some people believe they are manipulating the system to maximize profits. Just recently, a private newspaper published huge salaries and allowances ECG workers were paying themselves. Board Members are also alleged to be taking fat sitting allowances to the detriment of the Company.

Whatever it is, it behove government to do well to settle amicably the impasse between organised labour and the PURC once and for all. We cannot afford to see any state machinery ground to a halt, neither are we prepared to see workers’ pay tariffs beyond their pockets. If two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers. Any strike by organised labour is likely to affect the national economy. Investors will look at the country with another eye. Huge wage bills are tearing the Ghanaian economy apart and it will amount to adding salt to injury if organised labour goes ahead with its threat. Absolute peace on the labour front is what the economy needs to grow. It will be prudent to call a truce and write the two combatants to the table for a dialogue. We need to find a middle road to the dispute and not for any party to take an intransigent position. This is the first time in more than a decade that organised labour has called a strike of such magnitude and it should not be said to have happened in President Mahama's era.

To jaw-jaw is better than to war-war. Organised Labour has said it is not organize for the tariff hike but the levels are unacceptable. It has suggested that hikes must be staggered to make them affordable. The idea that government cannot interfere in the affairs of PURC is real but the option is for government to either subsidise or cushion workers against the tariffs hikes. Again the utilities must be made to publish their annual statement of accounts to determine their level of losses against their expenditure. They must be made to close all leakages that make their expenditure go high. A lot of people have connected electricity or water without payment and it is about time the utilities brought them under their net. The Electricity Company must introduce many more of its new meters that make illegal connection impossible. It is good residence of Ministers and other government appointees are being connected to meters. At the end of the day government must generate some revenue from these Article 71 office holders who hitherto were enjoying the utilities at the expense of government. We need solutions to the utility tariff impasse and it must be outright.