Sat, Jan

Availability vs. Quality - The Dilemma of a Developing Country

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So, you find that we spend billions to build roads and highways that are washed away within months or develop major potholes or do not have requisite markings, traffic signage etc; and essentially become death traps.

Today, as Ghana’s Finance Minister reads the national budget, as usual, most of us citizens will be focused on three main things- How much is being spent? On what? and Who’s Paying which tax?

Our focus is usually on these basic questions simply because most of the things we need, especially by way of infrastructure and public amenities/services are lacking. Hence our preoccupation is on what quantity of these infrastructure and amenities government will make available, how much will taxpayers have to cough up, and how much of our tax monies have been earmarked to achieve these projects.

Recommended: Ghana 2019 Budget: Full Statement

But hardly would you ever hear a preemptive national discourse on the Standards of Quality these amenities or infrastructure will be built to, and whose duty is it to ensure it, and whether our national procurement process makes available sufficient funds during project planning to ensure that quality is monitored and that we get value for money. Such conversations mostly arise post facto: especially when a fairly new infrastructure crumbles before our very eyes, or the lack of quality systems results in a major public disaster- mostly leading to the loss of lives.

However, fundamentally, we all turn a blind eye to the basics required to build the Soft Infrastructure of this country. We only focus on the hard infrastructure, which cannot hold up for long without the necessary spine of quality infrastructure built in.

So, you find that we spend billions to build roads and highways that are washed away within months or develop major potholes or do not have requisite markings, traffic signage etc; and essentially become death traps. Public buildings and housing projects that begin to fall apart within a few years. Hospitals, Factories, etc. that are not operated according to any internationally established quality standards, among other such infrastructure failures.

Consequently, we come around and see the waste we have created. That’s when the blame game begins; that the contractors did cut corners (which of course is likely when there’s no independent quality monitoring) or the politicians took bribes from the contract sum leading to poor delivery, our technicians aren’t competent; among all manner of wild accusations. In the end, we sink billions into projects that are wiped off within years or become white elephants and in the worst cases death traps.

But in the heat of such blame games - of accusations and counter accusations; we do not take time to look at the necessary facts and the immediate weak links that should be addressed.

Two of such absurd observations immediately come to mind - first being the fact that you will usually see allocations for the mammoth & crucial enterprise of QA/QC only as a mere line item in the bill of quantities for our projects. Secondly, funds are often made available for contractors to test materials to suit themselves (in their bid for quality control) ; but we do not have a mandatory requirement, in our procurement processes, for Quality Assurance Testing and Inspection by independent third parties, for every cedi of our money sunk into public infrastructure. Meanwhile we expect quality infrastructure delivery in the end. I wonder how we plan to achieve this.

Globally, Quality is assured through building robust systems for testing, inspection and certification- and this forms a significant chunk of the global GDP; and this is how the developed world ensures value for money- through quality audits. But this subject seems off the radar as far as we’re concerned. Because, of course if you’re starving, your main focus is availability, even before quality. But in the realm of development, amidst scarce resources, this attitude if protracted can be immensely costly and suffocating to national progress.

If you ask me, the conversation should begin in earnest, and coded into our procurement practices; it must zero in on the value for money we get for our projects and services- this is intrinsically linked to our commitment to invest in ensuring inbuilt quality monitoring; through Testing, Inspection, and Certification (TIC), within our project delivery systems

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