Unending works in progress

BY: Elizabeth Ohene
The writer
The writer

A wise man who knows about these things tells me, if you finish building inside your room before you go on site to cut the ground, you discover your building will take a very short time to complete. In other words, get all the money needed for the project before you start.

According to the first findings of the national census, it would appear that very few of us finish building in our rooms before we go outside to cut ground. Why else would one in five buildings be uncompleted in the country?

It is a disease that attacks individuals, groups, corporate, private and officials alike in this country. Nobody ever plans on having the money for a building project before starting.

You are encouraged to “just start” and, therefore, if you are able to do the foundations, it is cause for celebration. You can take a break and start looking for some more money to now build up to “lintel level”; for years I had no idea what this magic lintel level was. All I knew was that people took their friends to their project site to show them they had “reached lintel level”.

This is again an appropriate place to take another well-deserved break and start looking for money to complete the project. It is the stage at which the proverbial Mr Mensah sprays the legend on the walls: nipa be yee bi, na w’abe ye ninyinaa” (you came to do your bit and not all of it).

If you then manage and roof the building, you can even claim to have finished, even though the walls might not be plastered, wired for electricity, nor the plumbing done, never mind any of the fittings being done.

Fixing windows and doors would be a different undertaking altogether and electrical works, kitchens and bathrooms are considered almost as though they were extras.

You would discover that in this country, the architects don’t include the cost of a sewage disposal system in their original pricing and sometimes, there wouldn’t even be drawings.

Exactly how they would build a toilet inside the house and not factor in where the waste disposal is going, would remain one of the perpetual puzzles of life in Ghana.

Statistics

I have tried to find a reliable source to check out the statistics but, unfortunately, I have to rely on the apocryphal one which states that the average private dwelling house takes 10 years to complete. It is no wonder that by the time most people finish building their dream houses, their children have left home and the buildings are way too large to suit their needs.

In explaining the phenomenon of uncompleted houses, someone may accuse all of us of being recklessly optimistic, in aspiring to build houses that are way beyond our means instead of settling for smaller houses that we can afford.

And yet this is not a problem that afflicts private individuals alone. Just take a look at the sheer number of commercial housing projects that never, ever end up as had been planned.

Why do our property developers always so dramatically overestimate how much they can sell apartments and houses for?

When it comes to official projects, it is no different. I am not quite sure what the conventional method is that is used to count the period that is announced for how long a proposed project should take to execute.

Do you start counting from the day the loan is approved in Parliament, which is the route all government projects invariably take, or do you start counting from the day of the ceremonial sod-cutting or is it from the day contractors appear on the site.

The public sector buildings and other projects appear to suffer from the same “foundation, lintel level, roofing level” mentality of construction as you find in the private sector. Indeed, some private people now appear to be better prepared than the official projects for which loans or grants have been arranged.

There is one particular project in which I am taking very keen interest and I admit freely that my interest is personal. This is the 256 million Euro Ashaiman-Akosombo road project for which the President of the Republic cut the sod for work to commence a year ago.

It was said then that the project would take 30 months to complete. When does the countdown to the 30 months start?

I hesitate to complain about the regular journey I make from Accra to Abutia, where the combination of the heavy traffic and the bad state of the roads make it a really stressful and exhausting undertaking.

I hesitate to complain because every time I do any of the other journeys out of Accra through Kasoa towards Winneba, or through Ofankor towards Nsawam, or through Madina, Adenta towards
Aburi or Dodowa, or through the motorway towards Ada, I realise that I shouldn’t take my journey problems personally.

I accept that we are culturally tuned to start projects that we know we can’t complete and hope they will be completed by the next generation, but surely we can start trying to aim at starting and completing five small to medium sized projects instead of starting and not completing.

The Ashaiman-Akosombo road project, when executed, would not solve all my problems with trying to get to Abutia, since the portion of the road after the bridge is in an even worse state, but I’d be happy to have one half of the problem solved.

Another portion

There is another portion of the journey which encompasses everything that is wrong with construction in this country. Back in 2016, a big project was started to dualise the main entry road to Ho, the Volta Regional capital.

It turns out there was no budget allocated for the project and we have been struggling with it since then.

Right now much of this portion has been done up as a single lane road and is passable and I am willing to wait for whenever the money will be found to make the double lane dream come true.

What I cannot understand and which irritates me is the decision to create about five massive roundabouts on this stretch of road.
Why can’t we just have four-way crossings with lights?

Everywhere else in this world, roundabouts are being changed to four-way crossings and we are now building cumbersome new ones and inconveniencing everyone?

It is bad enough to apply the “I have reached lintel level, let’s take a break” attitude to the construction of roads and drive everybody berserk.

Trying to create roundabouts when they are not needed is unnecessarily cruel and is like applying the Saglemi affordable housing project practice to my little turning from Sokode to Abutia.

I’d rather have a small, four-way crossing, regulated with lights. It is cheaper, more modern and likely to be completed.