In a country where about 90 percent of the people do not have decent places to perform the final rites of digestion, the management of public toilets is big business. Never has this fact been made clearer to me than the recent disputes in several parts of the country over who has the right to manage public toilets.
NDC supporters in Accra, Kumasi and Sekondi-Takoradi are reported to have forcefully taken over control of some of these vital installations for the performance of the final rites of digestion. They insist that the management of these facilities should necessarily change hands because their party is now in power.
Apparently, when Ghanaians voted to change the party in charge of the presidency they indirectly decided to change the management of the public toilets as well. Thus, since we have an NDC president, the toilets should come under NDC management.
This, no doubt, is yet another indication that in Ghanaian politics the winner takes all indeed. The board members of state-owned enterprises are being told that their services are no longer needed, government appointees to district assemblies have been ordered never to step in the assembly halls again and mayors are living in uncertain times after they were asked to stay on for a bit longer – ‘mark time’ and wait for the ‘forward march’ instructions that will finally see them out of office. With the change of government thousands are being forced to look for new jobs and hundreds are losing big government deals – including contracts to run public toilets.
It is a fact President Mills is either having a tough time or taking his own sweet time to make up his mind on who to appoint to fill the vacancies created by his occupation of the presidency. The president must be scratching his head over all the big decisions he has to make. To save him from scratching other parts of his anatomy in indecision, the president’s men and women at the grassroots are lending a helping hand by forcefully taking over the management of public toilets. You can also say that this spares our leader the trouble of filling his presidential mind with banal, ‘rear-end’ issues.
Some of those using brute force to take over the toilets claim that they were in charge of the ‘installations’ until the Kufuor administration and the NPP came to power in 2001. That was when they lost their membership of the Chartered Institute of Toilet Management (CITM). With the return of the NDC to power, they feel the time has come for them to be re-inducted into the prestigious CITM – even if by force.
Not all of them are regaining their toilet management rights by force, though. A certain woman in Nima has successfully argued in court that she is the rightful person to be managing the community loo because her contract was wrongfully terminated. After winning the legal battle for the loo, she now claims that “there is contempt on the toilet” and in due course, she will go and take charge of it.
Most of us tend to look down on public toilet managers. But before you dismiss the forceful takeover of these vital facilities as a ‘rear-end’ triviality, consider how much money a toilet manager controls. Just assume that an average of one thousand people use your neighbourhood KVIP at a cost of 50Gp per ‘drop’. That comes to about 50GHC per day and 1500 GHC per month. And since some people deliver more than one ‘drop’ in a day (especially on peak days like Saturdays and Sundays and public holidays), the monthly proceeds usually exceed my estimation.
The woman who managed to get “contempt on the toilet” in Nima insists that about nine years ago, before the NPP government seized the facilities and handed them over to their supporters, her profit margin was so huge that she used to pay monthly ‘royalties’ of about 1500 GHC to the Accra Metropolitan Assembly.
In some of the densely-populated areas of Accra, where most people don’t have domestic lavatories, public toilet managers are among the wealthiest in the community. Levying people to ‘drop’ their ‘loads’ have made them so rich that they own houses and fleets of cars. They are respected members of society. Some even fear them – you dare not offend the toilet manager.
This is the simple context for the scramble (and the fights) for the management of the public toilets. What’s happening with the toilet seizures is a very unhealthy symptom of ‘winner-takes-all’ malaise which afflicts politics in Ghana. President Mills has promised us a government of inclusion and he has vowed to be a “father to all Ghanaians”. Unfortunately, those who think he should be more fatherly towards them are engaging in acts that will only make some people feel very bitter and excluded – by seizing public toilets!
It is not unusual that when a new president comes into power, those who make and implement policies are changed. That’s why we are going to have a new set of ministers and district chief executives. But it doesn’t make sense for the management of my community loo to change hands simply because there has been a change in government.
Our politics should shed this ‘winner-takes-all’ character. The winner can take most but he (or she) should make it a point to leave a little for the loser. And, in this case, the least the loser can get is to be allowed manage the public toilets. This is not too much to ask, is it? Our country can only heal from the acrimonious campaign season when the president is seen to be reaching out to the opposition and one way of doing this is to make sure that management of public toilets is not the preserve of members of the ruling party.
The government should therefore intervene and halt the scramble for the loos. At the very least, government should use the appropriate bidding processes to ensure that the most capable hands are put in charge of the management of our public toilets, regardless of party affiliation. As things stand now, I am afraid that one of these days, my urgent rush to neighbourhood KVIP will be interrupted by an overzealous loo keeper who would demand that I whip out my party membership card before I am allowed to ‘drop’ my ‘load’. I will deliver a punch and what would follow will not pretty. The sooner we took politics out of public loo management, the better! That’s not to say we can’t discuss politics in the KVIP…