Energy Ghana Exclusive Interview with Mr. E. A. K. Kalitsi , former Chief Executive & Board Chair, VRA.
EG: Good morning Sir, we are grateful for the privilege to be here today to have a chat with you.
EAKK: You are welcome.
EG: Congratulations on your recognition at the 2019 Ghana Energy Awards, and also on the Electricity Company of Ghana (ECG) and the President’s co-celebration of your contributions to the Volta River Authority (VRA), ECG, and the country.
EAKK: Thank you.
EG: How do you feel about these successive acknowledgments?
EAKK: I am delighted that my society services should be rewarded with so much acclaim. I have received many expressions of appreciation for these services.
From the Government of Ghana, I was honored with the Grand Medal in 1978, and other national honors from the Governments of Togo in 1973, Benin in 1973, Italy in 1976, and France, in 1978. Last year, I was overwhelmed by the succession of honors heaped on me by Energy institutions in Ghana.
First, the VRA where I spent most of my working life generously instituted an Energy Excellence Quiz Competition in my name to inspire secondary school students to explore challenges in the energy sector.
I feel privileged that my services are considered worthy enough to merit my selection as a role model for the younger generation.
Secondly, in partnership with VRA, the Energy Media Group (EMG), organizers of the Ghana Energy Awards, conferred a Lifetime Achievement Award on me.
Thirdly, to cap it all, at a special event, a former minister of energy and H.E the President of Ghana paid high compliments to me on my contributions to ECG and VRA. I accept these compliments not for myself but on behalf of all categories of workers who contributed in the past to the success of ECG and VRA.
It is gratifying that almost 20 years after my retirement, our efforts to be of service to Ghana in the past are still remembered. Public service work is continuous. Challenges never end. There will always be problems as well as opportunities to challenge the current generation.
EG: Mr. Kalitsi, kindly tells us a brief background about yourself and how you got into VRA.
EAKK: I was born in July 1930 in Anyako in the Keta district of the Volta Region. After completing secondary school at Zion College, Anloga in 1948, I obtained a London University BSc. degree in Economics from the University College of Gold Coast in 1955 and a Master’s degree in Public Administration from Harvard University in the United States of America in 1961.
I started working in the Gold Coast civil service as an Administrative Officer in 1955, serving as a colonial District Commissioner, or Government agent, in the Greater Accra, Volta, Ashanti, and the then newly created Brong-Ahafo region.
Thereafter, I was posted to the Development Commission where I worked on preparatory activities for the Volta River Project. The Volta section of the Development Commission to which I transferred was expanded to become the Volta River Project Secretariat (VRPS) and later became the VRA.
EG: About the establishment of VRA, what was the motivation?
EAKK: Nkrumah’s motivation for the establishment of VRA was mainly to produce electricity to support basic human services in Ghana and to help transform the economy as rapidly as possible from raw material and mineral producing economy to an industrial economy.
His interest was to secure a large power source to achieve his industrialization strategy. He envisaged that VRA would produce massive hydroelectric power from the Volta River for establishing aluminum smelter operations based on Ghanaian bauxite.
EG: Please elaborate further on the genesis of the project and establishment of VRA.
EAKK: Sir Albert Kitson, a British geologist identified large bauxite deposits at Nyinahin and on the Kwahu plateau. He discovered the Ajena gorge on the Volta River as a possible site to develop hydroelectric power which could be used to process alumina derived from Ghana’s bauxite into aluminum.
The Gold Coast and British governments and other international partners commissioned a British engineering consulting firm, Sir William Halcrow & Partners to study the feasibility of the proposed project.
Subsequently, a Preparatory Commission was set up by the British and Gold Coast governments to study not only the technical aspects but also the environmental and socio-economic impacts.
The Preparatory Commission report confirmed Ajena as a suitable site for a power plant. The report also emphasized the need to develop bauxite, alumina, and smelter operations to provide earnings to pay for the electricity to be generated from the hydroelectric power development which had escalated substantially.
Faced with the rising costs of hydropower and with Ghana’s independence on the horizon, the British Government and other partners lost interest, and their support for the project diminished.
Despite this, Nkrumah rather established a Volta River Project Secretariat (VRPS) out of the Development Commission to enhance the momentum of developing the project.
My colleagues and I at VRPS got immersed in a hectic gathering of information on local manpower resources which the project could draw upon. We provided the dam-site initial facilities and services in readiness for the start of work.
In the meantime, efforts to mobilize finances for the project were in progress. This was when, following an event of discrimination against Nkrumah’s Minister of Finance, Mr. K. A. Gbedemah, the interest of US President Eisenhower was aroused in the project.
This resulted in the appointment of a US company, Henry J. Kaiser Company to review the project components and reduce the overall costs to make the project attractive to investors.
A Kaiser Reassessment Report produced after six months of review re-sited the dam from Ajena to Akosombo, and shifted the smelter facility, which initially was at Kpong, to Tema, where Ghana had already started building a major port.
The bauxite and alumina components of the project were postponed to be undertaken in the future. This was to minimize the initial investment requirement.
Nkrumah was unhappy with the proposal to postpone the bauxite/alumina component. However, to get on immediately with the hydro project, he invited the Kaiser Corporation, to search for investors for the smelter.
In the process, Kaiser decided to invest in the smelter project by taking a 90% stake in a joint venture partnership with another US company, Reynolds Metals Ltd, to set up a Volta Aluminium Company (VALCo).
With a major off-taker secured for the electricity to be produced, preparatory work for the hydroelectric project was re-ignited at full steam and negotiations intensified with the World Bank and other financial institutions.
Drafting of various agreements and preparation of tender documents started. The Volta River Development Act, (Act 46 of 1961), was passed by Parliament to establish a Volta River Authority (VRA) which was mandated to generate, transmit and distribute electricity. VRA then took over the functions of the VRPS and its staff of which I was one.
EG: Let’s talk about your early days, journey to becoming the Chief Executive, and some achievements during the period
The VRA, upon its establishment, appointed Frank Dobson, a Construction Engineer from Ontario Hydro, as its first Chief Executive, to supervise the construction of the dam and power plant.
Ontario Hydro is a major hydroelectric institution in Canada. Kaiser Engineers and Constructors Inc., a subsidiary of the Kaiser Corporation, was appointed Consulting Engineer.
The Main Contractor was Impresit Girola Lodigiani and Recci (Impregilo), an Italian consortium, which had just completed the construction of the Kariba dam on the Zambezi River in Rhodesia.
A strong and effective collaboration was immediately established among the Contractor, Consultant, and the Authority. This enabled construction of the dam and power plant to take off immediately, proceed rapidly, and be completed a year ahead of schedule, saving 15% of project costs.
The government had the responsibility to compensate, evacuate, and resettle people to be flooded by Volta Lake. The Preparatory Commission had estimated a minimum of 4 years as necessary for the planning of the evacuation and resettlement program.
Yet by May 1963, with only 2½ years left for the reservoir to start filling up, no such program had been prepared. The Authority was concerned that a delay in implementing this program could disrupt the physical construction of the dam and power plant.
To avert this, the Chief Executive directed me to assume responsibility for the resettlement work. He pointed out that the country was investing a substantial amount in the Akosombo project.
Any delay in completing the project would lead to an escalation in construction costs, claims against the Authority, penalties for non-delivery of electricity to customers, and loss of substantial funds needed to meet debt service obligations.
In response to the Chief Executive’s concerns, I immediately set up a Working Party to design and coordinate a resettlement program for the expected flood victims.
I invited various government departments to play roles in planning and implementing the program of activities. Sociologists, architects, and planners, from the Faculty of Architecture and Planning from Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, were drawn upon to assist with their expertise in gathering information and in planning for the housing, settlement facilities, and farming practices for the people to be displaced.
The initial activity was to define the boundary of the reservoir to be formed by the 280-foot contour and to identify the area to be flooded. Some 740 villages were indexed, scattered in an area of 3,275 square miles, housing a population of about 80,000 in 14,700 households.
Many of these villages were difficult to access. The resettlement staff included social workers, agricultural and valuation officers, and physical and health planners. They organized public education programs, consulted the villagers on their preferred types of houses, and settlement sites, and proposed regrouping of villages, as well as arrangements for farming and compensation.
There was a severe shortage of time to undertake the necessary social and agricultural surveys and property valuations for use in planning. The resettlement team was therefore compelled to provide for the settlers, on their arrival in their new homes, only a minimum accommodation space in nuclear houses intended to be completed and improved later.
These houses did not reflect the occupancy of the houses in their old villages. In the settlement townships, some minimum facilities were provided like pathways to the sites, schools, public latrines, and small farming plots.
The resettlement planners wanted to take advantage of the opportunity offered by the project to improve the living standards and economic skills of the settlers. This explains why 52 semi-urban settlement towns were provided in place of the 740 villages. That attempt at modernization was partially successful.
But, concerning agriculture, it must be admitted that an effort to introduce improvements through mechanized farming in cooperatives and animal husbandry had failed.
Notwithstanding the care and prudence exhibited in undertaking the resettlement work, not everyone was satisfied with the outcome. A flood of complaints continues to be made up to today.
These relate to inadequate housing, poor arrangements for farming, and inadequate cash compensation. Other complaints relate to conflicts among traditional leaders grouped in the new settlements or conflicts between settlers and their hosts.
However, the resettlement team evacuated 80,000 affected people without social upheavals and especially without loss of lives. This was a significant accomplishment for which all groups which had contributed to the project should be congratulated.
By mid-1966, the dam construction had been completed, power was being generated and most of the people threatened by the flood had been evacuated.
In the words of my colleague, the late G. W. Amartefio Principal Welfare Officer of the Resettlement office, “It was far more difficult and delicate to handle resettlement of the people in the Volta basin than the construction of the dam at Akosombo,” – Volta Resettlement Experience – Champers.
VRA as an Operating Institution;
With the start of power generation, the organizational structure of VRA began to change from the construction mode to the operating mode. As part of this change, I was appointed Director of Finance in the middle of 1966.
Simultaneously, I was assigned oversight responsibility for non-power activities in general. These included resettlement, lake research studies, and the promotion of water transport.
Dr. E.L Quartey as Chief Executive;
It was also at this time that Dr. E.L Quartey was appointed Chief Executive, after the retirement of Mr. Frank Dobson. Dr. Quartey was at the time Chief Engineer of the Electricity Department of Ghana and had been a member of the VRA Board since its inception.
He was a strong personality who shaped and nurtured the Authority in its operational phase into a highly respected utility. He served for 14 years as Chief Executive during which period, his contribution to the Authority was outstanding.
On him fell the responsibility to pursue Nkrumah’s dream to use Volta power to improve the lives of Ghanaians and spur industrialization in the country. He defined the transmission and distribution systems of the country, expanded the Akosombo facility from 4 units to 6 units, extended supply to Togo and Benin, and set up interchange arrangements with Cote d’Ivoire.
Through persistent pressure, he succeeded in having the smelter adjust its purchase price for power from time to time. He started the construction of the Kpong hydroelectric dam.
In 1971, Dr. Quartey restructured the Authority into two branches: an Engineering and Power Operation branch and an Administration and Finance branch each under a Deputy Chief Executive.
I was appointed Deputy Chief Executive of the Administration and Finance branch. I still retained oversight responsibility for non-power activities namely; resettlement works, lake research studies, and water transport.
As an operating entity, the Authority acquired a reputation for efficiency, reliability, and effectiveness. It enjoyed a close relationship with many international financing agencies including the World Bank, European, American, Canadian, and Middle East agencies. They responded to the Authority’s approach to them for development support.
The following are some of the projects for which the Authority successfully mobilized financing from the agencies listed above during Dr. Quartey’s time in office: the Kpong Hydroelectric Dam of 160MW, the Transmission Line to Togo and Benin, and the Extension of the Power Line to Cote d’Ivoire.
Between October 1979 and September 1987, I played varying roles in the utility sector overseas. I consulted for the World Bank on water and electricity projects in the Western Africa Region. For the Commonwealth Secretariat, I provided technical assistance as Director, of System Operations, at the National Water Commission, Jamaica.
Managing Director, ECG;
I returned to Ghana on appointment as Managing Director of ECG and served until December 1990. At the ECG I led the improvement of the financial systems of the company by raising revenue collection, reducing line and commercial losses, and promoting a rural electrification program.
Chief Executive, VRA;
I was appointed Chief Executive of the VRA, on January 1, 1991. I served in this role till July 1998 when I became Chairman of the VRA Board. The position of Chairman of VRA had previously been held by Dr. Kwame Nkrumah himself when he was President of Ghana. I relinquished my formal relationship with VRA in 2001.
The Authority, under my leadership, persuaded the government and society to support the injection of thermal facilities into the generation mix of the country, and successfully mobilized financing and built its first major thermal plant of 330MW at Aboadze in the Western Region.
I also led efforts to attract the first-ever purely private power company, CMS Energy of Michigan-USA, to partner with VRA and invest their capital in expanding VRA’s thermal facilities to 550MW. This was 50% of the combined generating capacity of the Akosombo and Kpong dams. To achieve this level of success, the attributes required are hard work, probity, diligence, and respect for individuals whom one needs to relate with.
EG: What are your proudest moments and most pressing challenge encountered during the time of the establishment of the VRA and having to undertake the resettlement of the people around the Volta River?
EAKK: My proudest moment was when as Government Agent I brought down the Union Jack at Sogakope on 6th March 1957, to mark the end of colonial administration of this country and hoisted the newly minted flag of Ghana as a mark of our independence.
The first problem the Volta project encountered was a financing challenge. The external lenders, namely the World Bank, and the US and British governments, were willing to provide not more than half the investment funds needed to finance the cost of the Akosombo dam and the power plant.
This challenge was surmounted by the Ghana government providing budgetary resources to fill the gap. The second challenge occurred in 1963, halfway through the construction period. It was in the form of a massive flood, the highest in 46 years, which threatened to undo the progress achieved thus far and block the start of the lake fill in 1964, and frustrate production of the first power in 1965.
The situation was saved by intense collaboration between the contractor, the consultant, and VRA. The third challenge was the insufficient time we had to undertake the resettlement program, which perhaps, is the most intractable I faced. We had to accomplish 4 to 7 years of work in 2½ years.
EG: VRA’s work culture; how did you manage to create this state agency that has managed to survive several decades when its contemporaries are no longer in existence?
EAKK: With President Nkrumah as the Authority’s Chairman, VRA had protection from powerful political pressures. This created a culture of compliance and adherence to rules and professional, international, and local performance standards.
This culture has permeated the institution till now. Also, management and staff have been committed to the vision and mandate of the Authority and therefore exhibit positive attitudes in their dealings. VRA had Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) of the United States and Ontario Hydro of Canada as models to emulate.
These are highly acclaimed and well-run state-owned enterprises (SOEs) after which VRA tried to model its affairs. The culture of excellence exhibited by these two SOEs ran through VRA for years and we hope will continue.
The exposure of VRA staff to these two institutions and technical and managerial training acquired by attachments to these institutions have contributed to the survival of VRA under tough Ghana conditions.
EG: How do you see the future of VRA?
EAKK: The structure of the power sector has changed with the participation of Independent Power Producers and the introduction of key sector players like Energy Commission, GRIDCo, NEDCo, and Bui Power Authority, and with the drastic increase in demand for electricity over the years, I expect VRA to continue improving the operational and financial efficiency of its generating facilities.
I also expect VRA to continue to play a significant role in the West African regional market by continuing to supply electricity to Togo and Benin through Compagnie Electrique du Benin (CEB), Burkina Faso as well as through a vigorous interchange with Cote d’Ivoire.
For the future generation, VRA should continue its study of the country’s remaining hydro possibilities including mini hydro. In addition, it should take leadership in promoting the development of solar and wind energy in the country’s generation mix. Now relieved of some of its former responsibilities by IPPs, Bui Power, and Gridco, VRA should focus greater attention on its non
–power responsibilities under the VRA Act.
These will include matters related to Reservoir Lands, the rump of Resettlement issues, Lake Research Studies, Lake Health, and commercial development of Fisheries and Water Transport.
EG: Please tell us a bit about your family life.
EAKK: I am married to a nurse, now retired from the Nurses and Midwifery Council. I have 3 sons; one, however, is deceased. I have a closely knit relationship with my children, family, and a large number of friends and associates. I love to have my grandchildren around me to tell them about Ghana, my life, and work in VRA, ECG as well as overseas.
EG: What do you do in your leisure hours, do you enjoy any pastime?
EAKK: I used to play tennis during my active days. I still enjoy an occasional time at the gym. I read quite a bit. I read about economic developments within Ghana and other countries especially those in Africa.
I enjoy fiction as well as non-fiction by African writers. I also listen to the news on BBC and GhanaWeb. I enjoy classical music as well as African music. Among my favorite artists are Mariam Makeba, Bob Marley, Harry Belafonte, Fela Ransom-Kuti, Hesinor Akpalu, and Koo Nimo’s Guitar Music.
EG: After retiring from active service, what has been your motivation, what keeps you going?
EAKK: My motivation has been the continuous desire to be of service to my family, my community, and my country. I sometimes provide advisory services in the areas of energy and water resources development, the social and environmental impact of major projects, and public sector management.
EG: Thank you very much Mr. Kalitsi, for the time to speak to us.