Foreigners to take over indigenous Ghanaian businesses … Approximately 4,000 jobs on the line
THERE ARE strong indications of massive job cuts at the Tema Habour, following the signing of a 20year Build, Operate and Transfer (BOT) agreement between the Government of Ghana (GoG) and a foreign consortium, Meridian Port Services (MPS) for the latter to manage a Container Terminal at the Tema port.
Though Ports, Harbours and Railways Minister, Professor Christopher Ameyaw Akumfi would not confirm the take-over date, he has given a strong indication that the contract has been awarded.
In an interview with the paper, Prof. Akumfi said he has asked the Director-General of the Ghana Ports' and Harbours' Authority (GPHA), Mr. Ben Owusu Mensah not to give a definite date for the take-over until certain conditions were met by the consortium.
From indications, all appears to be set for the management contract to take-off by the middle or end of February 2007.
The deal is a management contract that entitles Meridian Port Services to manage the Container Terminals at the Tema Harbour under a 20year Build, Operate and Transfer (BOT) agreement.
Ordinarily, this may sound good in the ears of most Ghanaians but the other side of the deal smacks of fear of insecurity since several jobs would be on line in the process.
Consequently, indigenous stevedoring companies who were granted licenses by GPHA to carry out cargo handling operations within the ports of Ghana would lose their daily bread since their long expressed concerns have not paid off.
If statistics provided by reliable sources as representing the number of stevedoring companies and their staff are anything to go by, then, the impact of the signing of this management contract would be dire since it is estimated that 70% of all revenue would be lost and culminate in job losses in the maritime industry.
Rough estimates put the entire workforce of the Ghana Association of Stevedoring Companies (GASCO) at about 700 whilst they are the chief dock labour employers, employing labour from the pool of the Ghana Dock Labour Company made up of about 3,750 dockworkers.
This mathematically translates to mean that the lives of some over 4,000 dockworkers and their uncountable dependents are under threat as they are likely to bear the brunt of such moves.
This is what continues to pose lingering questions as to whether the interests of indigenous Ghanaians are protected in this era of the much-touted Golden Age of Business.
Despite assurances from the sector Minister, Prof. Ameyaw Akumfi to look into the concerns expressed so far by the stakeholders, the issue still remains outstanding after almost three years.
Nothing has also been heard from the Procurement Board which promised to investigate the 'strange' circumstances under which the project was awarded to the constituents of MPS since from all indications, it did not go through tender or international bidding processes as required by law.
A few years ago, management of the GPHA under the leadership of Mr. Ben Owusu Mensah granted licenses to Stevedoring companies to enable them carry out cargo handling services under several conditions; one was for each and every one of them to acquire various equipment including container handling machinery.
Under the circumstance, the companies had no option but to meet this and other demands.
Inspired by this, most of these companies contracted loans to purchase container-handling equipment, with the anticipation of recouping their huge investments from their operations to repay debts owed to financial institutions.
The Stevedoring companies are thus said to have collectively invested over US$30million in purchasing these equipment.
Having operated for less than five years, it is unlikely that most of these companies would have recouped their huge investments, let alone think about profit-making from the 'containerised cargo' system which constitutes at least 70% of all cargo traffic at the Port.
Out of this Stevedoring companies pay 25% of their total gross earnings to GPHA as royalties.
After these indigenous companies had made such heavy investments, GPHA informed the Stevedoring companies that MPS had been given the contract to manage the container terminal at the Tema port.
This implies that most of these companies are likely to fold up with the commencement of MPS's operations.
Since 2003-2005, Stevedoring companies have collectively paid over US$2.2million in corporate taxes and US$13.4million as royalties to government and GPHA respectively.
It would be recalled that some time ago, this paper reported that in June 2004, GASCO submitted an Expression of Interest to the sector Minister to participate in the operations of the container terminal with MPS, which was later referred to the GPHA.
The GPHA in turn wrote and requested a copy of GASCO's shareholder's agreement and to demonstrate how it intended to pay up US$8.1million representing 10% of the shareholding capital of MPS.
However, GASCO's response requesting for various documents and information to enable its financiers appraise the project and arrive at an informed decision to conclude financing arrangements was not honoured by the management of GPHA.
To date, it has received no response from either the GPHA or the Sector Minister relating to this Expression of Interest.
As matters got worse, the case was referred to the Ghana Maritime Authority (GMA) on November 22, 2004, which recommended in its report that the final proposal by the GPHA to give the Stevedoring companies a share in the MPS should be followed through and given the same conditions and opportunities as the present participants.
One of the underlying reasons for involving indigenes is to ensure that they invest in their own economy and grow their industry.
Some have thus asked where in this arrangement can Ghanaians grow their own port industry as their own business and acquire the needed skill to take over from the foreigners after the expiration of their contract in 20years time.