Pressure is being mounted on Harbours and Railways Minister, Professor Christopher Ameyaw Akumfi by dockworkers at the Tema port, following an announcement by the Ghana Ports and Habours Authority (GPHA) to stakeholders in the port industry that Messrs Meridian Port Services Limited (MPS), a foreign consortium, would commence operations at the country's only container terminal at the Tema port in a couple of days.
In the wake of this pronouncement, continuous fears have been expressed by dockworkers that the operations of the foreign consortium would exclude indigenous stevedoring companies from the container terminal.
Meanwhile, Professor Ameyaw Akumfi has assured the indigenous stevedoring companies and dockworkers that their plight was being attended to and that he is doing everything possible to include them in the operations at the port.
At the said meeting, the sector Minister is reported to have told the various management of the stevedoring companies that the issue was beyond his control, since, according to him, he joined the ministry at a time when the agreement had already been signed.
In a follow-up interview with the paper last Wednesday, he told this reporter that the issue is being resolved with the inclusion of all stakeholders.
As part of these efforts, he said, he met with the stevedoring companies on Tuesday and would possibly meet them today to finalise the arrangements for them to control a certain percentage of the contract.
At a meeting between stakeholders and MPS on Tuesday, January 30, 2007, where the latter made presentations to the stakeholders as to the scope of their business, it became apparent that the operations of MPS is nothing short of a takeover of the complete logistics chain at the Tema port.
Stakeholders, including stevedoring companies and freight forwarders are fearful of the demise of their businesses after the coming into operation of the signed contract, originally scheduled to take effect on February 17, 2007.
Credible information gathered by the paper indicates that Maersk and Bollore, the only shipping lines that are the majority shareholders in MPS have infiltrated into every aspect of the logistics chain, which smacks of monopolistic tendencies.
They are said to be performing roles as carriers of cargo, shipping agents, freight forwarders and haulers, an indication of a complete takeover to the exclusion of the indigenous businesses who carry out these services too.
For this reason, dockworkers have called on their various managements, seeking assurances of job security, which under the current and prevailing circumstance cannot be easily guaranteed.
These dockworkers have thus made a passionate appeal to the Sector Minister to intervene and protect the interests since most of them are likely to lose their sources of livelihood.
Speaking with the paper, most of these dockworkers sought to question why and how the most lucrative part of port operations, being container handling has been given to foreigners, with GPHA having a minority share despite having invested heavily in the development of the container terminal.
At the said meeting with MPS it became evident that even the portions, which the indigenous companies thought would be reserved for them could be operated by MPS as and when they want to.
Some shipping lines that are not a part of management of the container terminal have also expressed fears and misgivings about the nature and scope of MPS operations at port since under the current provisions they are expected to place their cargo in the hands of their competitors, Maersk and Bollore (SDV).
Though contemplating on their individual fates, a source close to these shipping lines hinted that they are afraid to come out for fear of being intimidated by the 'powers that be'.
A couple of these dockworkers who spoke to The Chronicle stated that even though there is a current global trend of containerisation, one would have expected that the Government of Ghana (GoG) would have included indigenous businesses in operations at the container terminal in an era touted as the 'golden age of business'.
They also seem to have lost confidence in the hierarchy of the Maritime and Dockworkers Union who they accuse of having failed to protect their interests by taking this matter up with government.
From indications, government has failed to protect the interest of these indigenous Ghanaians in this circumstance.
The workers have therefore given strong indications of continuous agitation until the whole issue of the 'strange' appointment of this consortium and its operations is revisited and reviewed.
This paper is closely monitoring the turn of events at the Tema port, which is the pulse of this economy and would keep readers informed as and when they unfold.
Meanwhile, the various stevedoring companies have made a passionate appeal to President Kufuor to use his office and influence to protect their interests as Ghanaians.