Current agitations and the prevailing circumstances at the Tema Port has compelled the suspension of the 20-year Build, Operate and Transfer (BOT) management contract between the Government of Ghana (GoG) through its representatives, the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority (GPHA) and a foreign consortium, sources close to the Sector Minister have disclosed.
This follows a series of mass agitations and protestations by key stakeholders in the maritime industry, including the various stevedoring companies and aggrieved dockworkers whose only source of livelihood appears to be at stake.
According to the sources, the suspension move is to enable government allocate a certain percentage (about 10%) of the contract to these indigenous companies.
The suspension, according to the source, would last until all outstanding issues on the contract are permanently resolved, possibly with the inclusion of indigenous Ghanaian businesses.
From the very first day that government made clear its intentions to award the management of the container terminal on contract to a foreign consortium, Meridian Port Services (MPS), these stevedoring companies and the majority of the 4,000 or so dockworkers have expressed fear of their exclusion.
Considering the fact that it is their only livelihood, they have brought mounting pressure to bear on government and the sector minister, Professor Christopher Ameyaw Akumfi to make amends, by reviewing and considering their inclusion in the contract.
Last week, the Minister gave strong indications of including local businesses in the contract.
This was after having a series of meetings with stakeholders in the maritime industry who have been protesting against the complete takeover of the management of the container terminal.
In the course of the week, Prof. Ameyaw Akumfi told this reporter in a telephone interview that the issue was being resolved and that all efforts were being made to include the aggrieved party.
For this reason, he said the contract would be put on hold to enable government consider the plight of indigenous Ghanaians whose interests must be protected in any circumstance.
He again told the paper that he had personally asked that the contract be put on hold because certain conditions of the agreement had not been met by MPS. Therefore he had instructed the Director General of GPHA, Mr Ben Owusu Mensah not to give a firm date for the takeover until all outstanding issues are resolved.
The contract gives Messrs Meridian Port Services (MPS) the sole right to manage the container terminal at the Tema Port over a period of 20years after which it would hand it over to the GPHA.
Under the terms of the joint-venture agreement to the container terminal, GPHA has 30% shareholding while the consortium controls 70%.
The GPHA invested $60million in the Phase I of the said container terminal project, while Phase II is earmarked for a $35million investment (included in a total investment of $56million), which is expected to be undertaken by the consortium, as the 70% shareholder.
Concerns have also been expressed on issues of national security, taking into account the fact that the players of this consortium have exclusive control over cargo from the ports of loading to our port, with additional exclusivity at the container terminal.
In the instance, it stressed that constituents like AP Moller (Maesrk) and SDV, who are now actively involved in door-to-door delivery, would have, from port of origin to the final delivery point in Ghana, exclusive control of cargo, especially when they are currently doing their own customs-clearing in Tema.
It is the belief of most of the stakeholders that even though ports today play a more pronounced commercial role, their strategic importance as a security protected area should not be underplayed and expressed worry that granting management control of this strategic national asset to foreign entities, potentially compromises security.
Furthermore, it is said that Ghanaians have a collective and vested interest in our ports because they have the pulse of our economy and therefore whoever controls them can pre-determine the direction of our economy.
In the light of these, it has been argued that the operation of the container terminal by foreigners to the exclusion of indigenous stakeholders will have adverse consequences for indigenous investors in the maritime community, as well as the nation as a whole.