The major doorway to any world of international business and commerce is the harbour and port. Through them cargoes and travellers are brought in from one part of the globe to the other.
A harbour is any sheltered body of water where boats or ships may moor or anchor and a port is an installation that has been built around a harbour with facilities to load and unload vessels.
The economy of this country since colonial times has been centred on the two main harbours in Takoradi and Tema.
During the colonial period, the country began to develop economically with the construction of roads, railways which led to the construction of the Takoradi Harbour in 1928.
During those years most of the country's exports such as cocoa, timber and other minerals were exported through the Takoradi Harbour.
With the construction of the Akosombo Dam it was concluded that what was needed was a port to serve Accra and the east, in addition to the expanded port facilities at Takoradi. By 1962 a new port - The Tema Harbour had been built to serve that purpose.
These two ports continue to play significant roles not only in the economy of Ghana but in other landlocked countries around the country. Both ports for example serve countries such as Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger.
The administration of the two ports which is under one umbrella, the Ghana Harbours and Ports Authority (GHPA) has made remarkable improvement since their rehabilitation in 1990.
In the 1970s, the total throughput handled was around 5.5 million tonnes of cargo but with poor conditions and the fast deterioration of the facilities at the ports, total throughput nose dived to around 2.4 million tonnes by the close of 1983.
With a new lease of life for the two ports, these ports have now become the gateways to international trade, as over 85 per cent of the country's trade passes through the sea ports.
According to the July 1992 edition of 'Sea-Trade Review', the Tema Port now turns vessels around at a productivity rate equal to those of major European Ports while the Naval Delmas Afrique said “Tema Port is the number one in Africa as far as performance on our vessels in Africa is concerned”.
These two ports are geared towards achieving the government's goal of making the ports the gateway to the sub-region as the ports continued to handle goods destined for landlocked countries such as Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger despite the fact that they have to compete with the ports in Lome, Abidjan, Cotonou and Dakar.
According to available statistics at the Tema Port, transit traffic to Burkina Faso rose from 1,415 tonnes in 1997 to 490,808 tonnes at the end of 2007 and was projected to hit the 600,000 tonnes by the end of this year.
That of Mali grew fromm 256 tonnes in 2000 to 236,744 tonnes in 2006 and that is also projected to grow to 362,181 tonnes by the end of this year, while that of Niger grew from 7,033 tonnes in 1997 to 140,000 tonnes in 2006 with a projected growth of 132,311 tonnes by the end of this year.
Transit traffic at Takoradi Port to these landlocked countries have equally been impressive. At the end of 2006 total transit traffic to Burkina Faso stood at 51,904 tonnes with 61,133 tonnes projected at the end of 2007.
That of Mali stood at 33,935 tonnes with 48,258 projected at the end of 2007. Transit traffic for Niger is projected to hit 93,330 tonnes at the end of December 2007, from the 2006 figure of 88,258 tonnes.
To meet the complex challenges in the administration of the ports, the GHPA has completed the container devanning facility constructed and equipped at a cost of $15.5 million to serve the needs of importers.
This is to creat additional back-up space for the Tema Port and to help ease the pressure on container storage space.
Privatisation of certain aspects of the ports operations is expected to transform the GHPA into a landlord port authority whose objectives would be to harness private capital and the know-how to improve port operations and accelerate port development.
After nearly 20 years of operations, the GHPA must be seen to be playing a more effective and efficient role in the country's port administration in order to make the country a true gateway to the sub region.