The former Minister of Ports, Harbours and Railways, Professor Christopher Ameyaw Akumfi, has appealed to President John Atta Mills to urgently address issues affecting the railways sector, which is almost on the brink of collapse.
According to the former Minister, a critical area, which needed the immediate attention of the President, was the workers' conditions of service, which has always been a problem to government of the day, considering the sector's unproductive operations.
“The labour issue for railways workers is an area that the President would have to look at almost immediately. They are looking for a review of their conditions of service, and this is an area which needs urgent attention, aside from the development programmes,” he noted.
Professor Akumfi made this passionate appeal to the President, in an exclusive interview with the paper at his residence in Accra recently.
The railways sector has for the past three decades not witnessed any improvement in its operations. Since its assets were transferred from the Ghana Railway Corporation to that of Ghana Railway Company Limited, a public sector organisation, no serious investor has come forward to partner with government to give it a facelift.
The company has always survived on its mineral freight from the mining companies that plies its Western Rail Line, with little support from government treasury for its budget. Spoornet of South Africa had shown interest back in 2003, but did not turn up at a proposed meeting with government officials, and nothing has since been heard from them.
Since then, a number of other groups, including Kampac Oil ME, a Dubai-based oil firm, showed interest, but were not successful in securing funds from the various banks in the country, after an initial attempt at a Swiss bank failed.
Their inability to source for funds for the Western Rail Line resulted in the termination of a US$1.6 billion concession agreement with the Ghana Railways Company.
However, there are a few other companies on the sidelines, but all of them seemed to lack the financial backing to be able to make a firm proposal. A feasibility study contract has been awarded to a Chinese firm that is currently working on the Western Rail Line.
The inability of the railways sector to function properly has left so many debts on the government, which are yet to be cleared.
“The railways sector has always been in debt. It owes almost everybody; the banks, Social Security and National Insurance Trust (SSNIT), Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and many more,” Professor Akumfi stated.
Prof. Akumfi said several attempts were made by his ministry to clear some arrears of the current workers, including some of the retrenched workers whose end of service benefits were not paid some several years ago, adding, “A lot is still outstanding.”
Inspite of the progress made in the release of compensation to the retrenched workers and the current staff of the company, Christopher Ameyaw Akumfi expressed worry over the fragile state of the company, and therefore wondered how the company would be able to pay its staff for the month of January, this year.
Prof. Akumfi reiterated that the major challenge faced by the railways sector was funding and partnership, and therefore encouraged investors to show an interest in the sector, since there were a lot of potentials to be realised.