“Don't rule out sabotage” was the 'Daily Graphic' headline of March 31, 2005.
Fire had engulfed the Tema Harbour on Good Friday, destroying the entire Water Pumping Station of the Tema Oil Refinery (TOR), a refurbished conveyor belt of the Volta Aluminium Company (VALCO), two major office buildings and an ocean-going vessel, among other properties.
As Ghanaians woke up to the news, the sea had literally caught fire and was burning, oil spillage having laced the sea with a film of oil.
A ship was being welded not in the drydock but outside it, and the next thing, the sea was on fire, leading to the painful death of some 24 people.
Our combined Fire Brigades have been given thumbs up for a yeoman's job. Many thank God that it was a holiday and thus the usual human traffic at the port was down to a trickle. Others intimate how lucky Tema municipality was to have escaped annihilation if the fire had travelled to the nearby petroleum tanks and installations at the port and around.
An obviously confused Minister of Ports, Railways and Harbours, Professor Christopher Ameyaw-Ekumfi, hurriedly announced the establishment of an inter-Ministerial Committee to probe the accident.
After the initial fumes had cleared, the Government announced the establishment of a 7-member committee headed by Nana Owusu Nsiah, the immediate past IGP who only the day before had become jobless by effluxion of time.
They say it is an evil wind that blows no one any good, but out of the ashes of the burnt Tema Port, the former IGP picked up an instant appointment.
The Committee, which has two weeks to complete its work, was “directed to assess the extent of damage, examine the implications of the accident, submit recommendations for future guidance as well as investigate any other matter as it may deem fit”.
The Minister stated, “The Government and the people of Ghana deserve to be told the truth about the tragedy”.
He said there was the need to ascertain whether there were safety measures which were relaxed or whether the structural arrangements at the location were the best and how to avert a recurrence of the incident”.
Rather irritatingly, the Minister tasked the Committee in probing “not to discount the possibility of sabotage or negligence——”.
Surely in such an investigation, the Committee has an obligation to undertake a comprehensive investigation!
The Minister's injunction for the Committee not to rule out sabotage as captured in the 'Daily Graphic' headline “Don't rule out sabotage” is rather sinister.
Given the immediate events of the Monday meeting between the Government and organised labour; Tuesday's threats by organised labour and Wednesday's rebuttal by the Government, all on the vexed issue of the petroleum price increases, the Friday damage to the TOR equipment and structures among others may appear coincidental or strange.
The highlighting of the possibility of sabotage is provocative and fouls the already sensitive labour/political atmosphere in the country.
Is there a suggestion that some workers deliberately lowered the safety standards or caused this phenomenal damage?
The probe then has an omnibus clause to operate or investigate from. It would be prudent to leave them so empowered than to sow seeds of some “sabotage theory” in their minds ahead of the investigation.
Indeed the backlash theory of perceived sabotage that has gained currency in town is pointing accusing fingers at the NPP Government as having done it in a move to undercut sympathies for “Wahala” activities along the “Reichstag Fire” lines.
In the 1930s in Germany, a mysterious fire, which was largely suspected to have been started by Hitler's Nazi Party but which was blamed on a Communist loner, gutted the German Parliament (Reichstag). Hitler used the fire as a pretext to conjure the image of a Communist conspiracy, arrested all the leading Communists, and forced the hands of German President Hindenburg to call an election which brought the Nazi Party to power for the first time. The rise of the Nazi Party, the Second World War and all that followed is now history.
We do not believe that the NPP Government or Party could have been so wicked or irresponsible as to start the Tema Port fire, yet the truth is that such baseless claims of sabotage encouraged by officialdom have spawned several sabotage theories in return – the net effect is that the Government is reaping the whirlwind and is under suspicion of having arranged the fire.
Let the Committee be given a non-political stance and all it takes to get to the bottom of the matter. In that connection, we do not think that the two-week period given to the Committee is enough. We also do not think that the Committee as constituted is sufficiently competent to deal with the highly technical issues to be raised.
In any case, the human toll and tragedy will need to be dealt with more expeditiously. Now that the dead have been identified, a disaster relief approach of some cash and material support could be advanced to their families to await the long-term resolution of liability and insurance payments which may arise as a result of the complicated nature of the disaster, which involves various agencies, companies and establishments as well as local and international maritime law.
What the Committee should be wary of is not to permit itself to be drawn into existing labour problems or political/partisan outbursts intended for smear purposes, otherwise it will end up as worthless as some of the expensive Committees set up in the last four years under the NPP Government which have invariably ended up exonerating everybody or avoiding the real issues at stake or failed to identify the perpetrators of heinous crimes in the country. The Wuaku Commission into the Ya Na's murder and the ill-fated National Reconciliation Commission readily come to mind.
Let us see the former IGP re-don his uniform and resurrect his forensic knowledge to the service of the nation. The Government and its Ministers should leave the Committee alone. They should not seek to compromise its work with any suggestions of sabotage even before the Commission begins its work. Sabotage, by whom, and for what purpose?
We ask again: Sabotage? What sabotage?