03.05.2005 Business & Finance

Govt To Own 20% Shares In United Rail

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THE government of Ghana will own 20 per cent shares in United Rail Ghana if the negotiations with the company to rehabilitate and manage the railway sector succeed.

The move is aimed at giving the government a say in the management of the company.

A source close to the negotiating team said in an interview that "the shares will be 'free shares', which means that the government will not have to make any financial commitments".

It said the government's request to own shares in the company was agreed upon before the second round of talks between the two parties was suspended after last Friday's meeting for another three weeks.

The source said the government team also managed to get the company to agree to a review of its investment plan.

To this end, the company will, within the first three years of its operations, get all the three major railway lines, namely, the eastern, western and Accra/Tema, to be in operation.

According to the source, this amounted to a major breakthrough in the negotiations.

The Minister of Harbours and Railways, Professor Christopher Ameyaw-Akumfi, in an interview, confirmed the outcome of the negotiations so far and indicated that "we have made significant progress in the talks and we believe that it is in the interest of the country”.

"Owning shares in the company was a very crucial and important decision the government had to make so that it can have a say in the management of an important national asset," he said.

On the investment plan for the company, he said its initial programme was to get the three major lines revived between eight and 10 years but "we felt that getting the rail sector back on track was a matter of urgency, hence the request for a review which they have gracefully complied with".

Professor Ameyaw-Akumfi said as part of the rehabilitation of the rail sector, all the coaches would be refurbished.

He said it was the responsibility of the government of Ghana to take up the payment of the severance awards of the workers who number up to about 3,600.

Professor Ameyaw-Akumfi said more than 2,000 of the workers would be re-engaged when the company takes over the GRC.

He said one of the reasons for the suspension of the talks was for the government to sit with the union of the GRC to discuss a wide range of issues concerning the company and workers.

"This is crucial because we need not leave out the union in that kind of arrangements," he said.

Explaining a point about the reasons for the postponement of the talks, he said issues such as the revenue generation from the projects on bauxite and manganese would have to be properly computed and indicated that during "during the break shall look into all that while we factor in the Kyebi bauxite project while cocoa, timber and the carting of cement will play a minimal role".

Professor Ameyaw-Akumfi said "there was the need to get a confirmation from the operators in those areas". He gave the assurance that the government had taken note of all the concerns raised by the public and media, and was thoroughly dealing with them as probing questions were being asked.

Professor Ameyaw-Akumfi stated that considering the huge amount of money required, the government team was also finding out how liquid the company was before the nod was given.

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