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13.11.2005 General News

Akumfi Denies Sellout Charge

By Chronicle
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The Minister of Ports, Harbours and Railways, Professor Christopher Ameyaw Akumfi, has finally broken his silence on the controversy surrounding the award of a 20-year Build, Operate and Transfer (BOT) lease agreement between the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority (GPHA) and a wholly foreign consortium, which had sparked fear of a sellout.
He has not only denied but also denounced the notion that the GPHA's control of a 30% share in the agreement contract meant a sellout of the management of the container terminal.
According to him, though the foreign consortium controls 70% shares in the agreement, it does not necessarily make it the owner and controller of the port, since the GHPA has a golden share, which puts the nation and the agreement in a safe mode, and therefore "there was no cause for alarm."
Speaking with newsmen at the 'Meet the Press' series in Accra on Monday this week, the minister expressed surprise at the extent to which the whole agreement had been rubbished in certain quarters.
He explained that initially four groups expressed interest in investing in the container terminal, but since the port was gradually becoming congested, government could not but ask the four companies to form a consortium with the expected resources to take over the contract, saying that indigenous investors were given equal opportunity to set up a consortium for participation in the deal.
According to him, since government was well aware of the foreign companies' capabilities and credentials in the industry, there was no doubt the consortium could do the work better as expected, hence their being awarded the lease agreement for a period of 20 years.
Professor Akumfi, however, noted that after waiting for a long time, the indigenous investors did not show up and he could not wait any longer than to go on with the signing of the agreement with the foreign consortium.
He therefore noted that it would be wrong and out of place for any body to say that indigenous businesses were not given an equal opportunity to participate in the deal.
According to the minister, since it is a Build, Operate and Transfer lease agreement, government could take back management of the container terminal after the 20years had elapsed if need be.
However, he indicated that government has plans to increase participation in the deal to enable local investors to invest in the consortium.
The minister further indicated that government is also taking a second look at the agreement to allay the fears of all stakeholders in the industry, saying that it would not in any way sell out the facility, which is a strategic national asset to any foreign investor, no matter the level of investment.
A couple of months ago, the Ghana Association of Stevedore Companies (GASCO) raised concerns and doubts about the award of the management of the container terminal to a foreign consortium.
According to them, it had serious issues of national security and also smacked of a sell- out, considering the meager shares controlled by the GPHA.
After several complaints, GASCO resolved to petition parliament and the Procurement Board, which both instituted investigations into the concerns raised. Up till date, nothing concrete has come out, as both bodies had not come out with their findings, only to hear the minister at the press conference say that GASCO's petition to the board had been thrown out since it had no merit whatsoever.
This, indeed, has baffled port watchers, since the same minister has admitted a parliamentary committee was investigating the concerns raised by the stevedores and would soon present its report to the house.
"How then does the same minister say that the Procurement Board threw out the petition of the stevedores for lack of merit or basis as he sought to indicate?" A watcher asked.

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