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General News Fri, 27 Feb 2004

Malian transport cartel`s greed; PSI on Salt In trouble

Salt exporters from Ghana to some ECOWAS countries have raised concern about the arbitrary increases in transport cost by some truck owners. They are calling on the government to set up a board to investigate as well as remedy the situation before it gets out of hand. The sub-regional salt export business, they say could be sabotaged completely if the government fails to act to restore discipline.

The truck owners, mostly from Ghana's ECOWAS neighbour of Mali are alleged to have been unilaterally increasing the transportation cost without any justifiable basis like increase in fuel prices.

The latest increase was introduced by the Malians last two weeks from 24 to 26 million cedis per truck load using the budget recently approved by the parliament as an excuse, although there has not been an increase in fuel prices.

One of the aggrieved salt exporters in an interview with the ADM said the truck owners "were taking 24 million cedis for a trip to Niger throughout last year.

Before then, they were taking 17 million cedis per trip and this moved to the 24 million cedis we know during the last fuel increase. For that increase we understood them but what they are trying to put across now is daylight robbery, since there hasn't been any increase in petroleum prices."

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Another exporter who sad he paid for a trailer to convey his salt to Niger since August last year but only got one this month, said the truck owners are not to blame. He said the non-existence of a body to monitor the activities of the transportation of salt to neighbouring countries allows for the free-for-all. He explained that as far as there is no body to monitor them and regulate prices, the truck owners control their own prices and can abuse this freedom anyhow they like.

"To add insult to injury, we have to chase them for their trailers after fully paying them. I see if there is a government-appointed body controlling them, they just can't stand up and do whatever they like.

I wonder what the Golden Age of Business means as we continue with all these frustrations." But another exporter sees it from a different angle. According to this exporter the truck owners can do whatever they like because they are united. "We can oppose their decisions only if we also come together."

He said while some of them (exporters) refuse to succumb, others have already started paying the new price apparently to win the truck owners' favour.

Some of the exporters were even reluctant to speak to the ADM fearing that the truck owners may deny giving them trucks in the future when they get to know that they (exporters) revealed the new price increase to press men.

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In an interview with the ADM, a truck owners Alhaji Habibou feigned innocence and said prices are determined by their executives, Ghana Haulage Trucks and Drivers Union at Tema. He modified this by stating that the transport cost of salt varies depending on the availability of the trailers.

ADM enquiries at the offices of the union he mentioned in Tema revealed that they (union) deal with only goods from the harbour but not salt as alleged.

Alhaji Joni, another truck owner stated in an interview with the ADM that he did not team up with anyone to increase the price and does not force anyone to accept his prices. "You accept it if you like it" he said. He even threatened to prevent his vehicles from transporting salt should that be the case.

According to him, they are doing the salt exporters "great favours" because there are harbour goods at better prices than the 26 million cedis they earn for transporting a truck load of salt across the border. "Even the harbour goods do not damage our vehicles as the salt does so if they feel we are cheating them, that's fair enough for I am ever ready to suspend my trucks from loading salt" he threatened.

Mr. Leon Appenteng, Managing Director of Panbros Salt Industry, one of the country's biggest salt producing companies expressed dissatisfaction about the recent increase by the truck owners, talking from the point of view of the salt buyers.

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He said even if the local price of salt is competitive but the transport and freight charges go up, the delivery price also goes up which indirectly affects the company's sales. He hoped the situation would remedied somehow.

Alhaji Yusif Adams a former chairman of the now defunct Progressive Transporters Union said the problem surfaced in 1996 when some exporters started directly approaching truck owners for transport instead of the Union.

"Formerly when the Union was active, we arranged for the exporters transport. When there is an increase in fuel prices, the Union assembles both the exporters and truck owners to deliberate on new prices which are done orderly amidst understanding from both sides. The Union then approves of it.

But things took a different turn when some of the exporters apparently not satisfied with us (Union) started engaging directly with the owners. They no longer approached us and this led to the breakdown of the Union" he said.

He said unless there is an authority to control them, the truck owners would continue to increase the prices anytime and anyhow they like. He predicted that the price is likely to go up to 30 million cedis within the next three months if no action is taken.

There is also a political dimension to it. ADM has en informed that the Malians say the NDC is their party and would therefore take deliberate action t would make the NPP government unpopular. According to an exporter who pleaded anonymity, the Malians have often openly boasted that they can bring NPP government down.

The salt industry is vital to Ghana's economy. The President sees it as a strategic industry and has added it to his Special Initiatives.

A subset of the industry is the crucial transportation sector which cannot be left unregulated.

Source: ADM