Ghana's dream of serving as a Gateway to the sub-regional trade may soon be likened to biblical Moses leading the oppressed to Canaan. The landlocked countries that the corridor was opened for, want to back out and renew marriage to former allies, namely the Ivory Coast, Togo and Benin.This threat came as a result of the Customs, Excise and Preventive Service (CEPS) introduction of new escort fees, which they view as more of exploitation than business-like. As a sign of their intention, vessels carrying transit cargoes for Ghana have been directed to berth at the Togolese port of Lome.
By a letter reference H/TRANS/I dated March 18, 2002 and signed by the Commissioner of CEPS, Isaac K. Opoku-Ntiamoah, captioned Commissioner's Order No.6 of 2002 Transit and Escort Fees, the CEPS released what the landlocked countries considered too harsh.
According to the letter following the coming into effect of CEPS Management Amendment Act, 2002 the attention of officers is hereby drawn to the transit and escort fees prescribed there under. Henceforth transit fees of the equivalent in cedis of 200 US dollars shall be paid to the Commissioner for each consignment in transit through Ghana.
Also escort fees shall be paid at a daily rate, the equivalent in cedis of 65 US dollars per escort to the Commissioner for goods entered for transshipment or in transit through Ghana.
However, like in any of the neighbouring francophone countries, goods from the landlocked countries entered for transshipment or transit through the Ports of Tema, Takoradi and Kotoka International Airport (KIA), will be exempted from payment of the transit fees.
The landlocked countries, Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali, whose cargo through Ghana's ports between 1997 and 2000 was about 500,000 metric tones at introductory stage, in 2001, had a fantastic business especially as indicated by the Port of Tema. Representatives of these countries the Chronicle spoke to did not conceal the fact that Ghana spent and continues to spend several thousands of dollars campaigning in their countries to woo them from fellow francophone countries only to be stabbed in the thigh.
At the moment, they said, the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority (GPHA) is running adverts on both radio and television stations in these countries, still saying that the Ghanaian ports are better. The escort fee charged in Togo is $6.00 per officer for a day whereas Ghana is charging $65.00 for the same description.
According to their representative, who spoke under strict anonymity, before the introduction of the new escort fees CEPS officers on escort duties bargain with agents and sometimes after extorting huge sums of monies from them vanish, locking up their cargoes. Now that they are paying $65.00 to the Commissioner, officers undertaking the trip continue to demand pocket monies from agents before embarking on trips.
He said that Ghana stands advantageous, considering the distance between Ouagadougou and Tema, which is 980 km. Lome to Ouagadougou is 1,100 km, whereas Abidjan ranks the most distant, a 1,350 km journey.
They suggested that apart from bonds that are paid which alone can police the goods to the Ghanaian border towns up north, certain days in the week can be set aside for movement of transit cargoes. This, if implemented, will reduce the risk of officers sitting on some of the trucks and reduce the number of personnel making the trip, as vehicles will be in a convoy.
The CEPS officials will only be in their escort vehicles to monitor the convoy to ensure that no diversion takes place within Ghana. The above suggestion was because on a few occasions, escorting officers got injured in accidents while on the trucks.
Official sources at the GPHA registered their anger at the poor treatment meted out to port users from the landlocked countries. Ironically, at the period emissaries were sent to these countries to canvas for the use of our ports, CEPS attitude is rather retarding any effort they make.
Chronicle’s investigations at the Port of Tema revealed that as at Wednesday evening, close to 250 trucks from these countries have been loaded and parked since Monday, last week when the new order was enforced. The importers say they cannot pay the exorbitant fee and even though some paid and left, the message left behind is that they are no more coming down to our ports, hence the diversion to Lome.