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Business News Tue, 30 Apr 2019

Who laughs last as MPS and Labour tango over Tema Port expansion project concession?

Huge gantry cranes, and reclaimed sea land greet the eye as one approaches Tema Community three flats from the Sakumono titanic beach where revelers florick and swim in its warm sea waters.

At the right side of the community traffic lights, which is the western side of the Tema Harbour, is the project office of the Meridian Ports Services (MPS) for the Tema Port expansion being executed at a cost of 1.5 billion US Dollars.

The project received its second batch of gantry cranes following a purchase agreement signed in August 2017, between Shanghai Shenhua Heavy Industry Co. and MPS for a total of 27 of the cranes. This was followed by the training of operators, integrated testing with an expected four weeks intensified simulation and training for the first phase of the project to which will be fully operational in June, 2019.

But the project also came at a cost to Ghana's cultural heritage and Ga spirituality and may as well bring about labour agitations to protect the workers of Ghana Ports and Harbour Authority.

As I often drive through that area, I cannot forget those relaxation periods I had at the Ave Maria Resort and Wellness Centre which was flattened to make way for the port expansion. Operators of the resort in 2014, built a $200,000 first canopy walkway in Africa over the sea to attract tourist.

The resort, which once hosted Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of England, during her visit to Ghana in 1962 and was also patronized by Dr Kwame Nkrumah in the 1960s, was built in the early 1950s by Sir W. Halcrow, a consultant assigned to the construction of the Tema Harbour hence the originally name of resort, Halcrow Beach club.

It is not only the resort which was cleared to make way for the MPS Port Expansion project (Terminal three), the Meridian Rock, which had some spiritual and historical significance to the Ga heritage, and located some few metres into the sea away from the Resort was also moved, it is still not clear whether it was moved to another location along the coast or was blasted to make way for the reclamation.

The Meridian rock, is believed to be located on the Greenwich Meridian, which is the world’s prime meridian for Longitude and Time. It is said to symbolize that Tema is right at the centre of the world, something the indigenes had wanted developed to attract tourists to it.

The Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority (GPHA) signed an agreement with the MPS in June 2015 for the later to execute the Tema Port Expansion project which is expected to be completed within three years with construction of a new 3.85km breakwater within a dredged port access channel of 19m deep and 250m wide, a reclaimed sea land of 120 hectors and a new 1.4km quay for four container berths with 16m draft.

The concession agreement, which is for a period of 35 years, is expected to increase Ghana’s maritime trade as it would be able to handle post-panamax vessels. The project is also to see the upgrade of the Tema motorway into six lanes with slip roads, while the Community Three Sakumono road is also receiving a face lift.

As the expansion project move sturdily within schedule, The Tema District Council of Labour (TDCL), staff and the Maritime and Dock Workers Union are hoisting red flags and raising concerns over the concession.

Members of the TDCL had issued a two weeks ultimatum to government to implement recommendations of a committee set up by the Economic Management Team on the instructions of Vice President Dr Mahamudu Bawumia to review the concession, the shareholding agreement and structure of Meridian Port Services (MPS), the International Finance Corporation (IFC) loan and related agreements on the Tema Port Expansion Project.

The labour unions promised a series of actions to drum home their request to review unfavourable clauses of the concession which is said to give monopoly operations to the MPS and would lead to massive job loss of over 17,000 at the Tema Port.

As the time ticks towards the June operationalization of the Terminal three, workers have become apprehensive and they have vowed not to sit with folded arms and watch their daily bread snatched from their hands. They started a red attire protest on April 23 followed with a petition presented to the Acting Director General of the GPHA. What will be the next action of labour against the current concessional agreement between GPHA and MPS?

A letter from the TDCL to the Minister of Employment and Labour Relations dated April 15, 2019 read in part “The TDCL wish to register our displeasure to the concession agreement GPHA and MPS limited due to the numerous flaws in the agreement which are worker unfriendly, detrimental to GPHA, the stevedore companies, inland container depots (ICDs), the shore handling companies, the transport haulage companies among various others”.

“It came to light that GPHA decided to expand and upgrade the Port of Tema by building a new Terminal (Terminal 3), GPHA then commenced by administering an international Procurement Process to that effect. This procurement process was terminated by a Presidential fiat and the project handed over to MPS (who never showed any interest since GPHA started administering an international procurement process to build a terminal) on a silver platter”.

According to the Council, because MPS had the project on silver platter without sweat, “The concession agreement produced is made up of flaws, WINNER TAKES ALL, MONOPPOLY in nature without considering what happens or the damaging effect on the various stakeholders within the Maritime Industry”.

“This is the more reason why we are demanding that: the concession agreement must be reviewed let alone going into the nitty-gritty of it”, adding that if not reviewed, it would result in the GPHA, ICDs, Stevedore Companies, Labour Supply Companies having idle labour, idle equipment, idle space, and less revenue to pay salaries and other staff remuneration, service existing loans, develop port infrastructure.”

Some of the flaws they pointed out in the concession are clause 3.2 which indicated that GPHA could not handle vessels carrying more than 200 containers as any ship loaded with that quantity of containers would go to the terminal three of MPS.

Also, GPHA under the concession was expected to pay MPS 30 per cent of its proceeds from containers it would handle at the terminal MPS is currently operating from.

They added that MPS under the contract would not pay any royalties to the GPHA for the terminal three even though it would handle almost all the containers that visit the Tema Port.

The Ministerial Review Committee charged to look into the concession agreement, which was headed by Mr Daniel Nii Kwatei Titus Glover, in its report called for the review of parts of the concessions as it indicated that government must not implement the agreement in its current form.

The report issued in February states: “The Committee in Surmary recommended that all the agreements, waivers of taxes and related protocols must be substantially reviewed”.

It added that, “In essence, the GPHA-MPH / MPS engagements, if left to continue in its current forms, are gravely detrimental to the Government and People of Ghana by virtue of the financial implications, concessions, loss of jobs, lack of transparency and ethical discipline of international partners and the threat of a monopolistic control of Ghana’s main international trade cluster – The Port of Tema.

“Considering that GPHA was administering an international procurement process to expand and upgrade the Port of Tema which was terminated and the Project handed over to MPS/MPH, there is no doubt that the MPS engagement has to be renegotiated completely. The recommended renegotiation should aim at achieving, at the least, the intended development goals under the Port Master Plan as was being procured by GPHA, and to ensure corporate growth”.

Based on the recommendations of the Ministerial Committee’s recommendations, it is only proper that workers demand the review to ensure that unemployment would not be increased in the country. Revenue from the Port must also be safeguarded to ensure that the Ghana Revenue Authority rake in enough to cushion government in providing the needed development to the people of Ghana.

Media reports indicate that management of MPS has rejected call for a review of the contract, saying it amounted to “interference in investments”. Mr Mohammed Samara, its Chief Executive Officer is said to have stated the people making such demand, “want to disrupt development and progress”.

In all these whirlwind of thoughts, words and deeds, one question is key: who will carry the day and have the last laugh, is it Mr Samara and his MPS team, or the GPHA workers, labour unions and other stakeholders who are not enthused about what awaits the Port come June 2019.

One thing I know for sure is that the TDCL and labour unions would not rest on their oars just because the Committee was in agreement with them for a review of the agreement. They will continue to push and push using all possible means to rectify the flaws. They have done it on several occasions on piercing issues such as the move to sell the ADB bank in 2007.

The government and Ministry of Employment and Labour Relations must act fast to prevent throwing Tema, the harbour city, which is also the industrial hub of Ghana, into turbulence. Let us endeavour to keep the peaceful harmonious work environment in the area to boost businesses and co-existence between government and labour.

Source: Ghananewsagency.org