Seaports constitute an important economic activity in coastal areas. Ports are also important to support economic activities in the hinterland, since they act as a crucial connection between sea and land transport. Also, as a supplier of jobs, ports do serve both economic and social functions.
For purposes of load carrying, sea transport is the cheapest and most effective transport system, compared to other systems.
Since most industries require safe and cheap means of exporting finished goods and importing raw materials, sea transport has become a major asset to countries that are blessed with coastlines.
Because of this, Ghana has spared no effort to develop its two seaports in Tema and Takoradi which have been used by many landlocked countries in the West African sub-region and helped raise revenue for the state.
The two ports are critical to Ghana’s economy in terms of revenue generation.
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In the light of this, recent happenings at the Tema Port regarding the concession agreement for the development of the new semi-automated terminal by Meridian Port Services (MPS) raise some issues that need to be tackled judiciously.
According to an inter-ministerial committee report issued in March 2018, the 35-year concession agreement bars the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority (GPHA) from operating at the existing MPS Terminal Two for containerised cargo business.
Similarly, issues of the retention of port dues and the determination of tariffs by MPS have seen the Trades Union Congress (TUC), the Maritime and Dockworkers Union (MDU) and civil society organisations urge the government to review the agreement to protect investments of the port authority and jobs within the sector.
Workers of the GPHA, on April 23, 2019, launched a 21-day protest, dubbed: “GPHA Goes Red”, during which the leadership of the workers union, in collaboration with the MDU, brought pressure on the government to address the issues.
Already, the GPHA has projected that some 1,400 of its permanent employees in Tema and Takoradi will be laid off if the new terminal becomes operational by July 1 and the agreement in its present form is made to stay.
Although MPS has assured GPHA workers that there will be no job losses, there is still doubt in the minds of many as to whether the workers and, indeed, the state stand to benefit.
The concerns of GPHA workers and the TUC about job losses are germain, given the uncertainty on the job market and previous experiences with private participation in state organisations.
The Daily Graphic is consoled by the assurance given by the Chief Executive Officer of MPS that rather than the fear of losing their jobs, the workers should look forward to more jobs, in view of the fact that MPS will run a 24-hour service and, therefore, require more hands to operate effectively.
We look forward to the implementation of the agreement and hope that MPS will go by its word to keep all the workers of GPHA, since it is one of the major concerns of organised labour and civil society.
It is significant that, in the attempt to ensure equity for all parties, the impression is not created that investors will not be treated well, especially at a time when the country is scouting for partners in its quest to improve conditions of living in the country. That will serve as a disincentive for any potential investor.
We are aware that discussions are ongoing to smoothen all the rough edges to enable the new agreement to be implemented and we urge all parties involved to let cool heads prevail to ensure that the implementation of the agreement will be smooth and no party will feel short-changed.