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'Used fridges' still flood market 14 years after ban

BY: Maclean Kwofi
Some of the used refrigerators at Tema Habour
Some of the used refrigerators at Tema Habour

Some importers are still using fraudulent means to ship used refrigerators and accessories into the country’s market.

In spite of the Energy Efficiency Regulations, 2008 (LI, 1932), which placed a ban on the importation or sale (distribution) of used refrigerators, air-conditioners and incandescent filament lamps, Daily Graphic’s investigation has revealed that the banned refrigeration appliances are still being smuggled into the market.

High demand

The fraudulent activities, which take place sometimes under the nose of law enforcers, have generally been sustained by the high demand and quick returns (profit) of the appliance in the country.

The importers, who brazenly bring the banned goods, mostly in consolidated containers, have managed to build relationships with some officials at the ports to help facilitate the clearing of the goods and make their activities flourish.

The Energy Commission admits the influx of the restricted appliances in the market but blamed it on what it described as outdated components in the regulations (LI, 1932).

Year-long monitoring

A year-long monitoring by the Daily Graphic showed that Tema Port, especially Jubilee Terminal and undesignated entry points at the country’s borders, mainly inland, had become extremely porous and a safe haven for this fraudulent activity despite a 14-year-old law that restricted the importation of the appliances.

At the Tema Port, the Daily Graphic observed that the importers concealed a few of the banned appliances in their consolidated containers.

Concealed used refrigerators are sometimes also wrapped with polythene and other materials and placed at the back of the container to prevent diligent Customs officials from detecting them during physical examination.

The modus operandi at Aflao Border is a little different as importers who engage in that activity ship the product through the Port of Lome and subsequently cart them into Ghana in mini-trucks and tricycles with little resistance from the security officials manning those entry points.

Aflao, on the country’s eastern gate, has several entry points called Beats and Pillars, which are often used by smugglers in and out of Ghana and Togo.

Market visit

In the market, the fridges sell between GH¢500 (table top) and up to GH¢5,000 for multiplex door refrigerators at Kaneshie, Lapaz, Dodowa road and other areas in the Greater Accra Region.

While some of the dealers who spoke to the Daily Graphic said their products were ‘old stock’, others said theirs were ‘store rejects’ from Germany, United Kingdom or Turkey and for that reason could not be categorised as used fridges.

Those who had the confidence to admit that their appliances were used fridges said they had developed various means of shipping the appliances but would not disclose those means.

One of them, Michael Boadu, said: “I can’t tell you how we bring these appliances into the country but we have the means of bringing them in.

“If you also want to join this business, you will need to find your way around but the market is not good this year and so consider that before they are imported.”

The regulation

The regulation banning the appliance seeks to reduce energy consumption and harm to the environment.

It is also to safeguard the country from becoming an environmental dumping site for used electrical and electronic waste from Europe.

The law banning the importation of the products was introduced in 2008 but the implementation was extended to January 2013 to provide dealers the needed time to adjust, but over the period,
the appliances are still in the Ghanaian market.

Among other things, the law stipulates that a person shall not import a used refrigerator, air-conditioner and incandescent filament lamp, or offer for sale or distribution the said items.

It further empowers an Inspector and a Customs officer to enter any premises to seize used air-conditioners and incandescent filament lamps being manufactured, stored or offered for sale.

Exchange scheme

The government, through the Energy Commission, has in place an initiative known as the Refrigerator Rebate and Exchange Scheme (RRES), which is to enable more Ghanaians to replace their old power-consuming refrigerators with new energy-efficient ones.

More than 10,000 used and inefficient refrigerator sets were exchanged for new ones between 2012 and 2016.

It also introduced the ECOWAS Refrigerators and Air Conditioners Initiative (ECOFRIDGES) to accelerate the adoption of energy-efficient and climate-friendly domestic refrigerators.

The ECOFRIDGES save consumers money on their electricity bills, relieve demand on the power sector and mitigate impacts on the environment. About 1,952 cooling appliances have been sold since 2020.

The Energy Commission also introduced the star-rating system which depicted the energy use efficiency of an electrical appliance - the higher the number of stars, the more efficient the appliance.

Nothing like store reject

When contacted, the Assistant Manager in charge of Energy Efficiency Inspection and Enforcement at the Commission, Hubert Nsoh Zan, said there was nothing like 'store reject' per the laws of the country.

“So, if they claim they are store rejects, they have to test them to make sure they meet the minimum energy performance test requirements,” he said.

He noted that the Energy Efficiency Regulations was passed in 2008 and so some components of the law have become outdated.

Mr Zan said, for instance, that the regulation only provided an import ban but did not empower the commission with the authority to seize the appliance in the market.

He explained that the import ban introduced by the regulations had rather created a safe haven or some form of black market to aid the smuggling of the product.

Confirmation

Corroborating the Daily Graphic investigations, the assistant manager said the commission could confirm that most of the used refrigerators in the market were smuggled through the ports in concealed containers under the guise of “personal effects and household goods.”

He said the Energy Commission realised that some people were also importing used refrigerator compressors (motors), which the law had not placed a ban on.

Amendment

Mr Zan stated that it was for that reason that the commission through the Ministry of Energy (MoE) wanted to amend parts of the Energy Efficiency Regulations.

He said the amendment was to expand the scope of the law from a direct ban on importation of the used refrigerators and air conditioners to include other used accessories of the fridges.

“It also seeks to strengthen the commission to be able to seize the refrigerators from the market.

“The amended regulation will ensure that all importers engaged in smuggling and officials who aid and abet them are liable for prosecution by the new law,” he said.

Regulations not the problem

A Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Climate Change and Sustainable Studies of the University of Ghana, Dr Bob Manteaw, stated that the passage of the regulations, coupled with the introduction of incentives for more people to acquire new fridges, was significant but had not yielded any results after many years.

“If they had yielded results, we would not be seeing second-hand appliances flooding the market. We have a ban in place but in principle it is only on paper because the majority of the fridges enter the country through approved routes,” he said.

He said there was the need for political will to strictly enforce the ban.

Beyond political will, Dr Manteaw said the influx of second-hand fridges also raised questions about the government's commitment to international agreements especially on climate change.

“There are health implications associated with dumping of those appliances in the country. Most of the old fridges contain chemicals which are harmful to the earth's ozone layer,” he stated.