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Neoplan still in distress

BY: Kwadwo Baffoe Donkor & Kester Aburam Korankye

The government is completing arrangements to place coach manufacturing company, Neoplan Ghana Ltd, under the One- District, One-Factory (1D1F) initiative.

As part of the plan, the government will also match the bus assembling company with a solvent financial partner to ensure that its operations are well funded.

This comes after almost a year after the government promised to give Neoplan Ghana a contract to produce 100 buses as a measure to revitalise the company and prevent it from folding up.

However, the company is yet to sign any contract to produce a single coach for any company.

The company is on the verge of closing down again as it is unable to pay its staff and honour its indebtedness to other service providers.

In an interview with a Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry, Michael Baafi, on the way forward, he stressed the commitment of the government to do all it took to resuscitate the ailing company which had been the name behind coach assembling in the country since 1974.

Context

In October last year, during a tour of the facility, President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo- Addo promised to supply the company with 100 buses as part of the interventions to save it from closing down.

Prior to the visit, the company had announced that it was folding up following the inability of the minority shareholder to continue paying the staff, while the operations of the company had virtually come to a halt.

Investment wastes

When a team from the Daily Graphic toured the production facility of the company in Kumasi a fortnight ago, it was observed that no work was going on at the company.

The huge investment made in machinery was going waste as most of them were not being used.

Some of the workers were seen taking a nap at the workshop, while the store rooms remained empty and the dusty workshops had been taken over by cobwebs.

The once vibrant company had become a pale shadow of itself with the place virtually empty with the exception of few staff around and abandoned damaged buses.

Way forward

In a conversation to find out how the plan to resuscitate the company was panning out, the deputy trade and industry minister said a contract for the company to produce 100 buses which the government promised was on course.

Mr Baafi, who is also the Member of Parliament for New Juaben South, said although the initial plan to have the Metro Mass Transit Company Ltd (MMTCL) as the off-taker of the buses suffered some setbacks due to a reorganisation going on at that company, the government was working on an alternative plan for the use of the buses to be produced.

“All arrangements with Neoplan is still on course. Just two weeks ago, the ministry held a meeting with the management of the company. It will attest to the fact that the company continues to receive support from the government, because this caring government is committed to every pledge made to the company,” he said.

Optimism

Notwithstanding the current challenges, the Managing Director of Neoplan Ghana Limited, Malek Abi Saab, is hopeful that the company would bounce back to life and become one of the best not only in Ghana but in the sub-region.

He admitted that it had been very difficult getting the government to deliver the 100 buses promised but said “I am in constant touch with government officials and I keep receiving the promise that the buses would come.”

Mr Saab said per the road map between the government and the company, the buses should be in the country within the first half of this year “but we know the bureaucracy associated with government work. Things do not work as fast as one would want them to and the paperwork involved is quite enormous.”

Imminent closure

The managing director said under the circumstances, closing down the company would be the easiest thing to do “but the objective is to revive the company, so we are not closing it down.”

He, however, hinted of a temporary closure to enable the company to reorganise and come back more prepared.

Mr Saab did not disclose the exact date of the temporary closure and for how long it would last.

He said that decision could change at any time as the company was still in discussions with stakeholders, including the labour union and labour office.

We need contract

The company’s Chief Accountant, Samuel Eghan, confirmed to the Daily Graphic that through the assistance of the Ministry of Trade and Industry, the company managed to secure some loans under 1D1F.

He said the loans helped it to pay the salary arrears of its staff, which had been delayed for two months (August and September 2021) up to May this year.

However, Mr Eghan said Neoplan Ghana could not continue to run on loans, explaining that “we need a contract to keep us going. We do not want to be spoon-fed, we want to work and earn money.”

The chief accountant said it would be unfair to say that the company did not receive any help from the current government but was quick to add that “we are not receiving the kind of help that will help sustain the company.”

“What will sustain this company is contracts. We are a manufacturing company and have all the expertise here but we are allowing it to go to waste due to lack of practice,” Mr Eghan.

Background

Neoplan Ghana Limited was established in December 1974 and during the almost 48 years of its existence, it has built over 4,000 buses for the government, which has 55 per cent majority stake, to support the transport sector.

In its heyday, the company gave employment to hundreds of Ghanaians and also offered one of the best options for road transport passenger vehicles.

It is in view of its popularity with Ghanaian commuters that two major bus terminals in Accra and Kumasi, as well as the localities where the company operates from within the two cities, have for a long time been called Neoplan.

The company can employ over 1,000 workers when in full production and running the shift system of production.