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Save Railways from collapse — Minister

BY: Samuel K. Obour

The Ghana Railway Company (GRC) is in dire straits and faces collapse.

Also, the livelihoods of the entire workforce of 1,982 remain in danger if capital is not injected into the company soon.

As a result of the precarious financial situation it finds itself in, the GRC is unable to procure rail trucks to cart bauxite and manganese, which is its core business.

What is worse is that it is unable to embark on a redundancy programme because of unavailability of funds, a situation which has made many workers remain on payroll and yet perform no tasks.

This was revealed by the Minister of Transport, Mrs Dzifa Ativor and acting Managing Director of the GRC, Mr George Ato Botchwey, when they appeared before the Public Accounts Committee  (PAC) of Parliament today.

The two, as well as other officials of the GRC, appeared to answer questions bordering on the financial operations of the company for the year ending 2005 and 2006.

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Mr Botchwey admitted that due to the company’s financial situation, it owed ¢17.5 billion (old cedis) representing monies deducted from workers’ salaries in 2005 and 2006 for onward transfer to the Internal Revenue Service but which were never released.

At the time the monies were deducted, he said, the financial situation of the company was so bad it had to channel those resources into salaries.

Painting a bad financial picture further, he said the GRC had been unable to attract competent and qualified personnel, a situation which had made it impossible for it to even prepare proper financial accounts.

Preparation of proper financial accounts, he said, had, therefore, been in arrears since the 1980s.

According to Mr Botchwey, the company had about 1,000 kilometres of rail line but could only operate on 70 kilometres currently.

Mrs Ativor said the government had to aid the company financially every month to make it stay afloat.

She said a business plan had been submitted to the Ministry of Finance to release funds to revamp the company.

What is more, part of the yet-to-be-released $3 billion Chinese loan has been earmarked for the company.

In her view, the company was viable if the capital was injected and added that investors were being sought.

It  also emerged at the sitting that 121 trucks loaded with bauxite transported by the Ghana Railway Company (GRC) failed to reach their destination after loading in 2006, a situation which had led the Auditor-General to recommend investigations.

Officials of the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority (GPHA), when they took their turn, were chided for writing off debts of many companies the authority did business with.

The chairman of the committee, Mr Kwaku Agyeman-Manu, made it clear that the company had no right to write off debts, saying that was the responsibility of the Ministry of Finance.

He also wondered why the GPHA had failed to claim monies owed it by other companies.

But the Director-General, Mr Richard Anamoo, explained that some companies such as the Tema Oil Refinery (TOR) had failed to pay monies it owed because of its precarious financial situation.

He said if the GPHA were to refuse to do business with TOR as a result of the debts, the refinery would be unable to bring in ships loaded with crude oil to the port.

That, he said, would affect the economy.

With regard to other debts, he said, most were owed by shipping vessels whose owners could not be traced.

By Mark-Anthony Vinorkor/Daily Graphic/Ghana