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Opinions of Saturday, 11 October 2003

Columnist: Acheampong, Kwaku B.

Holidaying In Ghana, ..Some Exciting Experiences.

Going home for holidays from abroad have always been exciting as well as terrifying. Beside the anxiety of meeting the various demands and expectations from friends, family members and the unknown, one usually wonders if all will go smoothly during such short stays. The following episodes took place within less than a three week stay and I just write them here to share them, to forewarn future holiday makers and also as a critical assessment of what can go wrong in our mother Ghana.

Open-air inspection of Ghana customs at team harbour

The trouble started with the car that I shipped down to Ghana to be used to drive around. Taking taxis in Accra have been horrible during my previous visits: very old and dusty, excessive charging which usually involves lengthy bargaining, and some times careless driving. So to safe my family and myself this time around, I decided to buy a second hand car, ship it home, use it and later sell it to recoup the invested amount. This has been a normal practice by fellow Ghanaians who live abroad and especially in Europe so there was nothing new. It was even because of this practice that my fellow Ghanaians in Germany proposed to the Honorable Minister of Finance to institute a temporary licence plates (a subject which will come later) to alleviate the difficulties that we experience with the previous system.

A good Nigerian writer once wrote.’ if you want to eat a frog, go for a fat and juicy one’ so I decided to go for a Mercedes Benz and then for the ‘round-light as it is popularly called in Ghana. This was to give me comfort, enough allure and prestige and also high price to pay back my money upon sale. To my uttermost surprise, I was asked to pay an amount of 42 million cedis (about four thousand euros) for the duty and other charges at the port. This was more that 50% of the total cost of the car as bought in Belgium. After struggling to get this amount paid I went with the clearing agent into the car park at the port to get the car discharge. To my uttermost surprise ‘my fat and juicy Mercedez’ had been dismembered of its most essential parts; among the major damages, the two side driving mirrors have been broken and taken, the control panel inside the car to regulate the opening and closing of the electric windows as well as the switches were all gone. To top it all, the hydraulic pump which controls the locking of the doors and boot was also gone. A quick assessment of the cost of the stolen items revealed that I will have to spend another 15million cedis (about 1.500 €) to replace them and that is if I can get those parts in town. A quick survey at the park showed that every Mercedes saloon car there had suffered the same fate. One of them had a double agony of having some pipes in the engine cut and an essential part removed.

When I asked the person in-charge how that rampage could occur when people are charged an amount which goes beyond 50% of the cost of the cars as duty and other handling charges, he retorted that the theft might have occurred on the sea or when the ship first docked in Nigeria before coming to Tema. Indeed most of those Mercedes came with a ship called Grande Argentina operated by some shipping line in Germany and Belgium. Without bothering you with details of my reports to the shipping lines and the failure to obtain anything meaningful to calm me down, I need to tell you that my car is still in Ghana unsold waiting for other parts to be purchased later in Europe. This is the first story, which wrecked my well-longed holiday in Ghana last July.

Part two: Clearing of personal effects.

Since I was going with my wife and three young children, we decided to get some items together which might be necessary whiles in Ghana. We joined a group of four other friends and rented a container, packed our things and shipped it some weeks before our departure.

Due to the recent wars in the neighbouring countries, many ships were using Team harbour as transit points. Although we were told by the shipping agent that our goods would be in Tema some days before our arrival, the ship with our container could only dock six days after it arrived on the shores of Ghana. This was due to the congestion at the terminals. Fortunately, someone advised the Minister to instruct his men to send some ships to Takoradi port (especially goods meant for Ivory Coast), which was then lying empty. Oh Africa!.

Now it was time to clear our personal effects. It took our clearing agent more than four days to go through all the administrative formalities and we were supposed to get our goods on Friday 11 July. But first, there must be custom inspection. This is where all goods from the container are brought out for customs to assess that there are not commercial goods. And lo and behold it started to rain on the Friday around 10 am. The agent said there is trouble . I replied what do you mean? Then he said we couldn’t open the container because it was raining. But I said we can do it under a shed, he replied there is no shed at the container park. So in the 21st century of modern Ghana, goods cannot be inspected when it rains. And sadly enough , it continued raining till about 4pm so we had to go home without clearing our goods. God have mercy. One lady from our group came from somewhere far to take the goods of her deceased husband to be sent to her in-laws.

The next Saturday July 12 was the one year memorial and as Akan custom demands ‘ the property boxes’ have to be opened. Already there was some tension between the lady and the family of the deceased due to the sudden death which occurred in Europe. The reader is left to imagine what the deceased family would say and react when the lady went on the next day to announce that she could’nt come with the personal effects of their dead man. My week-end and that of some notable friends had to be sacrificed to accompany the lady to the family to confirm that she indeed brought the items but it was the rain on that Friday that made us to come without the items. My encounter at the village and the reaction of the family made me sad for the rest of my days in Ghana. All because with all the duties and charges at the port, still containers cannot be opened for inspection and all have to be done in the open.

Encounter with the police.

Who said the Ghanaian Police has stopped extorting money from innocent drivers? Having had my wrecked Mercedez fixed with the two driving mirrors, I managed to travel to the village one week-end without my car windows closed. (God helped me for it did not rain).Upon my return to Accra, just before the Ofankor barrier, I was stopped by the police patrol; the famous Motor Traffic Union or MTY in short. One police lady asked for the documents of the car and the accompanying papers for the temporally number plate. I gave these to the lady and she asked me to step out of the car and follow her. We went to a car parked nearby where another police officer was sitting with a writing pad for charges before her. I was told that I was going to charge for driving a car without insurance coverage. I told the police that my agent informed me that the Temporary licence had insurance coverage. The police lady sad that was not correct for I should have insurance a separate insurance book to that effect. I insisted on my conviction but the policewoman said that my continuous challenge to her assertion will mean the immediate impoundment of the car and plus an arrangement before the court. At the point I was bursting with anger so I told them to take me to court, as I was not prepared to pay a pesewa to them. Then another police lady came and took my hand and led to me another corner. She advised me to stop being ‘too know’ and should bear in mind that any court action will take up a lot my time and worse of all cost me more money I should better do something and safe myself from all the troubles.

After a lengthy discussion and also an appeal from Antie who was in the car with me, I finally succumbed and paid the requested amount of 40.000 cedis ( about 4 euros) after the police has insisted on nothing less than that amount. They gave back my papers and due to annoyance, I just threw them at the backseat and drove off cursing to teach my agent a lesson anytime I meet him. Upon my arrival at home, I took the papers and read through them. And lo and behold there it was; a stamp at the back of a small reddish paper saying ‘ the number plate is insured for two persons for 10 days ending at….

So the police saw this stamp or knew what it meant but saw my ignorance of the stamp so they just exploited the opening. I blamed myself for not reading through the papers earlier but then I questioned why such important information could be hidden at the back of a card and just with a stamp and a signature? But the big question remains have the police the right extract such an amount from me? So friends, watch out when you are in Accra with such temporally licence plates.


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