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Opinions of Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Columnist: Al-Hajj

In defence of TOR, BDCs

…Who the real culprits are

Much as it is the policy of TheaL-hAJJ not to comment on investigations/stories done by other sister media organizations, an ‘insightful’ report by The Chronicle newspaper of August 15, 2014 under the caption “Cabal Sends TOR to Sleep,” in the opinion of this paper cannot pass without comment.

But for its selectivity, The Chronicle must nevertheless, be commended for its bold attempt to bring to the fore the perennial malaise confronting Ghana’s only and most important refinery, the Tema Oil Refinery (TOR) formerly also known as GHAIP.

Any attempt at pushing the entire blame on the present inactivity and the virtual hopelessness at TOR on the operations of the Bulk Distribution Companies (BDCs), as The Chronicle eventually ended up doing, is not only unfair to the BDCs, but also a gross misrepresentation of the facts and challenges facing the refinery.

As The Chronicle itself pointed out in its opening paragraph, various interest groups within and outside TOR, (which in our opinion should include the workers, management, politicians, law makers and even the media, and Ghanaians in general) may have unwittingly or deliberately conspired to bring this otherwise ‘wonderful’ strategic national asset and economic venture to its knees. However, the paper sadly ended up portraying the business-oriented but known profit making BDCs as the worst and ONLY culprits.

According to The Chronicle report “THOUGH THE Tema Oil Refinery (TOR) is a strategic state asset, which, if well managed, could help to stabilize the economy, cabals operating within and outside the company would simply not allow it to achieve its full economic potential…

To rub salt into injury, the Bulk Distribution Companies (BDCs) have also joined the fray, by taking over the assets of the struggling company, thus sending it into the abyss”.

Even very worrying after reading through the otherwise insightful piece by the paper, chronicling the genesis of the refinery, the ingenuity of the management and workers and the overall contributions of TOR to national economy was the deliberate attempt to absolve workers and management of the facility from the decadence that has engulf the company all these years while portraying the BDCs, whose crime for deciding to come to the aid of the nation by ensuring the economy is not grinded, as evils.

The paucity and obvious mischief in The Chronicle exposé and the workers ill-informed argument “A member of the local TOR workers union, who wants to remain anonymous, wondered how the security agencies would operate to maintain law and order if these BDCs, most of which have a foreign shareholding structure, decide not to import fuel for two weeks.

“He alleged that the activities of the BDCs were reasons why the national currency, the Cedi, has nose-dived, and stated that the companies undertake huge importations in US dollars, which is a cycle that continues unabated…

He added that vessels of finished products, costing between $60 and 70 million each, are berthed at the Tema Port at least two times a week, and one can imagine the amount of cedis that go to chase the US dollar, since the products sold on the Ghanaian market are quoted in cedis. Most of these setbacks, he noted, could have been averted if TOR was allowed to operate at its full capacity, but the cabal would simply not allow that”.

Logic and common sense should inform the writer and his TOR collaborators that, if also the refinery was operational and TOR or Government of Ghana order crude on its behalf, they will also have to ‘chase’ for the scarce dollars in order to pay for the imported crude, other additives (including probably salt) the refinery requires and spare parts, freight and insurance.

And what they haven’t told the world particularly Ghanaians, is that TOR at its present state, even operating at 100% capacity, cannot refine more than 50% of the nation’s daily requirement of fuel, and that it is these same ‘criminally’ minded BDCs who will have to make up for the remainder.

Attempts by workers of TOR to use the media in painting the BDCs in dark colors and create the impression as though the BDCs are the “sole” cause of TOR’s ills, and therefore must be chased out, is not only unfair and mischievous, but also a well elaborated plan to use crude means to oust the BDCs since their continuous existence may have taken the “wind out of someone’s sail”.

Facts abound of how the actions and inactions of self-seeking workers of TOR in cahoots with managers and politicians have led to the present repugnant state of the once valuable national asset. But for their parochial and selfish interest, why would the workers of TOR be ‘weeping than bereaved’ as evidence abound depicting how the advent of the BDCs in the last decade have not only help ‘stabilize’ and guaranteed uninterrupted supply of fuel which drives the nation’s economy, but also, helped to some extent, forestall the wanton corruption and financial hemorrhage previously eating up TOR and the nation.

Perhaps, one can understand the frustrations of the workers of TOR and their collaborators. It is a common phenomenon in Ghana that when something becomes an impediment or stands in your way to where your daily bread is buttered, it must by all means possible be swiftly cleared.

The present media war spearheaded by the workers at the facility shouldn’t surprise many. Giving the fact that the BDCs, as private entities who rely on their banker’s goodwill, have put in place stringent measures on how petroleum products are lifted and how payments should be effective contrary to what pertained at TOR, which sadly has pushed TOR into its present uninspiring predicament.

Prior to the introduction of BDCs, TOR became breeding grounds for all manner of criminal and sabotaging activities. Workers at the facility have been reported to be neck deep in siphoning and stealing of fuel, illegal and unguaranteed sale of products to cronies leading to the pilling of high debt to TOR, pilfering and engaged in dubious underhand dealings.

In instances where successive governments have come to the aide of TOR with cash injections such as the about $100million provided by the Mills and Mahama regimes in the not too distance past, the monies often ended up going in flames.

Indeed, while governments have over the years done their respective best to salvage TOR from getting to its present state, It is also true successive governments cannot be absolve from the predicaments of TOR.

Most governments, for example, while they are not current on their indebtedness to TOR, worsen the company’s plight by not allowing TOR to remain competitive in the market. Where in some cases these governments claimed to absolve increment provided for by the regulator, this monies are never paid to TOR.

The above-mentioned factors at a point by the end of 2008 under the Kufuor regime accumulated a debt of about one billion dollars to TOR, a situation that almost collapsed Ghana Commercial and two other financial institutions, which eventually led to the Atta Mills administration ring fencing the debt.

TOR, like many Ghanaian state institutions has since time immemorial been replete with needless governmental interference making it difficult to stand on its own. It has never had its autonomy as it ought to be.

In fairness to the workers of TOR, apart from government interferences, politicians, law makers, influence peddlers, management and even the media and indeed, Ghanaians have all in one way or the other conspire to create the current pitiable sight of TOR. At some point in time, several Oil Marketing Companies running fuel pumping stations and mostly owned by large segment of the aforementioned people owed TOR huge sums of monies leading to persistent shortages of the commodity in the country, and majority of the debts having to eventually be declared bad debts.

It was part of the attempts to foretell such unfortunate happenings and to save TOR from total collapse that gave birth to the BDCs idea. And since the BDCs began operations, these happenings have drastically been curtailed. As profit oriented private entities and with the kind of policies they have put in place, unlike TOR, no one now lifts fuel without paying or making adequate arrangement towards that.

This, to a large extent, has brought some sanity in the fuel distribution chain in the country, and is helping to propel the economy. Unlike the naked thievery and open cronyism that hitherto prevailed in the fuel trade and became almost the order of the day; the situation has today to a very large extent reversed.

The aL-hAJJ will, however, be the last media outlet to hold brief for the BDCs or exonerate them for contributing to the ills of TOR, if there are proven allegation.