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Opinions of Thursday, 23 September 2010

Columnist: RFI

The Mob Action In Tema

– The Role Of Wilmar Africa, Ghana Ports Authority And The Facts – By Richster Nii Amarh Amarfio

On Friday September 17, 2010, there was mob action in which reports indicate that properties were destroyed in Tema Fishing Harbour, for which reasons certain persons including myself have found ourselves in cells.

In the early parts of February 2010, some fisher folks and the chief fisherman informed me of a GPHA order for the women who dry anchovies to vacate the site to allow an investor build a palm oil factory.
After going through the facts we decided to organize a press conference to protest against that move to the general public. This we did successfully and had every heavy media patronage and publicity.
Just before the press conference the heritage news paper had carried a story, blood bath in Tema fishing habour. I was then invited by one Gim – Fugah, the director of estate of GPHA, in whose office we meet a man who never introduce himself but whom I later learnt to be known as Alex Aseidu, Africa Director for Wilmar International.
In my company to GPHA were Messer’s Saied Adjierter, Adjetey Tawiah and Adjierter Adjei who were then the leadership of the canoe owners association.
Gim- Fugar, who was not happy I came in a company tried to convince me to stop the advocacy but we refused and told them the land served the economic interest of our people.
After the news conference and series of media advocacy we met with the parliamentary select committee on food agriculture and cocoa affairs. We met the chairman of the fisheries commission also I was in the parliament that we were advised by the chairman to Jav – Jav and not war – war meaning we should negotiate.
When we had returned from parliament, I was invited by a friend only to meet again Gim Fugah and Alex Aseidu. They then gave me a letter from the presidency signed by the secretary of the president requesting the minister of food a agriculture trade and industry and finance to facilitate some investment from Wilmar a Singaporean company.
I called the honorable minister from there who confirmed knowledge of the project. After the call to the minister, I place the call to my colleagues so we allow processes of dialogue since the project had government support. I how ever made one promise that WE SHALL NEVER ALLOW THE PROJECT IF IT WILL AFFECT THE LIVELIHOOD OF FISHER FOLKS.


THE 17 MEMBER COMMITTEE
After the meeting, I implored on the Traditional council to constitute a committee to study the project. After a stake holder meeting, a 17 member committee to which I was the secretary was composed.
Even though some kicked against negotiation, some of us insisted for the avoidance of doubt and not to be labeled anti-investment to proceed. The first time the committee met was when at the instance of Col. Gbevlo Lartey, a security committee was constituted by TMA, chaired by Commodore Addison, the Flag officer of Eastern Naval Command. Though our spokes person Mr. Seth Ago Adjetey, who indicated to the committee that the land in question is ours, and I shall illustrate that.

MEETINGS WITH WILMAR
Through my facilitation, the committee met with Wilmar led by Alex Aseidu who indicated through a power point what they intended to do that is an edible oil refinery that will employ 500 people. He indicated that H E, the President directives that GPHA dredges the landing beach and repair of the wharf was going to be sponsored by Wilmar and that the government has no money. He promised they won’t take the whole land from the fisher folks instead in will be enough once the drying process was modified from spreading on the ground to solar dryers which they will provide. He promised to clean the chemu lagoon, provide modern markets for fisher folks build a pre-school and replaced the existing 40 seater pit latrine with a 50 seater water closet toilet. He promised to immediately sponsor 2 persons from the community to study in Singapore at any tertiary level and employ 5% of local people as trainable employees.
After the lecture the committee requested for a land use plan to be sure the women won’t be displaced. In attendance was Mr. Adjei Annang council of state member. After that meeting we met him to inspect the land where he promised and delivered an air conditioner to the chief fisherman.
We agreed to have the land surveyed so they could peg out for us to have the LUP to enable them open a negotiation. After that I received a lot of abuses because during our first meeting Mr. Alex Aseidu has promised to buy me a car of my choice and immediately communicated to my colleagues to retain their trust. My decision there four to all proper process to take place transparently had been misconstructed to the community to mean an influence. My life has since been Constance under treat. The case was worsened when after a series of failed attempt to survey the land, a 20 armed military team was dispatched to give a cover to the surveyor. I had to go there to avoid conflict, pleaded with the military to remain with the TOA Yard whiles I took the surveyors round. I was summoned and have known no peace ever since.

THE TRIPARTHITE COMMITTEE
In a meeting the instance of the GPHA, who have been out of the picture all along, o tripartite committee was formed, Tema Traditional Council, GPHA and Wilmar to study the processes. After the formation, I have constantly reminded them, but there has never been a single meeting.

MEETING WITH THE STAKE HOLDERS
Even though Wilmar till date has refused to give us proposals we requested, I arranged with some members of the committee and we met with the family heads (Mr. Adjei Armar), canoe owners fish processes and youth groups. In all these meetings I tried to explain to them that we shall never sacrifice their livelihood no matter what but if the project will serve their interest we will support it. I was insulted all over town as having been bribed. I spoke with honorable minister of food and agriculture,, Mr. Kwasi Ahwoi, who is the chairman of the 5 member ministerial committee on this project, he then dispatched the Hon Deputy Minister Nii Amasa Namoale, the chairman of the fishers commission, Mr. Mark Acheampong, the Director of Fisheries. At the meeting we were insulted and I was attacked by a lady who slapped me. I reported both to the minister and the investor as well as the other relevant people.
That was two months ago, and we did not hear from Wilmar again, neither did I communicate again to them.
This is because before the meeting had present a 1 page LUP that had virtually taken over all the land and created a space on the shore-line of about 100 as a space for the drying of the platform. Unanimously the committee members present disagreed and I was charged to inform the investor, I called him, told him and he said they leased the land from GPHA and have a lease holds agreement for 50 yrs + 50 yrs.
Thereafter the only time Alex Aseidu called me was about 3 weeks ago when he told me of plans to embark on demolition. I informed some members of the committee.

THE DEMOLITION
When I was called and informed of the demolition and I got there, they were destroying the market. I attempted to stop them but was attacked by on of the armed men. I called Alex Aseidu who said he was in a flight. I sent him a message that, that was a breach of faith.
When he came back he called me to his office and with the prior approval the chairman of the committee, I went to meet him. He told me that based on a proposal I made some time back they will relocate the women to the other side of the lagoon and that the minister had agreed.
I reminded him that the land is a property of the traditional council so he will need their approval.

THE LATEST EVENT
On Wednesday, September 15, 2010, I attended a workshop but I was there when I had a call that some tractor operators had warned that no woman must dry anchovies. On Thursday morning when I was ready to go to the workshop, I had a call again that the women have been prevented from drying their anchovies. I drove there and called Alex Aseidu and told him to remove his trucks since his action constitute a betrayal of the process. With the support of Nii Shippi, and some elders of the traditional council as well as the leadership of the fisher folks stopped the workers.
On Col. Ansu who came from Michel camp after inspecting the work of the women told us that the actions of the workers are wrong. He then promised to ensure nothing happened until the proper thing was done.
The police then asked the fisher folks who were then messing up to go back we had to beg them before they moved.
On Friday at 8:00 am, I was driving my mother and my wife in town when I had a desperate call from a voice I did not know; that police were throwing tear gas into the women.
I saw people running helter skater so I stopped and packed my car and started moving towards the beach. Upon seeing me some unknown youth gave me a chase apparently to attack me. Upon sensing danger I sought refuge at the canoe beach police post. I learnt from there that the chiefs’ palace was vandalized and Nii Shippi was under siege. I immediately called Gim Fugar who told me they suspect I mobilized the mob.
I felt unsecured and left for Accra. I called the chairman of the fisheries commission and who I learnt came to town with the deputy minister. I called Honorable Nii Laryea Affotey Agbo and went the castle to brief him. I could not return to town because I learnt of a curfew and was afraid a mob may attack me. On Saturday morning, I returned and Sunday dawn I was arrested for what crime I do not know.

WHAT WILMAR HAS FAILED TO DO
The security committee made the following recommendation;
• The ownership of the land to be sorted out at governmental between TTC, GPHA and Ghana Navy.
• The interest of the fisher folks to be addressed.
• Community interest to be addressed.
• Community education on the benefits of the project to be embarked upon.
• Environmental impact to be accessed.
As the time of my arrest none of the above mentioned as been done by Wilmar. The statutory requirement for the development of environmental and social impact assessment has not been done nor hearing taking place.
None of the promises Wilmar made nor even a documentary evidence of they doing any.
Wilmar claim to be investing in project that will employ 500 people with investment capital of $40 million. The land in question supports the entire fishing industry in Tema.
There are about 500 canoes with each valued at about GH¢50,000.00 minimum. Each canoe employs at least 18 people with 2 head porters and 4 fish mongers.
There are over 2000 people who come daily to the beach to do other businesses. The women who dry the anchovies number about 800 with average capital of about GH¢4,000.00. The investment there is about GH¢18 million with no profit repatriation. The area support livelihood of not just the people of Tema but people far and near. It supports the poultry and live stock industry.

LAND OWNERSHIP
In 1952, almost the entire land of Tema was acquired compulsory and made both port and TDC acquisitions.
On resettling the people, their economic activity, mainly fishing and its auxiliary activities were resettled. In the place of their 2 landing beaches the new landing beach was created. It is therefore in the acquisition plan that the harbor expansion is to the west.
How then does GPHA cross the landing beach to sell the only land left supporting the industry without the people with the right to inform and prior consent?
Can TDC come to demolish the resettled houses in the name of investments and claim it is within acquisition?

WHY I WAS ARRESTED
I don’t believe I was arrested because as the interim charge said, I caused damage to public property and assaulted a public officer, they all know I did none of that.
Over 30 armed joint police and military team surrounded my house with the intention to kill me not to arrest me. If I had attempted to escape or resist arrest they might have killed me as I heard one of them whispered.
Alex Aseidu had told me the president will fire the MCE for Tema, the Director General of GPHA and the Estate Director if the Wilmar project failed.
Because they have not told the whole country the truth others and myself are suffering, I am in the Jaws of death and I am here if friends and civil society do not rise, I will be killed by this people; Alex Aseidu – Wilmar, Kemps Ofosu Ware – TMA, Mayor, Nestor Galley GPHA – DG and Gim Fugah – GPHA.


WHAT I HEARD HAPPENED
When I got back on Saturday, I heard that when the tractor started working on Friday, the women were working; in the process the police started firing tear gas indiscriminately.
The youth around responded with stones and the police escaped they set fire on their equipments.
My questions are, why did the commander give escort to a project he is aware has no EIA, EMP and SIA; A project that is potentially explosive.

CONCLUSION
Fisheries contribute 4.5% of the countries GDP and Tema is the safest landing beach. Fish is the biggest non-traditional export earner for Ghana and we must support the industry grow and not to kill it.