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Opinions of Monday, 21 September 2015

Columnist: Dominic Moses Awiah

Uncleared goods at ports

Last August, it was reported that large quantities of medical supplies, theatre beds and equipment belonging to the Ministry of Health and the Ghana Health Service had not been cleared from the Tema Port since 2013.

Eighteen containers of the medical supplies, some of which were said to have been funded by the United States Agency for International Development, (USAID) were left at the port, while public health institutions such as the Accra Police Hospital solicited support from corporate bodies.

Similarly, 91 containers of solar-powered street lights meant for cocoa farmers in remote communities have been abandoned at the Tema Port for the past 14 months.

The containers, which arrived in Ghana in two separate shipments in July and November 2014, have not been cleared by COCOBOD, because of a misunderstanding between it and a private firm, Strategic Security System International Limited (3SIL), which was contracted to import the two consignments.

3SIL is a wholly Ghanaian owned independent service conglomerate which specialises in the procurement of solar lighting systems, solar products, bespoke substrate (customised security printing paper and holographic materials), among others. There is controversy over the ownership as COCOBOD has denied ownership of the two consignments although all the documents including the bills of lading were consigned and delivered to COCOBOD by 3SIL.

Three months after the Daily Graphic published stories on the issues mentioned earlier, nothing has been done to clear the goods.

While the goods remain at the port, cocoa farmers continue to ponder why the project has been discontinued.

While the goods remain at the port, cocoa farmers continue to ponder why the project has been discontinued.

When contacted, the Public Affairs Manager of the COCOBOD, Mr Noah Kwasi Amenyah, said the company had not imported any solar-powered street lights.

“I can tell you for a fact that COCOBOD has not imported any solar-powered street lights from China”, he said.

Asked whether COCOBOD had any consignment at the Tema Port, Mr Amenyah said he could not confirm unless he consulted the procurement department of the company.

Effects The incidence of uncleared goods at the Tema Port is certainly not good for business.

Apart from denying the state the much-needed revenue for urgent national development, the people who are expected to benefit from the goods have also been denied the opportunity to use them.

Again, there is the possibility that the quality of the goods will be affected because of the delays in clearing them. The goods are in containers that have been exposed to the sun for days. By the time they are cleared, radiation from the sun’s rayswould have taken its toll on the containers, thereby affecting the quality of the goods.

There are several unanswered questions.In many institutions, there are procurement departments that are in charge of transactions on the importation and clearing of goods at the port.How on earth would a functional procurement department of an organisation import goods and forget about them? In the case of the Ministry of Health, the officials were not even aware that they had goods waiting to be cleared at the port.

COCOBOD’s dilemma In the case of COCOBOD, there was a misunderstanding between it and 3SIL, the business entity to whom the contract was awarded.

Whatever be the misunderstanding, this can be resolved so that cocoa farmers, for whom the goods were imported, could benefit from the solar-powered street lights.

The decision by COCOBOD to launch a project to provide solar street lamps in cocoa, coffee and sheanut-growing communities is a good initiative. Under the project, 11,000 solar street lamps have so far been installed in more than 2,000 rural communities, with the distribution of 1.2 million solar torchlights to the farmers.

The overall objective of the initiative was, among others, to increase the annual cocoa yield to a target of one million tonnes.

It was also to improve socio-economic activities, curb rural-urban migration, enhance security and reduce crime.

With basic infrastructure such as street lights, good roads, hospitals and schools, the youth, who usually flock to the cities for non-existing jobs, would be enticed to stay in the rural communities and venture into cocoa farming and other agricultural ventures.

Many importers and individuals are reported to have abandoned their goods after realising that the cost of freight, insurance, duties and handling charges are astronomical, while others are unable to get tax exemptions and have incurred huge demurrage charges.

In the case of COCOBOD, for instance, the demurrage is said to be in the region of $5million.

The July 29, 2015 edition of the Commercial and Industrial Bulletin on overstayed goods, published by the Assembly Press served notice to the public of the intended auction of items. Similar publications made on December 31, 2014; April 25, 2015 and May 6, 2015 outlined the processes for auctioning such goods. Apart from the financial loss to the state, the goods have also created the problem of occupying of space at the ports. Special arrangements can, however, be worked out for the individuals and companies to clear their goods for the benefit of the society.

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