Workers of the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority (GPHA), on Thursday declared their support for the Atuabo Free Port project in the Western region, and touted the benefits the project holds for the country.
Despite initial concerns of the workers on the project, they now stand by it, and are prepared to support it.
“We resolve that the unions are not against the development of the Atuabo Free Port, as misunderstood by sections of the public,” they said.
These were contained in a resolution passed at a meeting of the Senior and Junior Workers Local Unions of the GPHA on May 9, and read at a press conference in Takoradi on Thursday.
Mr. Isaac Klu, local union Chairman of the Maritime and Dockworkers Union in Tema, who read the resolution, said they raised the concerns against the project initially because they believed any port development or construction of additional ports, must be the responsibility of GPHA as per the PNDC Law 160 and at worst, in partnership with GPHA, to ensure that the public interest is upheld.
He reiterated that the GPHA wants to partner LONHRO PC , a British Company in the development and management of the free port project at Atuabo in the Ellembele District of the Western Region.
“Government must consider a joint venture by the GPHA in the development of the Atuabo Free Port, instead of selling our birthright to a foreign company,” Mr Klu stated.
Mr Klu said the GPHA is not against foreign companies taking up the port project, but this “must be executed in partnership with the GPHA to ensure that the public interest is upheld.”
Flanked by his executive members from Tema and Takoradi, he noted that since the PNDC law 160 of 1986 gives the mandate to the GPHA as the sole entity to build, manage, control and maintain ports in Ghana, it must be actively involved by partnering in the development and management of the Atuabo port.
“The union agrees to the port, but does not accept LONRHO as the developer,” he said, and called for clarification on the “exclusivity clause ” in the agreement to the foreign company, and rather give way for competition that would ensure prosperity of the Takoradi port.
According to the MDU chairman, it would be very dangerous for a free port like the Atuabo one, to be left in the hands of a foreign private investor without the GPHA, which has the mandate to handle port matters.
Hitherto, the GPHA had kicked against the 650-million-dollar Atuabo Free Port (AFP) project, which is expected to become a West African hub for the logistics, and serve vessels and the oil and gas industry.
The Government of Ghana has 45 per cent shares in the project, although it will be fully funded by Lonhro and its partners, subject to Parliamentary approval.
Apart from supporting the growth of the oil and gas sector and yielding financial benefits for the State, the project is expected to lead to the speedy development of host communities, particularly Atuabo, whose chiefs have allocated a large track of land for the project.
“We are not against the Atuabo project, and we are not saying that the people of Atuabo do not deserve this glorious opportunity to be the first to directly develop,” Mr. Klu said.
He added that they were concerned with how GPHA could be allowed to effectively play a partnership role in the project.
According to Mr Klu the workers are convinced that Atuabo Free Port Project should be opened to market competitiveness within the region.
Also, customers should be given the choice in terms of service satisfaction, and the ability to measure performance levels of the oil and gas terminals under the Ghana Ports and Habours Authority..
Mr Klu explained that based on information from the agreement before Parliament for ratification, the union has detected that the AFP is a special oil and gas facility, an indication that the AFP have no adverse effect on the Takoradi and Tema harbours when completed.
He said the workers have found that the initial operational period for the management of the port by the private entity is 10 years and not 20 years they previously thought.
Mr Klu observed that the Unions have also taken note of the equity structure which favours government, as well as providing an opportunity for GPHA to participate in the project.
He, however, called for more clarity on the exclusivity issues, saying that although they have been made to understand that the project would not bar competition.
“From the above and many other details, we the unions of the GHPA now believe that we were deceived by the earlier information we had and that accounted for our earlier stand,” the group stated.