More Controversies Over Atuabo Free Port Project

The controversies surrounding the Atuabo Free Port project are not far from over, with renewed threats by five Members of Parliament to employ all means possible to stop the “the illegal deal.”

But pressure group Mass Action Committee is accusing the MPs of sabotaging a good project.

The decision by the Mahama government to enter into agreement with Lonrho Ports Limited for the development of the free port, with the exclusive right to provide “specialised services” for the oil and gas industry, faced a stiff opposition from the previous Board of the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority which insisted that the whole deal was an illegality being perpetrated against the nation.

Before President Mahama appointed Samuel Ofoso Ampofo as the Board Chairman this was the position of GPHA: “In our opinion, the entire proposal from the Lonrho Ports is but an Estate Development Plan intended to acquire land with government support, obtain a Freeport Status for tax exemption for the next 25 years, renewal for another 25 years, restrict all others, including GPHA, from developing similar facilities within the geographical region and take advantage of the 'huge' potential for Ghana's growth and invite terminal operators to invest in the facility after an initial investment of US$400m on basic infrastructure...”

Both the Trades Union Congress and the Maritime and Dockworkers Union have expressed opposition to the deal which they insist goes against the maritime laws and policies of the country.

Obuasi West MP, Kweku Kwarteng, Awutu Senya East MP, Hawa Koomson, Effia MP, Joseph Cudjoe, Tema Central MP, Kofi Brako, and Takoradi MP, Kwabena Okyere Darko-Mensah, are in court challenging the legality of the deal which has been approved by Parliament.

The five have dismissed media reports that the case has been thrown out on appeal. "We wish to inform the general public that this is nothing but a media ploy designed by elements in Government to misinform the general public and to mislead financiers of the project," Kofi Brako said in the statement signed on behalf of the group.

The statement added: "We are not aware of any application by the Attorney General or Atuabo Freeport Ghana Ltd to dismiss our case. The said dismissal of our appeal, if it is true, happened on the blindside of we (sic) the appellants, and that is against the law. We would be taking steps to reverse these pointless manoeuvres by Government.”

"Indeed, we have discovered that the creation of Atuabo Freeport under the Free Zones Act was itself unlawful. It is only under the Ghana Ports & Harbours Authority Act (PNDCL 180) that any port can be created in Ghana. And once created, such a port automatically comes under the regulatory oversight of the Ghana Ports & Harbours Authority.

The Free Zones Act only allows the President to declare an existing port a freeport. The Free Zones Act does not permit the President to create a freeport out of nothing. The creation of Atuabo Freeport outside the Ghana Ports & Harbours Authority Act was deliberately and unlawfully done (possibly under pressure from Lonrho Ports Ltd) to take Atuabo Freeport out of the regulatory oversight of the Ghana Ports & Harbours Authority. This is wrong. It poses a threat to national security," the statement said.

Meanwhile, the Mass Action Committee, in a statement signed by its leader, Atik Mohammed, believes the action by the MPs “is frustrating the progress of the laudable Atuabo Freeport Project.”

According to the statement, the MPs themselves “do not seem to understand what they claim they are fighting for” and so “such confusion to all intents and purposes can only be a function of malice cloaked in the pretence of protecting state institutions.”

“In point of fact, the claim by these MPs that, their failed legal gymnastics are meant to protect the Takoradi Harbor from the so-called hazards of the Freeport, has been heavily defeated by the public utterances of the Director General of the Ghana Ports and Harbor Authority, Mr Richard A.Y Anamoo.

He underscored the fact that, the operations of the Atuabo Freeport do not in any way pose a threat to the survival and viability of the Takoradi Harbor. So where then lies the validity of their ‘protectionist claim’ over the Takoradi Harbor?” the statement asked.

The statement called on the leadership of Parliament, especially on the Minority caucus, to call the MPs to order, adding: “The institution of Parliament should be protected from such destructive partisan tendencies; otherwise every decision by that House will become a matter for further legal determination defeating its essence and relevance.”

The statement served notice of the readiness of the pressure group to square it out with the MPs with “a more than proportionate struggle to see the project survive.”

“The Mass Action Committee’s orientation is rooted in the need to empower the masses of our people through employment, provision of social services and equitable distribution of national wealth among others. To this end, we will wage an unwavering struggle against anybody or group whose intention it is to overthrow the achievement of these objects for whatever reason (s),” it added.