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Vol 62 No 9

Published 29th April 2021


Port chiefs defend Bolloré deal after probe finds the state could lose over $4 billion

The two main political parties are trying to explain why the country is paying tens of millions of dollars to buy back half its stake in a new port terminal taken away on the sly

The Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority chairman Peter Mac Manu, a former national chairman of the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP), insists he worked relentlessly to improve the contract between Tema Port and France's Bolloré although a secret Ministerial Report labelled its terms 'gravely detrimental' to Ghana's interests (AC Vol 62 No 7, Tema players & SPECIAL REPORT: How Vincent Bolloré won control of Ghana's biggest port).

Despite Mac Manu's claims, an investigation by Africa Confidential found the key terms of the contract with Bolloré to build a new container terminal at Tema substantially unchanged from those condemned in the Ministerial Report which calculated the country could lose as much as US$4 billion in revenues from the terminal and had unnecessarily given away $832 million in tax concessions.

As well as heading GPHA, Mac Manu also sits on the board of Meridian Ports Services (MPS), the container terminal operator at the centre of the allegations in which GPHA has a minority stake. MPS is 70% owned by France's Bolloré Africa Logistics and the Danish shipping giant, Maersk.

Mac Manu spoke at a webinar on 29 March hosted by civil society organisation Penplusbytes, a member of the Ghana Anti-Corruption Coalition, which Africa Confidential journalists attended.

Mac Manu defended the controversial halving of GPHA's 30% interest in the public-private MPS in 2016, a target of criticism for the secret Ministerial Report which investigated the new terminal's history in 2018. He claimed that GPHA's share was halved because it did not wish to provide cash to invest in the new terminal. The terms of the finance arranged by the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private-sector lending arm of the World Bank, required the shareholders to put up one third of the project value, about $300m. Because GPHA had 30% of MPS, Mac Manu revealed, it should have paid $43m.

'The shrinking of the share was to pay for GPHA's share of the guarantee of the loan,' Mac Manu said.

But the Ministerial Report by the Transport Ministry says there never was a requirement on GPHA to contribute to capital costs, and that the halving of the share was done in 'very questionable circumstances'.

Two former port officials said that since the share should never have been halved, GPHA should never have paid to restore it. 'The basis of giving the concession to MPS without a contest was that they could raise the entire amount needed for the project. Moreover, we had already given up over $800m in taxes, so why should we give up any more?' one said, referring to parliament's 2016 decision to waive $832m in taxes over 10 years.

The former official added that MPS had gone to the IFC for a $667m loan without GPHA's knowledge, as also stated in the Ministerial Report. GPHA is now paying $42m to reacquire its 30% share of MPS by forgoing dividends until the money is paid off, said Mac Manu. This has not been previously reported.

To many, including the authors of the Ministerial Report, this is money Ghana should never have had to find under the terms of its original agreements with MPS and its parent company, Meridian Port Holdings (MPH). Underlying the affair is a dispute about the proper role of the public sector. Public-minded officials wanted GPHA to survive long term, while private-sector advocates were more interested in the success of MPS and the new terminal, even if it was partly at the expense of GPHA. 

Mac Manu made clear which side he was on, speaking proudly of the NPP's free market ideology. 'I owe a duty, as a private-sector man, to protect private-sector interests,' he said, while insisting he acts in the country's best interests.

Mac Manu also claimed that much of the original agreement had already been renegotiated, pointing to MPS's agreement to reserve the handling of 20% of containers at the terminal for GPHA, instead of the 100% that MPS reserved for itself in the original agreement. Mac Manu said he had done a good job on Ghana's behalf and 'you should pat my shoulder'. 

On 14 April, former GPHA director general Richard Anamoo appeared on Ghana cable channel Citi TV's The Point of View programme, hosted by Bernard Avle, to address the points Africa Confidential raised. Anamoo was the official instructed by former President John Mahama in November 2014 to discontinue competitive tendering for the container terminal and deal only with MPS.

GPHA and MPS had worked well together on Terminal 2, he said, and the truncation of the tender process was merited.

Anamoo also admitted, however, that a 'cardinal' factor in the government going with the MPS proposal instead of completing the tender process was the company's offer to build a motorway between Accra and the port. When the Citi TV presenter pointed out that, six years on, the motorway is still not built, Anamoo said, 'that is the price we have to pay when we put too much politics into setting governmental institutions or decisions'.

So far untouched in the aftermath of Africa Confidential's 25 March Special Report are the issues of parliament's $832m tax giveaway to MPS; the 'shrouded' 12.9% free share of Alhaji Asoma Banda in MPH; and the issue of whether President Mahama broke the law when he halted the competitive tendering on the port contract 

On 15 April, opposition National Democratic Congress MP Sam George called for a 'full scale bi-partisan parliamentary probe' into the Tema container contract. But an anti-corruption activist said 'both political parties are implicated in the unfair arrangements and so neither wants to champion the renegotiation of Tema's business terms'.

Bolloré and Maersk, as well as the transport ministry, have not commented on Africa Confidential's report, nor responded to the charges of unethical and dishonest practice made in the Ministerial Report.

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