… Over US$15m raked in so far by operator
Aviation consultant Sean Mendis has said that transparency issues which have recently engulfed the contract between the Ghana Airport Company Limited (GACL) (on behalf of government) and Frontier Healthcare Services have great potential to hurt the country’s international image – and specifically the high reputation of GACL – and therefore some moves are needed to clarify issues as soon as possible.
According to him, the set-up is of high international standards and has not only been globally acclaimed but recommended to many developing and developed countries; therefore, anything that would cause questions as to its integrity needs to be taken seriously.
His comment is coming on the back of the ministers-designate for Health, Foreign Affairs, and Attorney-General and Justice, Kwaku Agyemang-Manu, Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey and Godfred Dame not being able to answer certain critical questions posed to them during vetting, due to the fact that they were not privy to the contract.
“I need to say that what Ghana has implemented in terms of a two-step protocol (PCR pre-departure and rapid antigen upon arrival at KIA) is still among the best protocols implemented worldwide and has been accepted as the industry standard. So, from that perspective, Ghana was leading the world when the borders re-opened in September.
“I think the lack of transparency in the contracting and failure to properly advise the public on need for the two test protocols definitely caused some suspicion among travellers – but the protocol itself was sound and the pricing not entirely unreasonable at the time it was implemented. The failure to explain this (or even attempt to explain) is unfortunately what seems to have caused damage to the image of what should have been a global leading project for Ghana to be proud of,” Mr. Mendis told the B&FT in an interview.
Mr. Mendis intimated that one of the issues made clear before commencing tests at the airport was that government did not have the capability to invest in the project; therefore, a private partnership was arranged. For him, even though the times were not normal, some serious effort should have been put into ensuring that all relevant boxes were ticked.
“My understanding of the contract is that there was zero investment upfront by the government of Ghana or any government-related agency – the set-up costs and risks were all borne 100 percent by the private sector partner, which is the justification provided for the relatively high cost of testing.
“GACL does however however receive a commission from every test conducted, although this was a very small amount (approximately 2.5 percent or US$4 equivalent). Just over 200,000 total passengers since September were announced by government; and the assumption, then, is 50 percent arriving and 50 percent departing – so 100,000 arrivals at US$150 amounts to some US$15million.
“The first adopters of any new technology will always bear a high cost for the development and proving of the technology, which was unfortunately the case for passengers flying to Ghana in the first few months – but they received the benefit (as did the country as a whole) of being able to travel safely in an era when other countries for the most part had closed borders and/or less secure controls for imported infections,” Mr. Mendis opined.
Regular review of cost
He is pushing for regular reviewing of the COVID-19 test cost. “I do believe that there should have been a more frequent review of the cost to consumers, and a potential reduction of price at an earlier stage than eventually took place – and why that did not happen is something the contract administrators probably need to address.
“This protocol is industry-leading and has proven itself to be effective in controlling cases of imported infections, so Ghana needs to continue with the protocol itself. Pricing, however, needs to be constantly reviewed, as any additional costs serve as a barrier to encouraging travel to Ghana – whether for business, family or tourism.
“The project, being a private sector initiative, is certainly entitled to enjoy its profits; but as a de-facto monopoly service provider, there is also a responsibility of the state to regulate pricing to avoid abuse of the dominant market position.”