Shippers divided over cargo disinfection exercise

  • … Cost factor versus public safety
  • “This is not a rip-off” says the implementer

While the Importers and Exporters Association of Ghana has thrown its weight behind it, a number of other trade associations have raised cost and other concerns over the planned cargo disinfection exercise at the country’s ports, asking government to come clean on modalities.

The Ghana Health Service (GHS), which is supervising the exercise, has asked members of the shipping community to register with an online portal – www.lcbworldwide.com – and make payments in relation to the disinfection exercise.

The GHS has sent circulars to the business associations – notably the Association of Ghana Industries (AGI), Ghana Union of Trader Associations (GUTA), the Ghana Institute of Freight Forwarders (GIFF) and the Food and Beverage Association of Ghana (FABAG), among others –  asking that they instruct their members to register on the portal, which belongs to the private firm implementing the disinfection exercise.

Once registered on the portal, members of these associations will then be levied US$5, US$10, US$15 and US$20 as service charge for the disinfection of a saloon car, a mini-van, a 20-foot container and 40-foot container respectively.

But some trade associations are resisting the cost of the exercise and what they call ‘the absence of active stakeholder deliberations’ leading to take-off of the exercise.

The AGI, which has a significant membership in the shipping community, has told B&FT that it is not happy with what it described as an additional levy on the already burdened shipper.

Its Deputy Head of Policy and Research, John Defor, told the B&FT: “This is a levy that we are not happy about, because it unduly adds to the cost of doing business”.

According to him, although the AGI has received correspondence from the GHS about the disinfection exercise at the ports, there has not been any formal engagement or sensitisation for its members.

“We are going to engage them, especially the Ghana Health Service; as we speak, they have not had any engagement with us about this exercise,” he told the B&FT.

In a statement signed by its General Secretary, Alpha Shaban, GUTA also stated categorically that “the exercise is unnecessary, ill-advised and poorly-planned”, and “has no benefit for the people of Ghana”.

Aside from citing cost implications, GUTA said even though shippers already fumigate their import and export cargoes and issue certificates to that effect, they are still obliged to pay for the service of disinfecting the exteriors of containers carting those goods.

 

The Ghana Institute of Freight Forwarders (GIFF), which is an umbrella-body of freighters and clearing agents, is equally not in favour of the directive because it says it does not understand the procedure for the exercise.

Its Technical Committee is currently discussing whether to comply or boycott the directive, but its president Kwabena Ofosu-Appiah hinted: “We don’t need it and it should not be pushed on us; we have not decided yet on whether to ask our members to register with the GHS or not”.

He added: “I think, as a country, we are being hasty with this exercise; and the implementers need to come clear on the technicalities of this exercise. We should think thoroughly about it to see how this IHR regulation can be practiced optimally”.

To the GIFF boss, an exercise in the interest of public safety should have a mechanism that ensures maximum results and total delivery.

Both GUTA and GIFF queried why an exercise to control diseases will be carried out at the last stage of the clearance process – when the very persons being protected would have already picked up the various infections and pathogens as the case may be.

“Why would you want to disinfect the exterior of a container when it is about to leave the port, after port users have ‘romanced’ these containers and may have already picked up the very diseases, infections or pathogens that you want to control?”

However, Director of Public Health at the Ghana Health Service, Dr. Badu Sarkodie, countered: “Every country has laws enforced by their respective authorities in charge of standards and safety; therefore, items packaged into the vessel are vetted bythe enforcement agencies in the export country.

“What one has no control over is what happens when the vessel is on the high seas; these ships dock at various ports on their way to the country…we cannot tell what kind of contamination or infection they come into contact with, and that is why we are focusing on the exterior surfaces.”

Importers and Exporters Association supports exercise

Executive Secretary of the Importers and Exporters Association of Ghana, Samson Asaki Awingobit, told the B&FT that: “Is it not okay if we pay little money to help the Ghana Health Service to promote a policy that will curtail an outbreak of any disease? Look at how much government spent to cushion the country from the outbreak of Ebola?”

He added: “We (shippers) don’t want any additional costs, but for the sake of health we believe that the GHS is being proactive to curtail any disease outbreak in the country – and we don’t want to hold any grudge against them”.

The Food and Beverages Association of Ghana (FABAG) also said it did not have any qualms about the exercise, endorsing it in a statement signed by its Executive Secretary, Samuel Aggrey.

According to FABAG, it has come across letters from the Foods and Drugs Authority (FDA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) accepting and approving that the chemicals to be used for the exercise are clean, healthy and organic.

The association argued further that its main concern is to ensure the wholesomeness of foods and beverages for Ghanaians, and that all such products coming into the country meet set standards.

Reactions from the project implementer

Meanwhile, LCB Worldwide Ghana – the private local firm implementing the project, has welcomed the concerns some parties are raising; saying it intends to engage them on a sustained basis in the coming weeks, together with the GHS, before the exercise’s formal take-off.

Managing Partner and director of the company, Abdul-Kareem Abu, told B&FT in an interview: “The Ghana Health Service has engaged some stakeholders already, but we want to keep the discussions ongoing as the exercise is being piloted.

“I must add that this is not a programme to rip shippers off; we are helping government to comply with a directive of the International Health Regulation (IHR) that enjoins countries to decontaminate imports and exports as a laid-down bio-security measure.”

The International Health Regulations recommend routine and emergency measures at designated points of entry, and these include decontamination procedures at international container terminals, ports, airports and ground-crossings.

Ghana, in 2007 – alongside other member-states of the World Health Organisation (WHO) – enforced the IHR, and in 2012 incorporated them into its national laws by virtue of the Public Sector Act (Act 851).

Should the exercise fully take-off as planned, Ghana will be the first country in Africa to be complying with the IHR directive – which is an international trade requirement of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

Contrary to suggestions that government is being hasty with its implementation, Mr. Abu indicated that being the first to implement something does not warrant its refusal – as it will rather open the country up for investments as a “safe haven” for trade.

He said: “This is a preventive measure that signatories to the IHR directive must implement. It has to be done, and every lawful country must comply.”

Commenting on the need to disinfect import and export cargoes, he explained that vessels move from one port country to another picking several infections and pathogens on the sea hence the need to have the containers disinfected once they reach the country’s ports.

“Because cargoes in the container is already fumigated before they arrive, we want to disinfect the exterior of containers and the persons who will work on them at the ports.

“This is more of an insurance policy for Ghana, as there are thousands of infections and pathogens that are picked up at sea.”

According to Mr. Abu, the exercise will be carried out holistically; and there are plans to extend it to include airports and ground-crossings, with the installation of human disinfecting tunnels that will sanitise the feet and hands of port users.

“We are going to mount human disinfecting tunnels at the MPS and GPHA terminals for persons operating within the port community.

“This is a programme that will stimulate investments into the country to create jobs for economic growth, aside from ensuring the safety of traders, shippers and the country as a whole.”

The cargo disinfection exercise, according to the implementer, is expected to create over 500 jobs comprising labourers, IT personnel and engineers, and with strong corporate social responsibility interventions in the country’s health sector.