The French ports-to-media conglomerate, Bolloré Africa Logistics, partnered by the Danishshipping giant Maersk's ports arm, APM Terminals, opened a hugely profitable, state-of-the-art container terminal at Ghana's Tema port in July 2019.
It's the latest link in a chain of 18 West African container terminals run by the French billionaire and his partners. Africa Confidential has uncovered how they won the right to build and run the new container port of Tema, a lifeline not only for Ghana but for landlocked Burkina Faso and Mali, through their 70% owned joint venture with the Ghana government, Meridian Port Services (MPS).
It is a tale of intrigue based on the Westerners' 'lack of transparency and ethical discipline', according to the secret ministerial report drafted by Ghanaian officials, which Africa Confidentialhas seen, and our own research.
The terms of the agreements between MPS and the state are so tilted against Ghana's interests, concluded the report, delivered to ministers in February 2018, they should be renegotiated immediately. Yet the much-criticised contracts are still unchanged.
The concessions Bolloré won from Ghana are similar to those which he obtained for his operations at the port of Lomé, Togo, in return for financing a top political consultancy to help the country's president, Faure Gnassingbé, win re-election in 2010.
On 26 February this year Bolloré and two of his fellow executives admitted, in a plea bargain, to bribing the Togolese president in exchange for favours at the port, and were fined €375,000 each. Bolloré's company paid a €12 million fine (see Box, Bolloré – a monopoly in every port). The judge was so shocked by what they had done in Togo she rejected details of the plea bargain and ordered a trial of the executives.
Ghana's ministerial investigation and Africa Confidential's research show how Bolloré and his foreign partners:
○ persuaded then-President John Dramani Mahama to award MPS a new container terminal contract in secret, with no tender or bids, in 2014, violating procurement laws;
○ overstated the planned investment by a factor of two which won tax holidays worth $832 million from an unwitting parliament;
○ surreptitiously cut Ghana's equity in MPS to 15% after first agreeing to 30%;
○ persuaded the government to allow it a monopoly on handling containers, putting thousands of jobs at other port concerns at risk and driving up prices, and to set tariffs;
○ reduced the fees payable to the government over the life of the concession by $4.1 billion (see Bar Chart, How the contract terms changed at Ghana's expense).
The terms under which MPS operates the new terminal were 'gravely detrimental to the government and people of Ghana', the report said. They do 'not reflect honest business ethics between parties', the report goes on. The history of those relations show 'serious ethical professional deficiencies' with the result that 'the engagements have to be carefully and deliberately reviewed'.
President Nana Akufo-Addo inherited this situation when he beat Mahama in the general election of December 2016. Instead of blaming the scandal on his predecessor he has chosen to leave the contracts as they stand while friends and officials of his New Patriotic Party (NPP) take up posts with MPS.
Akufo-Addo faced Mahama, standing for the National Democratic Congress (NDC) once again in December 2020's general election, and again, the topic of the Tema deal did not come up in campaigning.
The two men appeared to observe a pact of silence on this and several other instances of alleged bad governance and corruption. Akufo-Addo narrowly won the election (AC Vol 61 No 25, A twist in the election tale).
This is the story of how the deal took shape, and how a fightback within the Transport Ministry and the NPP against the MPS deal was finally quashed, and the legendary ability of Vincent Bolloré to accommodate political change asserted itself.
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