…….Special Investigative Report
…As Flagstaff House, Ministers, NPP Engage In Corrupt Love Affair With Thieving OMCs
Akateng, one of several fishing communities along the Volta Lake in the Upper Manya Krobo District in the Eastern Region, is a snowballing anger waiting to erupt as the Ministry for Fisheries and Aquaculture prepares to inaugurate Landing Beach Committees (LBC) there.
Behind its climes of serenity and rustic aquaculture, a groundswell of disquiet, provoked by political authoritarianism that has vandalized laws governing the establishment of LBCs, is happening.
A derailment of a lineage system that guides the installation of headmen for LBCs is being perpetrated by executives of the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP), who have also arrogated to themselves powers to demarcate Akateng into zones for the purpose of creating more LBCs.
While L.I. 2233 – the National Premix Fuel Committee Law – is openly flouted by NPP executives in Upper Manya Krobo, increasing shortages of premix fuel are also biting home.
Nene Amonor Osom l, chief of the area, has long written to warn the Minister for Fisheries and Aquaculture, Elizabeth Afoley Quaye, of looming chaos if the government goes ahead with an impending inauguration of LBCs in Akateng without sorting out the mess on the ground first.
So far, it is said that the minister has only pussyfooted on the issues raised.
Akateng is just one scenario of a nationwide problem.
In fishing communities around the country, an unwholesome mix of artificial premix fuel shortages and political meddlesomeness in the constitution of LBCs – creatures of law purposed to administer premix fuel distributions, has recently come into fashion.
In defiance to L.I. 2233, which makes the Chief Fisherman of every fishing community in a coastal area, and the Headman of every inland fishing community of Ghana, Chairman of the LBCs, the ruling NPP has installed party loyalists as LBC Chairmen.
The abuse has spawned in place political cronyism that enables regime actors to divert into private pockets cash profits from premix fuel distribution that by law are supposed to be invested in developing the fishing communities.
The same political cronyism is nourishing a subculture of premix fuel diversions by Oil Marketing Companies (OMCs), some of which are inflicting artificial shortages on fishing communities to enable them to supply crooks who blend and sell contaminated fuel to filling stations.
Premix fuel shortage worsening under Akufo-Addo
The Republic has it on authority that since the advent of the Akufo-Addo regime, premix fuel diversions have increased exponentially. Indeed, a copy of minutes from a recent meeting at the National Petroleum Authority (NPA), which this paper has intercepted, confirms this.
Mr. Asare Bediako, Manager of the Unified Petroleum Fund (UPF) at the NPA, put it on record at a recent meeting that, “the diversion rate of premix has been increasing since January 2017.”
In the detail of the increase in the diversions, Mr. Bediako said the UPF was suffering serious abuses, in all areas of fuel distribution, but most especially, in the area of premix distribution.
UPF, a set-up by the NPA which factors up the cost of distribution of fuel nationwide, enables the NPA to enforce equal pricing across the country. But abusers have indefatigably sabotaged it to enable them to sell fuel at their own prices.
For instance, as part of efforts to maintain the integrity of the UPF, NPA has attached tracking devices to Bulk Road Vehicles (BRVs), which cart the fuels in bulk quantities, to enable the UPF to measure the volume of the tank and position of the tracks.
But out of some 384 BRVs attached with NPA tracking devices, it has been detected that from January, this year, at least 140 of them have had their tracking devices attached to them tampered with.
The NPA has since considered blacklisting these 140 trucks which have their tracking devices deliberately tampered with, but apprehension about increased fuel shortages around the country has dissuaded the petroleum sector regulator from blacklisting these trucks.
Minutes from another meeting at the NPA shows that sometimes consignments of premix fuel do not get to their destination, even though waybills are signed, indicating that such consignments of fuel have reached their destinations.
NPFC Chairman, Nii Lante Bannerman, per the minutes of a meeting that had taken place at the NPA, corroborated the diversion problem, saying the committee had received reports of premix fuel re-routing immediately the NPFC came into being.
According to him, in both March and April 2017, diversions had come to the attention of the NPFC, which had not been appointed by February 2017.
Fighting diversions is costly
Efforts by the NPA to combat these diversions over the years have seen the regulator spend huge sums of taxpayers’ money to put into place sophisticated systems over the years. For instance, the NPA has made moves to establish an Enterprise Relational Database (ERD).
ERD would require OMCs, which distribute petroleum products in the country and Bulk Oil Distribution Companies (BDCs) which import petroleum products into the country, to request fuel through a portal.
The Republic has been unable to verify if the ERD has been installed by the NPA, even though the Public Procurement Authority (PPA) apparently approved a tender package – N0. GR/NPA/CS0001/2015 – in 2015.
In spite of all these expensive efforts by the NPA, the dubious characters involved in compromising the system have not been beaten because these criminals, who apparently operate as a cabal, have managed to always beat the system.
Enabling political environment
However, the cabal’s brightening successes in premix diversions, indicated by the increase in the diversions, appears to be a direct result of the political meddlesomeness by appointees of government in premix fuel administration.
The Republic has been finding out that this meddlesomeness allows politicians to either cream-off margins that result from the distribution of premix or divert profits that are supposed to be invested into the fishing communities.
L.I. 2233, the National Premix Fuel Committee (NPFC) law requires that proceeds realized from premix fuel distribution margins are allocated in such a way that 53% of the cash goes to the fishing communities, which have bank accounts opened to receive such allocations.
12%, according to the LI, is to be allocated to the Chief Fisherman or headman who chairs the LBC in a community, and 18% to the rest of committee members, which include representatives from the District Assembly in a given fishing community.
Per the law, 10% of the proceeds are to be allocated to the Secretary to the LBC while 7% is to go to a Pump Attendant appointed to the committee.
The politicians are motivated to arbitrarily appoint party loyalists to these committees, including replacing chief fishermen and headmen, because it affords them the opportunity to make cronies recipients of these allocations from premix fuel margins.
It also enables such politicians to appease such cronies while wielding puppeteer powers over them.
Exercise of puppeteer powers have, in some cases, seen the diversion of even the 53% of premix margins that the law requires to be allocated to a bank account set up by the LBC for the fishing communities, into private pockets.
The Republic has been finding out that in the Central Region, for instance, the regional minister has ordered that cash profits from premix margins should be routed to a personal account he has opened.
This unilateral decision by the Central Regional minister has not pleased the Fisheries Minister, causing a souring of relations that has seen the Fisheries Minister order that premix fuel supplies to the Central Region be suspended.
This paper has verified that Prudential Bank account of number 031100001011, at the High Street branch of the bank has been set up to receive Ghc1,100 per tank, which originally should go to LBCs around the country.
There is also a GN Bank account of number, 1002111000635, to which premix margins are diverted.
Loss of national revenue
Apart from the direct impact of the diversion of such funds on the fishing communities, the whole nation also loses in consequence because premix fuel sales to fishermen are heavily subsidized by government. As much as 48% subsidy is placed on premix fuel by government to cushion fishermen.
The actual price on premix fuel is 299.17 pesewas per liter, but because of the government subsidy of 48% it cost 155.57 pesewas per litre.
OMC’s which cart premix at haulage capacity of 13, 500 per liter truck are to sell the premix to the LBCs at Ghc18, 630 per the 13,500 litres, which would allow the LBCs to sell to fisherfolks at Ghc7.20 per gallon.
It is calculated that, the 53% of the margins that are generated from premix fuel distribution and allocated as community development funds, are what amount to the Ghc1,100 that are supposed to go into bank accounts set up by the LBCs for the communities.
TOR under pressure
However, because of diversion of both the funds and the fuel, communities keep experiencing cash deprivations and artificial shortages of premix fuel that has put pressure on the Tema Oil Refinery (TOR) to overwork its refinery plants.
Recently TOR’s Chief Executive, Isaac Osei, told the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation that TOR has been producing premix fuel beyond comfortable capacity and therefore did not understand why there were still complaints of shortages from the fishing communities.
Indeed, documents that The Republic has sighted show that at least 180 trucks cart premix from TOR every week. Recently, the NPFC requested that TOR increase production to 220 trucks per week, but TOR said it could not meet such a demand, eventually agreeing to produce up to 200 per week during the peak fishing season.
On average, TOR loads 30 trucks with premix fuel per day.
With two tanks that store up to 4.5million litres of Super, one of the ingredients needed for the blending of premix fuel, the refinery is only deficient in the capacity to produce premix to meet demand in a small way.
A 55,000 litre low storage capacity for Marine Mix, another raw ingredient for premix fuel, has seen TOR authorize companies, such as Lube Oil and Rochel, to provide the Marine Mix, but still premix fuel shortages are on the ascendancy.
Regime actors conspire with OMCs to profiteer
In the interview with GBC, the TOR boss had said he suspected that something had gone wrong somewhere in the distribution chain and that TOR would investigate.
Mr. Isaac Osei was right about something going amiss in the distribution chain for premix – politicians who have hijacked the LBCs are profiteering at the expense of the fishermen and women who need the premix to undertake their fishing.
Some of these politicians act together with OMCs to divert premix fuel, in some cases, and in other cases, the hijack of the LBCs has widened loopholes for OMCs to divert the fuel to places where they can make supernormal profits, instead.
President’s darling boy
The Republic has been finding out about one OMC owner called Robert Mediale. Mr. Mediale is the CEO of Cash Oil. Curiously, selfsame Robert Mediale owns a BDC called Med Petroleum.
Robert Mediale, allegedly, was a huge contributor to the 2016 campaign of President Akufo-Addo and that since the advent of the regime of Nana, he has kept a close contact with Flagstaff House.
Robert Mediale straddles the upstream petroleum sector, concurrently importing petroleum products from abroad for the Bulk Oil Storage and Transport (BOST) Company, and distributing fuels that are refined by the TOR, is said not to be very normal in a sector that is supposed to be strictly regulated.
Sources say he is able to get away with a lot of things in his operations because President Akufo-Addo’s cachet rubs on him.
It has been alleged that sometimes when Robert’s Med Petroleum imports petroleum products into the country, he polices TOR to refine it for Cash Oil trucks to cart them away for distribution.
An alleged kingpin in a national cabal that has stranglehold on the petroleum sector, Mr. Mediale, sometimes, allegedly, diverts premix that he carts from BOST to a petroleum tank farm that he owns at Ashiaman, a suburb of Accra.
It is said that at this Ashiaman tank farm, he has some Nigerians engaged, to blend the diverted premix with other ingredients to achieve low grade automobile fuel that he then sells off as diesel to unsuspecting drivers at Cash Oil fuel stations.
Mr. Mediale has refused to speak to these issues and others that The Republic attempted to get him to speak to – refusing to either answer calls placed to his phone, or responding to text message queries.
NPA confirms Mediale’s shady activities
However, the NPA has since confirmed that Cash Oil has, in the last three months, been sanctioned for selling out fuel with lower NPA marker concentrations.
In response to a query by The Republic, the NPA confirmed that it has licensed both Cash Oil and Med Petroleum, to operate as an OMC and a BDC respectively, in spite of the fact that both companies belong to Robert Mediale.
The petroleum sector regulator, however, said in the past three months, Med Petroleum has not imported any products into the country.
The same NPA failed to confirm whether Cash Oil is one of the OMCs whose BRVs have had NPA’s tracking devices attached to them tampered with.
Republic sources have explained that rogue OMCs which cause artificial premix fuel shortages in fishing communities operate as a powerful cabal that the NPA, the sector regulator, finds it very difficult to control.
The situation where at least 140 out of 338 BRVs have their monitoring equipment tampered with has been seen as cabalistic.
It is said that the cabal does not always outrightly divert fuels; sometimes OMCs in this cabal send only part of the fuel carted from BOST to the communities and divert the rest to tank farms.
Such tank farms pay up to Ghc27,000 per 13,500 litres of premix fuel, rather than the Ghc18,500 that LBCs are legally supposed to buy the fuel. The tank farms which buy the fuel at Ghc27,000 get to make supernormal profits because they re-blend the premix fuel into low grade automobile fuel and sell at the pumps.
NPP regime actors conspiratorial
UPF Manager at the NPA, Asare Bediako, recently said in a meeting with stakeholders, including the NPFC, at the NPA, that there has been increasing diversion of premix fuel since January, this year.
The escalation in diversion is happening amidst hijacking of Landing Beach Committees by actors in the Akufo-Addo government and loyalists of the ruling NPP.
A vandalism of the NPFC law (L.I. 2233) has seen Chief Fishermen and Headmen who, by law, are automatic chairmen of these LBCs replaced with party apparatchiks, while some puppeteer government appointees have even diverted 53% of cash realized from premix margins that are supposed to go to the communities, into private bank accounts.
The Akateng scenario
In Akateng, in the Upper Manya Krobo District in the Eastern Region, such developments have provoked serious anger that the traditional authority there has warned could lead to serious chaos if they are not corrected.
A constituency chairman of the ruling NPP there, one Mr. Harry Zona, and his Vice, Gbeli George, are said to have forcibly replaced one Isaiah Osom, with one Daniel Akwetey Bor, as Chairman for an LBC there.
The replacement is in spite of the fact that Isaiah Osom has since been made headman by the Chief of Akateng, Nene Amonor Osom l, at the instance of the Konor and President of the Manya Krobo Traditional Council, Nene Sakitey ll (the Konor).
The Traditional Council, Chief of Akateng, and the fisherfolks of Akateng had come together to appoint Isaiah Osom as headman, following from which his details had been furnished to the District Coordinating Director, since the DCE had not yet been appointed.
However, immediately President Akufo-Addo was sworn into office, Harry Zona and Gbeli George are said to have approached the District Coordinating Council to collect forms that had been used to select the members of the LBC there, and proceeded to cancel out names, which were later replaced with loyalists of the NPP.
Angry sources have said when Mr. Harry Zona and Gbeli George were confronted and told that it was illegal for them to replace members of the LBC, including instating Daniel Akwetey Bor in place of Isaiah Osom as headman, they replied that only NPP members would be allowed to be on the committee.
According to the sources, the same people have since proceeded to re-demarcate Akateng into three zones– Akateng Main, Akateng East and Akateng West.
They have since appointed LBCs for all of these demarcated areas and are waiting for the Fisheries Ministry to come and officially inaugurate these LBCs.
Two petitions to the sector Minister, Elizabeth Afoley Quaye, have only been pussy-footed on by the minister who ended up replying the Chief of Akateng, Nene Amonor Osom l, via text message.
According angry sources close to the chief, the minister brushed aside all the concerns of the chief in the reply, only telling him to organize the community in readiness for the inauguration of the LBCs.
Source: therepublicnewsonline.com/ Fiifi Samuels