It was a highly promising landmark investment project that could have changed the lot of Ghanaians, especially the people of Atuabo and its environs in the Western region.
It was supposed to be an outstanding infrastructure, strategically located within the Gulf of Guinea and in the heart of Ghana’s oil and gas enclave, to provide logistics services to offshore oil and gas operators in the sub-region.
As a dedicated oil and gas free port, the 600million dollar Atuabo Free Port project was not only going to create jobs and generate revenue for the state. It was to make Ghana the gateway to West Africa’s offshore oil and gas industry and a regional hub servicing the operations of upstream oil and gas companies.
The commercial agreement among the government of Ghana, Lonrho Ports Ghana Limited and Atuabo Free Port Company Limited for the project was ratified by Parliament in July 2014, paving the way for implementation.
But before it could take off, five Members of Parliament initiated legal action against the project, challenging its legality.
The five MPs, consisting Kweku Kwarteng Obuasi West MP, Hawa Koomson, Awutu Senya East MP, Joseph Cudjoe, Effia MP, Kwabena Okyere Darko-Mensah, Takoradi MP and Kofi Brako, Tema Central MP, filed a suit at the High Court challenging an alleged exclusivity clause in the agreement.
They maintained that a clause in the agreement that grants the free port company a right to operate exclusively for 25 years and bars the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority to develop a similar port in the zone, was illegal. But the Sekondi High Court dismissed the suit, after which the five MPs appealed.
The appeal was also struck out on technical grounds, but the MPs denied it, accusing the then government of manipulating the court and the media to get the project through irrespective of the concerns.
While the company maintained it was not violating any laws, the MP insisted that the deal was a bad one, triggering community demonstrations in the Western region in support of the project.
The developments created more controversy and uncertainty about the project.
Currently the fate of the project is unknown. The last public statement made about the project was in February 2017 when the Transport Minister, Kwaku Ofori Asiamah, at his vetting in Parliament, promised that his outfit would reconsider the proposal to create a free port at Atuabo to assess its contribution to the development of the country’s transport sector.
In view of the uncertainty, the investors appear to have lost interest in the project which could have been saved through mediation.
Through mediation, the parties-the company, the then government and the then five minority MPs- could have found a common ground.
Mediation could have helped the parties to consider their interests more critically, and also understood each others’ interests.
The parties may all be right in their claims, but the adversarial litigation could have been avoided by opting for mediation that would have guaranteed a win-win outcome for all the parties, and for the general benefit of Ghanaians.
By Nii Adotey/adrdaily.com