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Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Rail and transit trade bolstering blue economy

Ongoing expansion works at the Tema and Takoradi ports; a well embraced single window regime and auxiliary innovations from the landlord Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority (GPHA) and other private sector actors are plausible investments to maximise the gains from sea trade activities in the country. However, the new government’s promise of industry specific tax cuts on the back of a robust rail transport system have primed the sector for greater times ahead, writes Patrick PAINTSIL.
The country’s sea trade business sector has seen some landmark interventions over the recent few years during the reins of the immediate-past National Democratic Congress (NDC) government; notably among them being the US$1.5 billion five-phased expansion works at the Tema Port with similar works at the Takoradi Port and the gradual push towards seamless documentation and transactions process leveraging the National Single Window regime.
Operator of the country’s two seaports, Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority (GPHA), has also embarked on an aggressive port automation drive as it moves closer to an e-port status. The port operator has currently installed electronic gates at the entry and exit points of the Tema Port as part of efforts to improve security within the port community. The electronic port management system will protect the ports’ stakeholders from the issues of corruption, extortion, petty thievery as well as other unethical practices that dent the image of the port industry in the public eye. Sister industry associations including the Ghana Shippers’ Authority (GSA), the Ship-owners and Agents Association of Ghana (SOAAG), the Importers and Exporters Association of Ghana, and the Ghana Institute of Freight Forwarders (GIFF) are all actively engaged in one form of activity that seeks to shore up the economic gains from sector.
The strong cooperation that exists among the various private sector stakeholders is commendable as it will go a long way to bolster productivity and business growth. This is the kind of bond that the maritime guru and board chair of Meridian Port Services (MPS), Alhaji Asuma Banda, has tasked the various stakeholders in the maritime industry to hold on as they collectively work towards seamless and conducive transactions at the country’s ports.
He said at a recently held New Year cocktail event organised by the Shipowners and Agents Association of Ghana (SOAAG) of which he is the president: “My advice to shipping lines, clearing agents and other industry actors is for them to work as a team; there should be no need for competition between the port operators and shipping lines. Every one engaged in the port business must be part of that team, and there should be no segregations in the sector. By doing the right thing, we can position the port industry for higher gains to drive national and socio-economic growth.” It is all bright for the blue economy and it is without a doubt that the change of government to the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) has come with its own breeze of hope and growth for the dominant sea trade sector. The promise of tax cuts and the abolishment of industry-specific duties such as the Special Import Levy, import duties on raw materials and machinery and spare parts have kept industry actors upbeat about the industry.
The icing on the cake that has got the various maritime stakeholders highly optimistic is the creation of a dedicated ministry for railway development headed by the astute lawyer and former Attorney- General, Joe Ghartey. The fact remains that the economic potency of a robust rail transport system are enormous; from saving cost to shippers and opening up the rural economy to enticing more business through our ports. Significantly also, the cargo haulage business has entered into the multimodal era, where you do not need only one mode of transport handling the carriage of goods while rail is cheaper and could haul large volumes at a go. Deputy Chief Executive Officer of the Ghana Shippers’ Authority (GSA), Sylvia Asana Owu, told the B&FT in an interview: “An efficient rail system will open up our corridors for effective transit business; this will attract other countries to do business through our ports and that will create jobs for the people and open up the economy.
When transit cargo is moved through our ports, people will be engaged to work on the cargo, truckers will be involved to cart the goods along the transit routes; they will buy fuel and sleep in hotels. All these activities will generate incomes to the service providers and open up the economy as money will come into the system.” Figures from the Ghana Shippers’ Authority (GSA) indicate that total transit and transshipment figures, as at the third quarter of 2016, stood at 772,744 metric tonnes, which is a 12.23 percent rise over the 2015 figure of 688,565 metric tonnes, within the same period. These figures give a fair reflection of renewed confidence in Ghana’s economy by its landlocked neighbours of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, coupled with improved security along trade corridors, has steadily pushed up transit trade figures over the last few years after a long period of decline.
Currently, the haulage sector provides an average of 97,000 trucking jobs — drivers and mates — per year for the northbound transportation of transit cargo destined for the Sahelian countries, generating a yearly income in the range of US$81 million for local haulage companies. With this huge prospect, it is less surprising that importers and exporters are exceedingly jubilant over government’s decision to rebuild and operate a robust rail transport network that will link the southern and northern parts of the country. Captains of the industry opine that an efficient rail transport network, similar to that of Cote d’Ivoire and Benin, will reduce cost for businesses in the landlocked countries of Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali.
To her, a properly linked rail network to the Boankra Inland Port will boost trade on our corridor, making rail a laudable initiative that government is right to focus on. The GSA deputy boss added: “We have always believed that the Boankra Inland Port is a very good project that is why we have not given up on it; and it is equally significant that the Transport Ministry has not given up on it.” The Boankra Inland Port operating on running rail connectivity could fast track the gains from transit trade as the chunk of cargo throughput to the Tema and Takoradi ports are moved to the Ashanti Region for onward carting to the hinterlands and transit destinations. It is heartwarming that government has hit the ground running with developing the rail sector, going by the words of the Finance Minister, Ken Ofori-Atta, when he presented the maiden budget in Parliament. He said: “This government believes that rail will be a major catalyst to drive the growth that we envisage in the coming years as rail transportation provides safer, cheaper and faster way of moving goods and people to facilitate trade and support economic activity. Our vision is to open up the country and provide new opportunities to our people to do business and trade among themselves.” Approximately 133.6 kilometres (km) representing 14.1% of the entire rail network of 947 kilometres that is currently operational is faced with an obsolete network and poor track infrastructure, resulting in the closure of greater part of the Western and Eastern lines and the entire Central line — leading to a high incidence of derailments that lead to loss of operational hours and damage to rolling stock.
Available data show that the rail sector commanded an over-70% market share of freight and passenger transport in the country during colonial days until the 1970s, and carried over 2 million tonnes of freight and 8 million passengers annually in the 1960s and 1970s. However, due to inadequate funding for maintenance, the rail network started to deteriorate; leading to the diversion of freight traffic onto roads, exacerbating deterioration of the roads. The Eastern Railway Line which covers a distance of 330km and starts from Accra to Kumasi with a branch line from Achimota to Tema; the Western Line which starts from Takoradi and terminates at Kumasi having two branch lines namely, Dunkwa to Awaso and Kojokrom to Sekondi, covering a distance of 340km; and the Central Spine which stretches from Kumasi to Paga covering a distance of 700km to be developed in sections: from Kumasi to Buipe and Buipe to Paga; have all been captured in the 2017 budget.
Government will also complete the Sekondi to Takoradi via Kojokrom section and continue with the section from Kojokrom to Tarkwa through Nsuta. This, according to the finance minister, will help improve the operational performance and revenue of the Ghana Railway Company Limited (GRCL) to better position the company to wean itself from government support. Railway Development Minister Joe Ghartey has indicated that investors are already trooping in to partner government in the expansion of the country’s rail network from the south to Paga in the Upper East. The project is estimated to cost about US$5 billion and according to him, government will consider a cocktail of Build Operate and Transfer (BOT) and other several examples. He told the Appointments Committee of Parliament: “Due to the government’s pro-business policies, investors have shown interest to partner government. It is estimated that the cost of road haulage is 50 percent more than the alternative of using railway lines. This affects the bottom line businesses that rely solely on road transport to cart their goods.

Making Ghana's education work again

There is no doubt that education is one of the pillars of development in any country. Over the years, successive governments have implemented policies aimed at developing the country’s education system, but there still remains a lot to be done. Some experts have argued that the country’s education system is not delivering what its citizens expect and industry needs. There are issues of corruption, low examination performance and the lack of accessibility bedeviling the country’s education sector. The educational sector has been heavily politicized by various political interest groups. It seems the country is over-doing its party politics since the opposition finds everything wrong in what the party in government does in the education sector.
Notable among them is the increase in the duration of Senior High School (SHS) education from three to four years; the initiative was short-lived as it was reversed back to three years when a new government came into power. Though most people have said the 4-year system is better, the government of the day found every reason to bring it back to 3 years, simply because it had promised in its manifesto that it will do so when voted into power.
Again, the previous government criticized the free SHS policy when the New Patriotic Party used it as a campaign message. But when the Mahama-led government retained power, it decided to introduce something that it had criticized previously. It did well to introduce what it termed as ‘progressive free SHS’ which covered selected day students across the country. When the NDC administration began building community day Senior High Schools (SHS) across the country, the then opposition NPP criticized the initiative. However, now in power, the NPP government is seeking to rollout comprehensive free SHS policy across the country, which is expected to benefit about 1.6million students. There is no doubt that these community schools will be of great help and ensure that the government’s free SHS project succeeds.
Basic education
It is everybody’s wish that their children will attend a private school at the basic level. Why? This is because there is quality tuition at private basic schools. Parents see the training at private basic schools to be better than that of public schools, otherwise known as ‘syto’–meaning it is nothing to write home about. Ironically, at the secondary level, all those who went to private schools finally come back to the public SHS to continue their education. So, the question that begs answers is: ’what have we not got right at the public basic schools that people don’t attach respect, but the same government schools, at the secondary level, attract large numbers. But successive governments have neglected basic education. Head teachers now struggle to acquire learning materials to aid teaching and learning in their various schools. There is also the lack of effective supervision in most of the basic schools. Teachers go to classroom and do little for the pupils in terms of teaching. Public school buildings don’t look appealing; some have huge cracks and best described as death traps.
Secondary education
The current issue with the secondary school level is the free SHS policy, which has generated a national discourse on how the government intends to implement it. The free SHS will also include technical and vocational institutes. SHS level of education consumed the largest proportion of government expenditure on education within the 2014/15 academic year. The 2015 Education Sector Performance report revealed that the subsector accounted for 22.2 funds budgeted for the entire education sector, followed closely by primary education with 22%. The Education Ministry said the increase in secondary education budget is a result of a number of policies it took within the period. The Progressively Free SHS programme, introduced in September last year, for example, saw the release of 12.1 million Ghanian Cedi by government for same. Additionally, the Community Senior High Schools Project (CSHSP), meant to increase Secondary school enrolment, and to decongest existing schools, has also seen a lot of capital injection over the period under review.
If successful, the free SHS policy is arguably going to be the major policies any government has embarked in the country’s education sector in ensuring that no student is left out in the education sector. There are several opinions as to how government should go about it. While a section Ghanaians believe that the country has what it takes to implement the policy which is enshrined in the 1992 constitution others believe we have not gotten there yet. Imani Ghana, a policy think tank, in its State of Education Report argued that government has a non-negotiable primary responsibility to ensure that it provides accessible and quality public education for all Ghanaian youth. However, the issue of parental contribution to the cost of education, even within the public sector, must be a subject of critical analysis. According to the policy think tank, there is never ‘free education’, even within the public sector. The question, therefore, is whether we will fund it fully, and collectively do it via a tax system or through a combination of state funding and parental contribution. In a report titled: “Free SHS Education: Should the Debate Only Be About Feasibility?” Dr. Yaw Ohemeng, an educationist, argues that Free SHS needs not necessarily translate into abolition of the BECE or the absorption of boarding fees. Rather, he recommended, free SHS should mean the free availability of a school place for all who are qualified and willing to take up such a place.
He said the introduction of free post- JHS education should, therefore, be accompanied by reforms and additional investment to improve the quality of basic school education whilst also expanding access to tertiary institutions. “With these, eventually the BECE could be replaced by national assessments (conducted by WAEC but without issuing certificates) to be able to measure quality improvements at the basic level. Such assessments could also be used to measure equity in opportunities by monitoring performance in all regions of the country (both rural and urban) and amongst girls and boys and to stream children into the different types of post-JHS institutions,” he added. I think since the government was able to do it at the secondary level and even tertiary level, where it is a ‘prestige’ to gain admission a public secondary school or a public university, it should be able to do it at the basic level too, because it seems we are collapsing our basic education year-in and year-out.

Natural capital accounting key for sustainable natural resource management

Natural resources in diverse forms are abundant across the entire Ghanaian landscape. These resources which constitute natural capital, provide numerous ecosystem services (water cycling, temperature regulation) for human well being. According to the World Bank (2011), natural capital provides about 36% of the total wealth of all developing countries globally. In Ghana, the promotion and mainstreaming of the sustainable development concept into our development agenda has gained increasing acceptance especially among policy makers.
Achieving sustainable development could however be highly hampered by the over exploitation of natural resources across the country especially in the forest and mining regions through illegal chainsaw operations and small scale mining among others.
It is important to mention that promoting efficient natural resource management will place Ghana in a better position to achieve the following Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs);
SDG 2:End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture
SDG 6:Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
SDG 11:Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
SDG 13:Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts by regulating emissions and promoting developments in renewable energy
SDG 14:Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development
SDG 15:Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss
The challenge of continuous non-sustainable natural resource management in Ghana is not only attributable to the country’s rather poor institutional capacity or ineffective monitoring of stakeholder activities, but also because of the lack of a comprehensive accounting system in our natural resource management process. Accounting for our natural capital is a distinct way of acknowledging the value (in monetary terms) of both the environmental and economic activities and making choices based on those values.
Natural Capital Accounting (NCA), is a concept introduced by the World Bank which involves the conscious effort to calculate the total stocks and flows of natural resources and services in a given ecosystem. The aim is to balance economic activities and environmental impacts taking into account all the costs and benefits including pollution and extent of natural resource depletion in economic accounts and development planning. Conventionally, natural resources/ assets are not included in national accounts. NCA provides the opportunity to capture natural assets in national accounts. It helps to measure the ‘total’ value (and wealth) in our natural resources from both the perspectives of economic value (i.e. production inputs) and depleted value (i.e. value after exploitation).
Benefits of NCA
Ghana, India, Madagascar and Morocco are a few countries putting measures in place to implement NCA. This decision by these countries are attributable to numerous reasons, some of which are briefly discussed below. Through NCA, countries can measure the ‘total’ value (and wealth) in their natural resources as well as its effects on national accounts and economic growth. For example, Mexico’s net national product fell by almost 7% when an adjustment was made to take into account the depletion of oil, forests and groundwater associated with recent levels of recorded economic growth. Accounting for Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for instance, provides information on economic activities (agriculture, manufacturing) and their linkage with improving livelihoods. However, this accounting is void of ‘what is lost’ in an attempt to improve livelihoods.
Thus, GDP provides statistics on overall socio-economic improvements without providing information on how many trees have been cut down or how many rivers have been polluted and their associated costs to provide the numerous needs for the populace. NCA however, captures both scenarios and, therefore, provides a more comprehensively effective way of managing our natural resources sustainably.
One way of to keep our natural resource capital is to manage them in a responsible and sustainable manner. Natural resources can be used sustainably to provide people with shelter, food, medicine, and other services, while also maintaining essential habitats for plants and animals.
The efficiency of natural capital stock availability and accessibility management is enhanced through NCA. By accounting for natural capital, governments are able to include natural assets in national accounting and development planning. They are also directly involved in holistically measuring the total stock of natural resources available for use and after use for socio-economic development as well as their degree of accessibility. This positions state organisations and other stakeholders to properly manage resources as information on the availability; and accessibility of resources is made known through NCA. On the other hand, this information also helps to get the public on board in championing a course for sustainable natural resource use. Natural resource management schemes frameworks or policies can be tested for efficiency over time via NCA. Scarce resource protection and macro-economic indicator effectiveness among others are some key areas that can be tested for efficiency under national resource management options over the long term if NCA is adopted. NCA can for instance, reveal the economic costs and benefits of land use conversion, or of different types of land management. Through resource and/or environmental accounting, the objectives, implementation outcomes and outputs of these, frameworks, or policies become susceptible to scrutiny and review. Other benefits of NCA include improvements in; conservation, recycling, pollution abatement, environmentalism among others.
Is Ghana ready to implement NCA?
Ghana is one of the many countries taking initiatives in relation to implementing NCA. Our economy is characterised by aquatic resources, lakes and rivers, forestry etc. Accounting for natural capital in all or any of these resource fields is a step in the right direction. Despite the country’s challenges with institutional capacity and financial capabilities in supporting natural resource initiatives, Ghana on the whole is fairly well positioned to implement NCA in its natural resource management framework. Most if not all of the various ministries, agencies and departments (MDAs) needed for NCA such as the Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation (MESTI), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Forestry Commission (FC) are already set up and fully functioning.
The current global call for environmentalism, natural resource protection and conservation and climate change awareness has also increased the influx of Ghanaian consultants in these areas in the country. Moreover, natural resource management mainstreaming in national development plans in recent times have received positive political attention even though much can still be done in this wise. Across the continent, the Gaborone Declaration for Sustainability in Africa (GDSA) has been adopted as a deliberate African led effort to promote sustainable development across the continent. Within the declaration, countries have committed to implementing all conventions and declarations that promote sustainable development towards achieving the following vision; “To ensure that the contributions of natural capital to sustainable economic growth, maintenance and improvement of social capital and human well-being are quantified and integrated into development and business practice”. The Desktop Scoping Report for the GDSA indicates that Ghana has initiated steps in its forest and timber sector to carry out NCA. The report also indicates the country’s commitment to upscale NCA to the following resource fields; aquatic resources, energy, land, minerals, soil and water. Additionally, Ghana is a party to the Forest Investment Program (FIP) through which the country can account for natural capital in the forest and timber sector. This program is being executed by the Forestry Commission (FC). It is arguably right to say that Ghana is ready and capable of implementing NCA.
Way forward
Since the NCA concept supports the use of the environmental accounting tool, monitor factors such as environmental conservation costs, environmental conservation benefits, and economic benefits associated with such environmental conservation activities can be appropriately monitored. Through the analysis of these factors, the appropriate allocation of resources (financial, human) to environmental conservation activities can, therefore, be ensured. For instance, it will allow management to review account balances model for managing expenditures for environmental conservation projects and investment decisions, and promote risk management to avoid lawsuits.
Also, Ghana needs to develop (or periodically review if already developed) a ‘smart and proactive’ framework for NCA in conformity with the System for Environmental-Economic Accounting. An important component of this framework which needs consideration is the scope of accounting as it is central to policy decision-making. Going forward, the country can institutionalize an Environmental-Economic Accounting Unit to solely oversee the collection and management of environment-economics statistics. By doing so, Ghana will be in a position to determine the economic costs and benefits of exploitation of natural resources and by extension, help determine the forest resources compared with those of sustainable forest management. In this way, it can also show the socio-economic tradeoffs in exploiting natural resources.
The Government should commit to upscaling NCA in the other resource fields as indicated in the GDSA to help promote a holistic national resource accounting. Lessons learnt from the forestry and timer sector resource accounting should be applied to facilitate efficiency of NCA in the sector and where applicable, other resource sectors in the upscaling effort.
Conclusion
Our natural resources are our wealth base as a nation. It is imperative to ensure all resources are sustainably managed regardless of our pace of economic growth and development. The concept of NCA has been proven to be a very effective tool in tackling the issue of achieving effective resource management. Ghana has already taken steps to implement this option of accounting in its forestry and timber sector and hopes to upscale it to other resource sectors including; minerals, water and aquatic resources. With the necessary support from all stakeholders especially policy makers and political leadership, Ghana’s natural resources can be sustainably managed through the implementation of NCA. Implementing NCA is a good step towards ensuring that our natural resources are used for our economic growth and development without harming the very environment that supplies them.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Winning party of Kenya’s general election can supercharge job creation, Sage

The party that emerges as the winner of Kenya’s general election, to be held on 8 August, has an opportunity to supercharge job creation and economic growth by adopting policies that help Small & Medium Businesses to thrive.
That’s according to Nikki Summers, Regional Director for Sage in East Africa, the market and technology leader for integrated accounting, HR and payroll, and payment systems. She says that the next government will have a strong framework and foundation to build on, following years of State investment in creating an enabling environment for entrepreneurs and business builders.
“With GDP expected to expand by around 6% this year, Kenya is on the right track for growth,” said Summers. “Improving the ease of doing business and following sound macro-economic policies will help ensure that this pace of growth continues, also offering an environment where Small & Medium Businesses can flourish.”
Summers said that Small and Medium Businesses deserve a special place in government policy because they contribute up to 80% of jobs in an emerging economy such as Kenya. As important as large infrastructure projects are, Small & Medium Businesses are the engines of job creation and the most efficient vehicle for redistributing and creating prosperity for the benefit of ordinary people, she adds.
“The new government should continue to follow the Kenya Vision 2030 blueprint, which recognises the crucial role of micro, small and medium business in industrial development,” says Summers. “It should also look at ways of strengthening its various small business funding efforts such as Uwezo Fund and the Youth and Women Enterprise Fund, since access to financing remains one of the most significant challenges for entrepreneurs and business builders.”
According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) around 2.2 million micro small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) shut down in the last five years. Some 30% reported that shortage of operating funds was the reason for their closure, highlighting the importance of sustainable financing in ensuring a healthy environment for small businesses.
“We also believe that technology could play a role in improving the sustainability of small Kenyan businesses and that government could encourage uptake of accounting solutions,” said Summers. “Accounting and payroll software could help entrepreneurs keep more accurate records, comply more easily with government and tax regulations and gain better visibility into financial performance. This could, in turn, improve their financial planning and their ability to manage cash flow.”
Summers said that the present governments’ policies of entrenching Buy-Kenya-Build-Kenya policy in public procurement are also to be welcomed. “The procurement budget is one of the best tools government has to help develop emerging businesses,” she added. “By giving small businesses preferential treatment in tenders, paying them quickly for work they do, and helping them develop skills, government can help them grow their businesses to the next level.”
There should also be closer collaboration between small business forums, big business (including multinationals) and government in nurturing the small business sector. “We at Sage would welcome working with other large companies and government to create forums for education, recognising and rewarding small businesses,” said Summers.
“Mentoring programmes, where business builders can learn from established entrepreneurs and businesspeople, as well as platforms that connect small businesses to big business and government, could all help smaller businesses to grow and thrive.”
Source APO

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Dangote Flour Mills recovers after 4 years; posts N12 billion profit

One of Nigeria’s largest and fastest growing conglomerates, Dangote Flour Mills has posted a profit before tax of N11.82 billion for its financial year ended December 31, 2016. According to the results released on the floor of the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE), the company has returned to profitability after four years of losses.
Review of the results indicated that the group’s operating profit went up to N16 billion as compared to a loss of N8.6 billion posted at the preceding year. Profit after tax went up to N10.6 billion in contrast to a loss of N12.5 billion in 2015.
Revenue went up by 120 percent from N48 billion to N105 billion, while gross profit increased by 556.8 percent to N29 billion compared to N4 billion in 2016. Capital market analysts described the company’s performance as heartwarming given that the company had recorded losses in the past.
Dangote Flour Mills consist of Dangote Flour, Dangote Pasta, and Dangote Noodles. It was sold to Tiger Branded Consumer Goods, but later reacquired and re-positioned for good results.
Having reacquired the flour mills, the new board of directors and management started a restructuring process.
Speaking on the repositioning, the Chairman, Dangote Flour Mills, Ighodalo Asue, said, “We bought back Dangote Flour Mill from Tiger Branded Consumer Goods and by this move, it means we have a stronger, better, sophisticated and more focused Dangote Flour Mills.
“Since the takeover, we have taken a lot of steps to reposition the company through expansion to drive growth. We are also using this medium to restate our commitment to increasing our shareholders.”
The group Chief Executive Officer, Dangote Flour Mills, Thabo Mabe, attributed the return to profitability to several strategies adopted by the company to increase market share and create value for shareholders.
He noted that the Dangote Flour Mills was driven by the vision of putting its products on the table of every Nigerian.
Source APO