French billionaire Vincent Bolloré has been accused of shady deals and underhand dealings in the processes leading to his company’s control of Ghana’s largest port, the Tema Harbour.
In a special report, Pan African publication African-Confidential uncovered how Bolloré’s firm, Bolloré Africa Logistics, won the right to build and run a state-of-the-art container terminal at Ghana’s Tema port.
The report described the new container port of Tema as 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).”
The agreement, which was signed under the administration of then Ghanaian President John Mahama, became a subject of a ministerial investigation following his defeat in 2016 to President Nana Akufo-Addo, who secured a second term in December 2020.
The ministerial committee report said the French billionaire and his partners persuaded Mahama to award MPS a new container terminal contract in secret in breach of the country’s procurement laws.
It also said MPS overstated its planned investment which won tax holidays worth $832 million from Ghana’s parliament and that the agreement surreptitiously cut Ghana’s equity in MPS to 15% after first agreeing to 30%.
The committee’s report further claimed that Bolloré and his partners 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.”
The committee’s report also showed how Bolloré and his partners reduced the fees payable to the government over the life of the concession by $4.1 billion.
To this end, the committee concluded that the deal did not inure to the benefit of Ghana and recommended for a renegotiation which the Akufo-Addo administration ignored.
“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-criticized contracts are still unchanged,” Africa Confidential said.
Africa Confidential further reported that the history of those relations shows “serious ethical professional deficiencies” with the result that “the engagements have to be carefully and deliberately reviewed.”
The newsletter noted that President Akufo-Addo inherited the situation when he won the 2016 election and “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.”
According to Africa Confidential, although Akufo-Addo faced Mahama in December 2020’s general election, “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). 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,” it added.
Bolloré has been accused of running a port monopoly in West Africa as his firm is linked to managing 18 ports in the sub-region.
The report likened Bolloré’s concession of Ghana’s port to one he won in for his operations at the port of Lomé, Togo, in return for financing the re-election of the country’s president, Faure Gnassingbé, 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 favors 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,” the report added.