Random road blocks, entrenched bribery and bloated tariffs along the Ghana-Togo-Benin-Nigeria corridor are seriously affecting the achievement of the ECOWAS Trade Liberalization Scheme ((ETLS) and affecting inter-country trade within the sub-region.
There are over 18 control points manned by police and custom officials of the respective countries.
Drivers typically spend about 20 minutes at each border post and pay the equivalence of US$ 11 as bribes.
Ghana’s Minister of Trade and Industry, Hanna Tetteh, in an interview, stated: “In the West African sub-region and ECOWAS states, two critical protocols that directly impinge on sub-regional trade promotion are the ECOWAS protocols on the Free Movement of Persons, Goods and Services and, more importantly, the ECOWAS Trade Liberalization Scheme.”
She explained that ineffective implementation of the various trade protocols and ETLS collectively signed and agreed by ECOWAS members is costing the sub-region millions of dollars in trade forgone.
A typical exporter of a 1000 sacks of whole grains from Accra to Benin by road, covering about 400 kilometers has to bear the high financial brunt of transportation, usually costing from $2000 to $3,500, charged by private truck operators.
There are two main toll-booths on the Tema Motorway and Sogakope respectively where drivers pay between GH¢1; heavy buses and light goods truck (two axles) to GH¢5.50 for heavy goods truck (five or more axles).
There are Customs checkpoints at the Ningo Barrier and the area around Dabala exist on the way to the Afloa border of Ghana and Togo.
“Sometimes, if you do not want delays and unnecessary harassment, you will have to bribe the officials here to get your goods across,” A whole-grains Ghanaian exporter told this reporter.
“We pay depending on the quantity of what you are exporting.
The more, the higher.”
In an interview with a Benin importer of flour, cooking oil and whole grains, on condition of anonymity, she bemoaned the near-collapse of her business due to the unauthorized charges she had to pay at the borders of Ghana, Togo and Benin.
The traders said the import duty charged for imports into Ghana, ranging between 5-20%, was still expensive despite its reduction.
There are other charges including VAT, the ECOWAS levy, processing fee among others.
This, the traders lamented, took a significant chunk of their capital, and they in turn have to transfer the cost unto the final consumers.
“We have been struggling to keep our goods affordable for final consumers,” one trader said.
“Sometimes, to escape import or export duties and other unreasonable charges and bribes, we have to smuggle the goods through the ‘beats’ into Togo or Ghana and through numerous bush paths into Nigeria.”
The ‘beats’ are exit and entry points along the Afloa border used typically to smuggle goods in and out of the two countries at relatively reduced charges.
When this reporter got to the Afloa border, the Togolese officials made unauthorized charges totaling 2000 ($4) CFA Francs for entry into Togo, despite possessing an ECOWAS member state passport.
In order to avoid unnecessary delays, the transporter of the whole-grain vehicle said he paid an equivalent of US$100 in bribes at the border.
The situation is worse along the Benin-Togo border.
According to a Togolese Customs official, there are no export controls in the country and that ‘tariffs are based on a nondiscriminatory schedule at 5%, 10%, or 20% and there is a customs stamp tax and a 3% statistical tax.
At Agoue in Benin, traders and ordinary travelers paid over 5,000 CFA Francs (USD $9.65) each in unexplained charges just to enter Benin.
Just after the border, traders have to pay an equivalent of USD $100 in bribes and other unexplained charges at three different checkpoints.
However, in an interview with the Public Relations Officer of the Nigeria Custom Service, Olottah E.A, he said he saw no barrier hindering free trade between Nigeria and other West African States aside from the lack of understanding.
“The ETLS is a scheme that was introduced to boost trade within the West African sub-region.
However, there are rules guiding the scheme such as the production of the goods.
The goods must be produced from the ECOWAS member states,” he said.
He added that goods produced from other parts of the world do not enjoy this treatment.
Also, the goods in question must be registered with ECOWAS, and that is what most of the traders do not understand.
When the illegalities going on along the Ghana-Togo-Benin-Nigerian corridor were brought to his notice, Mr.
Olottah said “custom officials were over-stepping their boundaries by imposing charges which discourage free trade and economic development.”
“We are adhering to government policy and we do things according to the government directive and follow due processes.
If all these are adhered to by the public, it will boost the economy and help the economy to be well secured, so no, I don’t think so,” he added.
By Michael Thompson
This investigation was carried out with support from the PAIR programme.