General News of Thursday, 11 April 2013
Source: Daily Guide
Trouble is brewing within the road sector, as road contractors nationwide fume with anger and are ostensibly planning to hit the streets to press home their demand for the payment of arrears dating back more than a year.
The arrears as of December 2012, added up to more than GHC190million and all efforts by the aggrieved contractors to get the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) to pay them had failed woefully, DAILY GUIDE gathered.
The road contractors’ agitation is the latest in the string of financial related agitations dogging the government over unpaid arrears. Many of these arrears are supposed to be drawn from statutory accounts that are not meant to be tampered with by government.
However, critics have charged the government for misapplying these statutory funds.
The government cannot meet its statutory payments to the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) for payment to service providers; Ghana Education Trust Fund (GETFund) for contractors and students on government scholarships; the Road Fund for periodic and regular road maintenance; Talk Tax for NYEP; District Assembly Common Fund and Social Security and National Insurance Trust (SSNIT) for workers contributions.
Some contractors, who spoke to DAILY GUIDE last Tuesday, stated that the non-payment of their money had driven many of them into bankruptcy and acute depression.
The angry contractors hinted that more than 900 of their compatriots nationwide and thousands of their workers are planning a number of options to retrieve their outstanding money, including blocking all access roads to Accra with their heavy earth moving machines.
According to them, when they strike, the Executive of the Road Contractors Associations may be helpless in containing the explosion.
“Construction workers are going crazy that they have never been unleashed onto the country. Maybe this will happen for the first time,” the source told DAILY GUIDE.
For the contractors, they would not hesitate to replicate the radical move across the country to force the Mahama-led government to release their funds.
“We are aware of it [the agitation], we have been in touch with the Ministry of Finance and the contractors are aware. We’ve sat together…I just want to see how we can clear our present indebtedness to our creditors, i.e. the contractors,” the Minister of Roads and Highway, Alhaji Aminu Sulemana, who appeared clearly overwhelmed by the rising tension in the sector, told DAILY GUIDE in a telephone conversation on Wednesday.
He laid the blame squarely on the lap of the Ministry of Finance when asked what was causing the delays in the release of the funds. “I am not the one doing the payment…it’s the Ministry of Finance that does payment in Ghana, that is outside my control. Issues of money are certainly outside the Ministry of Roads and Highway,” he stated helplessly.
In Ghana, funds meant for settling road contractors are drawn directly from the statutory Road Fund which is financed by funds from road tolls and a deduction of 6 pesewas from every litter of petroleum product bought in Ghana.
Official data indicates that approximately GHC235 million was channeled into the road fund in 2012. “So we don’t see why government would not settle its debt of barely half [GHC190million] the total accrual into the Road Fund for the year,” the source told DAILY GUIDE.
According to the contractors, many of them have gone bankrupt and some of them have died out of frustration because even the banks that usually cushion them with overdrafts have become doubtful of their credit-worthiness.
A member recently dropped dead in church, sources revealed.
The contractors say they currently operate on a deficit, as government pays them piecemeal.
“By the time he [the contractor] is paid, the hole that has been created is such that you don’t see the money,” they complained.
The contractors claim they have fruitlessly presented their contract certificates to the Road Fund for settlement, but every time they do so, they are turned down.
Sources within the Road Fund told DAILY GUIDE there are long queues of contractors sitting on benches at the office of the Fund daily.
Apparently, the sight of visibly frustrated contractors may have so upset the new Director of the Fund, Frank Agbenatoh, that he was compelled to get rid of the benches to stop the stream of creditors storming the office daily.
The contractors are complaining that the delays have inevitably forced them to completely decimate their working capital, consequently forcing most road works to grind to a halt.
The Minister tried to explain the reasons for the difficulty faced by government in settling its obligation with the contractors.
“What I can say on the part of the Ministry of Roads and Highway is that maybe they carried out more than they were expected to do. They then suffered too many contracts at the same time…maybe we unnecessarily carried out more work than we had in our budget,” he said.