Security officers in charge of Ghana’s border towns in the Upper East region have expressed frustrations at the persistent disclosure of classified information in public by drunk informants, saying the lapses are aiding smugglers to run down the country’s economy.
The anomaly, which the senior security officers described as a threat to anti-smuggling efforts, came to light at a stakeholders’ forum held Thursday in Bolgatanga, the regional capital, on the Fertiliser Subsidy Programme (FSP) in Ghana. The forum, organised by the Peasant Farmers Association of Ghana (PFAG), precedes the launching of what the association calls “Fertiliser Watchdogs”, slated for Friday at the Paga Border.
“I just want to caution the association against engaging informants who would not help this cause. Some of these informants get drunk; then, they go out there and disclose what is supposed to be a secret. Anywhere at all, they just talk openly about the officers they have given information to and how they are handling it. By doing so, they are not only revealing information which would help us track smugglers but they are also exposing the officers to danger.
“We need genuine informants who will not put the lives of security officers at risk. We are not going to accept informants who get drunk anymore. As for me, if you are known to have disclosed a secret before because you got drunk and you are approaching me next time to give information, I would just turn my back at you,” Daniel Nartey, an officer with the Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA), complained at the event.
Immigration officers at the event also lamented their inability to do thorough patrols against smuggling particularly around the region’s numerous unapproved routes for lack of adequate logistics.
“If you come to the immigration office [at Paga], look at the way the border is big, yet we have only two vehicles- one for patrols and the other one is for the commander. And the smugglers are more sophisticated. They have weapons. We are risking our lives for this nation. It’s just recently the government has agreed to arm us. And even as I speak, the weapons are not yet in,” Bernard Adu Gardener, an Assistant Superintendent of Immigration, told the audience.
Challenge of Fertiliser Subsidy Programme not just smuggling
The smuggling of the subsidised fertiliser outside Ghana is not the only threat to the Fertiliser Subsidy Programme.
According to the Northern Regional Fertiliser Desk Officer, Aaron Festus Langkuu, limited number of fertiliser retailers and bad road networks also have remained a challenge to the programme.
“Some districts or communities have limited number of fertiliser retailers or none, which still hinders accessibility. Bad road network still hinders fertiliser distribution since vehicle owners refuse to use the roads. The software tracking system, although good, is impossible at certain times since it works best with internet services. Most retailers who are not literate find it difficult to use. Another challenge is inadequate extension staff to facilitate monitoring of subsidised fertiliser,” Mr. Langkuu told the forum.
Key presenters at the discussion- including PFAG’s Programme Coordinator, Victoria Adongo, and the association’s Programme Officer, Charles Kwowe Nyaaba- underscored the need for stakeholders to ensure that the subsidised fertiliser was delivered to its target- the Ghanaian farmer.
Food crises, according to Madam Adongo, sparked civil wars in some African countries some years ago. Ghana, drawing lessons from those crises and the resulting unrest that hit those countries, decided to reduce the cost of fertiliser in 2008 to boost up crop yield so food could be more affordable.
The subsidy was met with the smuggling of fertiliser from Ghana to neighbouring countries. To discourage the trafficking, the subsidy rate consistently was lowered from 51% to 21% between 2008 and 2016. With government’s announcement to increase the rate to 50% in 2017, fears are rife that smuggling would increase, too.
“PFAG envisioned possible smuggling in 2017 due to price differences between open market and subsidised fertiliser. In our efforts towards protecting the taxpayer’s money and compliment government’s efforts, PFAG has identified volunteers in all hotspots and border towns in the three northern regions, where fertiliser smuggling is high, to support the security agencies with information,” Madam Adongo said.
Stakeholders call for arrests irrespective of party colours
The forum had in attendance security agencies, traditional rulers, agricultural experts, farmers and civil society organisations.
The event was climaxed with recommendations from stakeholders who largely were of the strong view that the anti-smuggling crusade would only be sustainable if culprits would be prosecuted irrespective of their political colours. Whilst some proposed a hotline through which community members could always volunteer tipoffs to the security agencies, others advocated for the security agencies patrolling the borders to be more resourced.
“We say government has done well about the subsidy of fertiliser. What are we doing about the environment? Land is a component of the environment. You can’t talk about farming when there is no land. And you can’t talk about farming when the environment is depleted. If the trees are not there, we won’t get rainfall.
“I am not against the Planting for Food and Jobs programme. But I’m thinking that a particular package should be [attached] to ensure that they plant trees. That is a job. Government has given us fertiliser. What about if you farm, you apply fertiliser, the rain doesn’t come? What happens? It means we are just tackling a problem from the surface,” the Paramount Chief of Bongo, Naba Baba Salifu Atamale Lemyaruum, who chaired the roundtable, said.