JoyNews investigations have revealed how politically connected individuals and a smuggling cartel in the Central and Volta regions are hoarding and reselling pre-mixed fuel to fishermen at exorbitant prices.
Pre-mixed fuel is supposed to be sold to fishermen for just over 7¢ but is distributed to them at 20¢ per litre.
Vice President Dr Mahamudu Bawumia promised three years ago to digitize the distribution of government subsidized premix to rid the supply chain of middlemen who mainly hoard the product and sell it at exorbitant prices to fishermen .
JoyNews has investigated how the politicization of the newly formed premix committee is worsening the plight of fishermen on the country’s landing beaches.
In 2019, JoyNews investigated the underhanded dealings of a cartel stockpiling and marketing premixed fuel at exorbitant prices.
The investigations further revealed how cartel operations have also created an artificial scarcity of merchandise on the landing beaches along the Ghana coast.
Managing the supply and distribution of Premix is not just a livelihood issue but also a political issue. It was the one that caught the attention of President Akufo-Addo as he made a firm promise of reforms and the introduction of new measures to address the problems.
Despite the president’s assertion, the initial challenges persisted.
Premix Fuel Committee regulations require a fisherman to receive a maximum of one barrel of fuel per month. Even this amount is for anglers with large boats and canoes. Pre-mixed fuel must be sold directly to fishermen and not to intermediaries.
But three years ago, JoyNews investigations revealed that there were many middlemen aggressively buying, hoarding and selling premixed fuel.
Some individuals have formed cartels that hoard the product and then sell it to fishermen at exorbitant prices.
No one controls these cartels. There are more anglers who need premixed fuel. In other words, the demand on the landing beaches far exceeds the supply.
Komenda premix committee secretary Charles Williamson agrees. This is the problem that many anglers face.
One of the intermediaries that I found is Kofi Agawu. He illegally sells several barrels of premix. It does not sell at the official price. Agawu was not named by the premix committee and is not supposed to have access to this amount of fuel. But he does.
About a hundred meters from where Agawu operates is Mensah OB. He is a middle-aged man who has been in this business for over five years. I can count at least ten barrels of premixed fuel he has accumulated. Like Kofi Agawu, Mensah OB also sells fuel at twice the original price.
Vice President Dr Mahamudu Bawumia promised three years ago to digitize premix distribution. Under this arrangement, no one could buy premix without presenting an identity card identifying him as a fisherman. This has only been tested in the Greater Accra region.
Today, the story is no different. In the Center, West and Volta regions. The rampant cartel hoarding and politicization of the distribution of pre-blended fuels continues unabated. It’s even worse with the nationwide shortage of premixed fuel.
It is 2 p.m. and the fishermen of Vodza in the Volta region are pulling their nets from the sea, a feeling of uncertainty can be read on their faces. They are worried about whether their singing and hard work will bring an exceptional catch today.
A bad catch means they may not be able to afford the cost of fishing nets, canoe and premixed fuel. The fuel they could have bought from intermediaries. Kwame, as I decide to call this fisherman in his twenties, calls a middleman in Aflao.
He is disappointed by the scarcity of premixed fuel on this landing beach. The scarcity made the product very expensive. Vodza Chief Fisherman Joshua Agbotor tells me that it has become extremely difficult for anglers to get premix to go fishing.
He says the fishing industry will soon collapse if the government does not act quickly. He already has a debt of 51,000 cedis.
This situation is no different at Elmina Landing Beach. Kofi Tawiah has been fishing here for many years. He is appalled by the distribution of premixed fuel here.
He says premix committee members and a cartel hijacked the sale and distribution of premixed fuel. He says it is almost impossible for a fisherman to buy premixed fuel at the government subsidized price.
The JoyNews investigative team decided to test these fishermen’s claims. We posed as chainsaw operators in desperate need of premixed fuel.
These intermediaries buy the premix in barrels. They do not own fishing boats but receive a steady supply of premixed fuel. They sold a gallon for GHc150 cedis. Under the government subsidized scheme, a gallon of premix is expected to cost 60 GHc cedis.
Premixed fuel is usually blue in color. This is to differentiate it from diesel or petrol to deter people from diverting it.
However, the JoyNews investigative team found that the pre-mixed fuel being sold to fishermen at Elmina and other landing beaches is colorless, raising concerns about possible diversion.
With the gallons of premix purchased from middlemen, the investigative team heads to Yamoransa in the central region where the premix fuel cartel operates. We meet Richard Woode, a premix smuggler.
He offers to buy our premixed fuel. He says they buy the diverted pre-mixed fuel in large quantities, store it and resell it to fishermen when it is scarce.
On this landing beach, the investigation team saw a tanker filled with premixed fuel. Richard and his counterpart tell us that there are routes created to facilitate the diversion of premix to their base.
But this is not the only burden on fishermen. It is the politicization of the premix committee and the hijacking of premix distribution by people perceived to be affiliated with the ruling party.
A former member of the Vodza Landing Beach Premix Committee, Moses Nutsugah confirms this assertion.
The administrator of the National Premix Secretariat, Nana Asare, says the laws frown on the politicization of the premix committee. He says the secretariat will investigate the claims.
But, contrary to this claim, Kwawu Wisdom, a member of the current premix committee at Vodza, claims that he was appointed to the committee because of his affiliation with the ruling New Patriotic Party. He has been a lotto forecaster for the past three decades.
He was appointed net owner in the committee, but he does not own a fishing net. He says the position was a reward for him for his service to the party’s electoral fortunes.
He further added that the government’s plan to digitize premix distribution will flush out the activities of intermediaries who operate the system. He provided an update on automating the distribution of premixes.
Ghana’s fishing industry is on the brink. The depletion of fish stocks as a result of illegal fishing is killing the sector. This has implications for the food security and livelihoods of thousands of fishers.
The situation with premix fuel management compounds the problem. However, the promises made three years ago have not fully materialized.
Intermediaries have taken over the distribution of premix fuel. Only time will tell if digitizing premix fuel delivery will solve this difficult problem.