We came across a touching story where a Non-Governmental Organization’s attempt to donate items to institutions in Ghana endured challenges and hurdles which could be avoided! These difficulties are part of the reasons why Ghanaians in the diaspora find it difficult to assist their fellow citizens back home . We present to our readers the unedited version of the organization’s narrative below:
So last month, the 40 foot Container that we, a collective of brothers, loaded and shipped from the USA arrived safely at Tema harbour. Contents included 40 refurbished like-new Fujitsu Laptop computers (a donation), thousands of books, a used large Organ, medical supplies, and very good condition used office furniture.
Items were destined for two rural Schools that we support in Ghana, one in the Volta Region and the second in rural Greater Accra region. We are in the process of finishing a Library and Learning Center at the Volta school. We tried to obtain a tax exemption/duty waiver in Ghana prior to their arrival, as these are “charity items”, but were unsuccessful. No big deal, we knew it was a long shot anyway so we coughed up the assessed customs tax and clearing charges of just over 4000 US dollars.
On Wednesday May 29, container was opened for inspection. Ghana customs inspection is another matter. You empty a 40 ft container into the open knowing its about to rain, because dark clouds are visibly moving in from the East, and the Inspector goes to lunch or somewhere and cannot be found. They wait till its raining before they give you a tarp to cover your goods, including books and computers. About a third of the books got wet, the computers fortunately not.
The goods were duly examined by Customs, following which two trucks were loaded and made ready to depart from the harbour, one on a five-hour journey to Wusuta, Volta. At that point, the Inspector shows up again and demands that the computers be unloaded because a new Rule or Law requires environmental clearance from the Ghana EPA, never mind that the computers were loaded into the trucks first, and it’s still raining. It is fruitless to point out that over a week before the container arrived, Ghana Customs was given a bill of laden that clearly stated there were computers on board, yet nothing was said until our trucks were loaded and ready to leave the harbour.
The Shipping Agent and the Clearing Agent hadn’t heard of this new rule before and the Shipping Line now states that they got the notification email from the Ghanaian authorities only the week before this day. But that’s it, the law is being enforced without a grandfather clause so it doesn’t matter if you shipped your stuff before the law’s passage.
Everything was therefore unloaded from the two trucks and Customs detained the computers until we could provide a letter/certificate from the people who donated them to us that “the computers are environmentally sound” or obtain a certificate from an agency contracted by the Ghana Government.
We are directed to a website that takes about two hours to figure out. The agency is based in Switzerland and here we start the process of getting an Environmental certificate for goods that are already in Ghana. It takes us three days to complete the process, including a fee of about 48 dollars, small change in the grand scheme of things. One has to ask, what are these Swiss merchants doing that an EPA agent can’t do at the port in Ghana? Anyway, we think we may be the first group to have completed this project of EPA certification .
Certificate obtained, Customs duly released all 40 computers to us safely on June 7th. The new law was passed a couple of weeks before our items arrived in Ghana and it is meant to prevent the dumping of old junk computers in Ghana. It’s a very reasonable law, but the processes for implementation and enforcement were not clear and not made available to Shippers or their agents.
But we have completed this shipment now. We have no option of giving up because living in so-called greener pastures comes with an obligation to one’s fatherland, but it was a very frustrating experience.
At least we know now, and when we do this again, there will be no “culture shock”. We will ship in the middle of Harmattan season when there is no rain, and we will bring the Customs Inspector a packed lunch so he won’t have to go missing.
All is well that ends well and everything we shipped got to their destination. About 30 percent of the books suffered rain damage while waiting (for the Inspector) on the ground of the Tema Harbour yard. We can live with that. It could have been far worse.
Thanks to everyone who helped make this happen, and we need to pat ourselves and each other on the back, especially our brother Kofi, who helped to load the container in Texas, watched it leave the USA on a truck headed for Houston harbour and then was present at Tema to see it unloaded, inspected, loaded into the trucks, unloaded for detention of computers, and then trucks reloaded. He picked up the computers when they were finally released and personally delivered them safely to Wusuta. Thanks too to Rev. Father Isaac, who runs the school in Wusuta and was at the Tema Harbour to share in the ordeal.
The following pictures provide a brief visual of the journey from loading in Texas, stress at Tema and delivery to (Trans-)Volta. All the boxes contain books, not _Penzoil_ engine oil !