Nigerian Businessmen in Ghana in for more hard times

Nigerian traders in Ghana already angry with a policy that every Nigerian business outfit in Ghana must pay a record $300,000 before being allowed to do business are still in for hard times as the Investment threshold is still expected to go up to one million US dollars (US$1million).

The Chief Executive Officer of the Ghana Investment Promotion Council (GIPC) Mr George Aboagye has hinted that the initial equity capital investment of at least three hundred thousand United States Dollars (US$300,000) in Ghana is to be reviewed upward to one million US dollars (US$1million).

According to him the upward adjustment has become necessary because of the sophisticated nature of the business environment and its competitive nature in the 21st Century as well as taking cognizance of the current economic and investment environment.

on November 28, 2007, Nigerian traders in Ghana found themselves at crossroads over a business policy targeted only at Nigerian businesses in Ghana. On that date, the Ghana Investment Promotion Council (GIPC] came up with the policy that every Nigerian business outfit in Ghana must pay a record $300,000 before being allowed to do business in Ghana.
At the prevailing exchange rate, the sum adds up to about N48 million. To the traders, the policy looked ridiculous and sounded like a joke but the government meant it.

Before the traders could fathom the policy, the GIPC went into action, sealing up thousands of Nigerian businesses in Accra, the country’s capital and other Ghanaian cities.

More than 20 months after the sealing up of the shops, the businesses had remained shut.

Chief Executive Officer of the Ghana Investment Promotion Council (GIPC) Mr George Aboagye told B&FT in an exclusive interview that since the promulgation of the GIPC Act 1994 (Act 478) some fifteen years ago, the current US$300,000 had been the threshold. We want to set a standard that will be very attractive to the business world and to attract very serious business minded individuals, he added.

Mr. Aboagye gave the hint at forum organized by GIPC in Kumasi. The purpose of the forum was to listen to major concerns of business owners and how the operations of foreign investors were crippling their businesses and to deliberate on how effectively businesses owned by foreigners could be monitored to ensure that they comply with the stipulated standard as required by the Act that established the Centre.

A major concern which was raised by a member of the Ghana Union of Traders Association (GUTA) was to make Local Government Authority Permit a requirement by the GIPC to ascertain the source of the foreign investor’s money.

Another major concern that was raised was how foreign investors easily get flexible treatment by the country’s business regulators and tax agencies, where as local business men sometimes go through very stern and cumbersome procedure in clearing their goods from the ports.

The forum also sought to officially outdoor a regional task force to monitor the activities of non- Ghanaian business people operating in the country to ensure that Ghana’s investment regulations are respected and complied with.

The Chief Executive Officer of GIPC said the major task of the Task Force will be to investigate investors who have unlawfully invaded the market. He pledged his outfit’s commitment to fund the Task Force and provide them with logistics and create conducive environment to enable them to work effectively.

For sometime now, the Ghana Investment Promotion Centre has received reports from certain sectors of the Ghanaian community, particularly the Ghana Union of Traders’ Association, GUTA, that some foreign investors or traders operating in the country are flouting the country’s investment laws.

It is alleged that these investors either do not register their investments as required under the GIPC Act 1994 (Act 478) before commencing operations, or they register under the law but do not comply with the laid down provisions for their registration.

It is also claimed that some foreign traders evade the payment of taxes and also abuse the country’s employment regulations.

Many of the Nigerian traders have resigned themselves to fate after doing all they could to persuade the Ghanaian authorities to rescind the policy and re-open their shops.

Some of them have returned to Nigeria. Others have moved on to other countries while some are currently stranded in Ghana.

Many of the traders had thought that the new Ghanaian government of Prof. John Atta-Mills would discard the policy and allow them to find their means of livelihood. They thought wrong.

We have continued to wait in vain and we are now in dilemma in Ghana. Where do we go from here, they lamented.

The traders said that what amazed them was that an African country — a staunch member of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) — could suddenly come up with such a policy without minding the treaty and protocols of ECOWAS.

They said the treaty mandated ECOWAS citizens to live and operate freely in member countries.

The traders argued that they were at a loss on why the policy should be targeted only at Nigerians, considering that millions of other nationals, including Asians, Arabs, Europeans and other African countries were doing business in Ghana. These other nationals are not subjected to the harsh treatment being meted to their Nigerian counterparts.

According to the spokesman of the Nigerian Union of Traders Associations in Ghana (NUTAG), Mr. Jasper Emenike, targeting Nigerians in Ghana to pay $300,000 before they could do their businesses was embarrassing and inexplicable.

He described the policy as running contrary to the treaty of ECOWAS. Emenike called on the Nigerian government to take up the matter in the interest of the good bilateral relations between the two countries.

He said that his group had taken up the matter with the ECOWAS Parliament after its attempt to seek legal redress in Ghanaian courts was turned down by the judiciary.

He said that his group had intensified effort to drag the ECOWAS Parliament into the matter, citing efforts being made by the President of the ECOWAS Commission, Mr Mohammed Ibn Chambers to resolve the matter.

“We are quite impressed with the position of Mr Chambers on the matter because he has been vocal in telling the government of Ghana that it has violated the treaty of ECOWAS by imposing the charge on Nigerians, Emenike said. Analysts are still at a loss why Ghana would resort to imposing a burden on Nigerians doing business in Ghana.

It is a known fact that Nigerians have huge investments, including banks, insurance companies, telecommunications and other business, contributing more than one billion dollars to the economy of Ghana.

Nigeria’s High Commissioner to Ghana, Mr Musiliu Obanikoro, confirmed that the Ghanaian government has insisted that Nigerians must pay the money to trade in Ghana.

He said, however, that a committee has been set up by governments of the two countries to find ways of resolving the matter.

According to Obanikoro, the setting up of the committee is the fallout of the recent visit of the Ghanaian President Atta-Mills to Nigeria. Analysts are of the view that regulations as imposed by Ghana on Nigerians are arbitrary and not in the spirit of the ECOWAS Treaty.

They ask how it would sound if the Nigerian government insists that Ghanaians must pay similar sums to be allowed to do business in Nigeria.

They also wonder why the policy slammed on Nigerian traders in Ghana does not apply to nationals of other countries in Ghana.

They plead that the new government in Ghana must ensure that the “Ghana Must Go episode of the early 1980s “when Ghanaians were expelled from Nigeria — does not repeat itself.