JoyNews’ investigations have uncovered how politically connected individuals and a smuggling cartel in the Central and Volta regions hoard and re-sell premix fuel to fishermen at exorbitant prices.

Premix fuel is supposed to be sold to fishermen for a little over ¢7 but is being dished out to them at ¢20 a litre.

Vice President, Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia three years ago promised to digitise the distribution of the government’s subsidised premix to rid the supply chain of middlemen who mostly hoard the product and sell it at exorbitant prices to fishermen.

JoyNews investigated how politicisation of the newly constituted premix committee is compounding the plight of fisher folks at the country’s landing beaches.

In 2019, JoyNews investigated the underhand dealings of a cartel hoarding and trading premix fuel at exorbitant prices.

The investigations further revealed how the operations of the cartels also created an artificial shortage of the commodity at the landing beaches along the coast of Ghana.

The management of the Premix supply and distribution is not only an issue of livelihood but, a political one.  It is one that caught President Akufo-Addo’s attention as he made a firm promise toward reforms and the introduction of new moves aimed at resolving the problems.

Despite the President’s affirmation, the teething challenges lingered on.

The regulations of the Premix Fuel Committee demand that a fisherman gets a maximum of one barrel of fuel per month. Even that quantity is for fishermen with large boats and canoes. The premix fuel is to be sold directly to the fishermen and not middlemen.

JoyNews uncovers politically connected individuals, smuggling cartel hoarding and reselling premix fuel

But three years ago, JoyNews investigations revealed that there were many middlemen aggressively buying, hoarding, and selling premix fuel.

Some individuals have formed cartels that hoard the product and later sell it to fishermen at exorbitant prices.

No one is checking these cartels. There are more fishermen in need of premix fuel. That is, the demand at the landing beaches far exceeds the supply.

Secretary of the premix committee in Komenda Charles Williamson agrees. This is the problem many fishermen face.

One of the middlemen I found is Kofi Agawu. He illegally sells several barrels of premix. He is not selling at the official price. Agawu has not been appointed by the premix committee and is not supposed to have access to this quantity of fuel. But he does.

JoyNews uncovers politically connected individuals, smuggling cartel hoarding and reselling premix fuel

About a hundred meters away from where Agawu operates, is Mensah O.B. He is a middle-aged man and has been plying this trade for more than five years. I can count at least ten barrels of premix fuel he has hoarded. Like Kofi Agawu, Mensah OB also sells the fuel at twice the original price.

Vice President Dr Mahamudu Bawumia three years ago promised to digitize the distribution of premix. Under this arrangement, no individual could buy pre mix without showing an ID card identifying him as a fisherman. This has only been piloted in the Greater Accra region.

Today the story is no different. In the Central, Western, and Volta regions. Unbridled hoarding by the cartel and politicization of the premix fuel distribution goes on unabated. It’s even worse with the nationwide shortage of premix fuel.

It is 2 pm and fishermen at Vodza in the Volta region are drawing their nets from the sea, a sense of uncertainty rests on their faces. They are anxious about whether their chants and toil will bring a bumper catch today.

A poor catch means they may not be able to pay for the cost of fishing nets, the canoe, and the premix fuel. The fuel they might have bought from middlemen. Kwame as I decide to call this fisherman in his early 20s places a call to a middleman in Aflao.

He is disappointed by the scarcity of premix fuel at this landing beach. Scarcity has made the product very expensive. Chief Fisherman at Vodza Joshua Agbotor tells me it’s become extremely difficult for fishermen to get premix to go fishing.

JoyNews uncovers politically connected individuals, smuggling cartel hoarding and reselling premix fuel

He says the fishing business, will soon collapse if the government does not introduce swift intervention. He already has a debt of 51,000 cedis.

This situation is no different at the Elmina Landing beach. Kofi Tawiah has been fishing here for many years. He is appalled by the distribution of premix fuel here.

He says members of the premix committee and a cartel have hijacked the sale and distribution of premix fuel. He says it’s near impossible for a fisherman to buy premix fuel at the government-subsidized price.

The JoyNews investigative team decided to test these claims by the fishermen. We posed as chainsaw operators in desperate need of premix fuel.

These middlemen buy the premix in barrels. They do not own fishing boats but get a regular supply of premix fuel. They sold a gallon for GHc150 cedis. Under the government’s subsidised programme, a gallon of premix should cost GHc60 cedis.

The premix fuel is usually blue in colour. This is to differentiate it from diesel or petrol to dissuade people from diverting it.

However, the JoyNews investigative team found out that the premix fuel sold to fishermen at Elmina and other landing beaches is colourless, sparking concerns of possible diversion.

With the gallons of premix bought from the 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 premix fuel. He says they purchase the diverted premix fuel in large quantities, hoard it, and resell it to the fishermen when it is scarce.

At this landing beach, the investigative team spots a fuel tanker filled with premix fuel. Richard and his counterpart tell us there are routes created to facilitate the diversion of premix to their base.

But, this is not the only burden weighing down the fisher folks. It’s the politicization of the premix committee and the hijacking of the premix distribution by persons perceived to be affiliated with the governing party.

A former member of the premix committee at the Vodza landing beach, Moses Nutsugah confirms this claim.

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 probe into the claims.

JoyNews uncovers politically connected individuals, smuggling cartel hoarding and reselling premix fuel

But, contrary to this claim, Kwawu Wisdom, a member of the current premix committee in Vodza, says he was appointed to the committee based on his affiliation with the governing New Patriotic Party. He has been a lotto forecaster for the past three decades.

He has been appointed a net owner on the committee but he doesn’t own a fishing net. He says this position was a reward to him for his service to the electoral fortunes of the party.

He further added that the government plans to digitize the distribution of premix will flush out the activities of middlemen who are exploiting the system. He provided an update on where the automation of premix distribution is.

Ghana’s fishing industry is on the brink. Depleting fish stock as a result of illegal fishing is killing the sector. This has implications for food security and the livelihoods of thousands of fishermen.

The situation with the management of the premix fuel worsens the problem. However, the promises made three years ago have not fully materialized.

The middlemen have taken over the distribution of premix fuel. Only time will tell whether the digitization of distribution of premix fuel will solve this difficult problem.