Cross-border rice smuggling: a big hole in Ghana’s revenue kitty

smuggled-rice

Source: Graphic Online

In May, last year, Ghanaians were shocked when an investigative reporter, posing as a rice dealer, vividly exposed the existence of powerful, syndicated rice smuggling cartels operating along Ghana’s long and porous border with Cote d’ Ivoire.

The evidence of active, brisk, unimpeded and, particularly, lucrative smuggling of rice through Ghana’s western land borders is almost proverbial but has now become rather too damning to ignore.

Investigative journalist Aremeyaw Anas Aremeyaw’s audio-visual footage of live smuggling operations at various points of the western border confirmed the voluntary connivance of uniformed public officials engaged in smuggling transactions involving several convoys of truckloads of rice, ready to be shipped into Ghana – free of tax, free of quality control checks and free of VAT ….while fat, illicit payments are made to individuals and into private pockets. The state on the other hand, loses a whopping GH¢69 million every year to this seemingly harmless activity along our land borders with Cote d’Ivoire.

A big hole in kitty!

An estimated 100,000 metric tonnes (about four million bags) of rice are smuggled into Ghana from Cote d’Ivoire every year. Rice smuggling has long been observed to be a regular and lucrative activity along Ghana’s entire western frontier with Cote d’Ivoire, of which Kwamesiekrom, Gonokrom and Kofi Badukrom are reported to be key smuggling depots; while Enchi, Sampa, Nkrankwanta, Elubo, Debiso and Dadieso are known as significant ‘trade routes’ for rice smuggling.

Through these points and routes, some 25 to 35 truckloads of rice cross the borders on a daily basis – evading import duties and VAT – and travel to various parts of Ghana.

Cote d’Ivoire is known to import far more rice than Ghana, and it is on record that last year the country’s rice import grew by as much as 19 per cent.

The Incentives

But perhaps, the biggest incentive to rice smugglers is the high duty differential between the imports of Ghana and those of Cote d’Ivoire.

There is currently a huge differential of 28 per cent between Ghana’s rice and rice from Cote d’Ivoire, and this is naturally unsupportive of the business of legitimate importation in Ghana.

It is indeed of great interest that in 2011, while Ghana imported 450,000 metric tonnes of rice, Cote d’Ivoire imported almost twice that quantity – 800,000 metric tonnes.

Then last year, (2012) as Ghana imported 496,000 metric tonnes, Cote d’Ivoire imported 950,000 metric tonnes.

It may be an unfortunate cliché to suggest that a large chunk of the Ivoirien import is destined to arrive in Ghanaian markets through the back door, but attention needs to be drawn to the enabling fact that Cote d’Ivoire importers currently enjoy a significant duty advantage of lower import duty stocks.

The obvious impact of this is that apart from the massive losses in tax revenue incurred by the state, legitimate rice importers in Ghana appear doomed to suffer losses if, in the long run, they will not fold up their businesses altogether.

For the importer in Ghana must contend with a 20 per cent import duties, 15 per cent VAT and a 4.5 per cent levy, totalling 37 per cent, while his counterpart in Cote d’Ivoire pays much lower as import duties or levy; except a mere VAT component of 2.5 per cent.

A Ministry of Information report released early this year discloses that due to the difference in the duty scheme, the price of perfumed rice in Ghana has increased by 34.5 per cent.

The Crime Scenes

While recommending that the state must do everything to discourage rice smuggling at our land borders, we may also hasten to regard the various destination markets where the smuggled rice always ends up as another relevant crime scene.

In Accra, all one needs to do to encounter smuggled rice is simply to take a walk through popular food markets like those in Okaishie, Agbogloshie, Kaneshie, Nima and Madina; in Kumasi, one only has to visit the Adum Central Market, and in Takoradi, do a casual detour of the Market Circle. Like the markets in Accra, Kumasi and Takoradi, the main markets in Cape Coast, Sunyani, Tarkwa and Obuasi are all flooded with ‘un-customed’ rice from Cote d’Ivoire.

And how might one tell smuggled rice from legitimate rice imports? Very easy!! Smuggled rice will always sell cheaper on retail than the rice which passed through our ports.

Also, you would realise that somehow, dealers in smuggled rice either do not have the time or perhaps do not really care a hoot about removing or concealing tags and labels which come in the French language.

Plucking the hole

If the government cannot waive duties and levies on local rice imports, then the best alternative left for Ghana is to ban cross-border importation of rice altogether. After all, Cote d’ Ivoire is a consumer and not a producer of rice.

In order to fight a selfish multi-million cedi enterprise of this magnitude, it may be alright to attempt to police the known ‘trade routes’; however, past experience (and thanks again to Anas) have shown that our frontiers are notoriously too porous to police effectively.

Whereas physical patrols, which I believe are already on-going, need to be intensified, serious attention must be paid to the internal supply chain for smuggled rice – this is what makes the marketplace the functional crime scene in this illicit business.

Stockists, wholesalers and big-time retailers of legitimately imported rice always have VAT Receipts or at least purchase invoices covering their consignments.

As we hear from members of the Rice Importers Association of Ghana, it is impracticable for dealers in bootlegged rice to produce any relevant documentary evidence of purchase or transaction.

In other words, smugglers consider it a taboo to issue out documentation because it could lead revenue inspectors to their doorsteps.

Considering the effect of rice smuggling on government revenue, on the local import business, on quality control and general food security, there can be no question about the need for the government to move swiftly to stamp out this illicit trade.

Internally, since smuggled rice is so easily identifiable, one would wish that the revenue agencies like VAT and the IRS are empowered to regularly conduct inspections on relevant purchase invoices and VAT receipts of dealers on the market.

In that direction, the Importers Association may make itself useful by assisting in educating operatives of the Ghana Revenue Authority on how best to detect rice which, although was not harvested from the Aveyime farms, never arrived in Ghana through any of our designated ports.

Silicone baby used to entrap child murderers in Ghana

Source: Colors Magazine

Dressed in bright floral shirts, the murderers arrive. Anas – tall, thin, and slightly stooped – crosses the courtyard to greet them. The men are here to kill Koffi, a baby boy, and he leads them to the child. “Leave him with us!” jokes one. “That’s what we’re here for.” But Anas declines, and as they build a fire to boil up toxic roots, he carries Koffi back into the house, closes the door, and passes him out of a window to a waiting policeman.

There is a belief in northern Ghana that children born with deformities are possessed, and though Anas has sympathy for poor couples struggling to cope with a disabled child, he has none for the “concoction men” who kill these children to order. When the three old men have finished preparing their poison, Anas brings them into the baby’s bedroom. A silicone replica of Koffi is lying in the cot. Anas passes it to a poisoner, and the police burst in.

Undercover journalist Anas Aremeyaw Anas is one of the most famous men in Ghana, but almost nobody knows his face. His anonymity lets him investigate and expose lawbreakers – from cocoa smugglers crippling the country’s economy to members of a Chinese prostitution ring – and the results are often spectacular, appearing in national newspapers such as the Crusading Guide, in which Anas made his name, and on radio and television. Nothing, says Anas, is quite like video, and the effect of “seeing evidence play live in front of your face.” His private investigation company Tiger Eye employs 40 undercover operatives, equipped with hidden cameras and split into five independent teams: Chameleon, Spider, Parrot, Tiger and Spice Girl.

 

The work is dangerous. When Anas posed as a mental patient to expose drug dealing in an asylum, he was temporarily paralyzed by a mixture of mandatory sedatives, pills he took to combat their effects and cocaine he injected to win the trust of fellow inmates. When his cover was blown while hiding out with rebels on Côte d’Ivoire, he escaped on a stolen motorbike. And when he was caught impersonating a Catholic priest in Bangkok, Thailand, he was immediately thrown in jail without trial. On those last two occasions, he was saved by the Ghanaian government, with whom he has an unusual relationship. Although Tiger Eye produces work for Al Jazeera, the BBC and other major news agencies, its main client is the government of Ghana, whose own employees are often the targets of investigation. Corruption is the “disease” that permits crime, explains Anas: “Someone has to watch the watchers.”

4 must-read stories from Anas Aremeyaw Anas

anas-stories-on-TED

Source: TED

Anas Aremeyaw Anas is known for, as he calls it, the “naming, shaming and jailing” of criminals all over Ghana – yet few people would be able to pick him out of a crowd. The undercover journalist, who gave today’s talk, has brought smugglers, mob bosses and pimps to justice with an unshakeable determination to, in his words, “shine light in the dark spots of society.” All without ever revealing his identity. I caught up with Anas recently by email.

With public corruption so rampant — Anas has, after all, caught cops, government officials and prison administrators in all sort of sordid acts — it’s unnerving that so many of the criminals brought to light by Anas’ investigations are then sent through a justice system full of more corrupt officials. But as Anas pointed out to me, it’s not up to him to determine the cases’ outcomes. And he has faith.

“When there’s overwhelming evidence in a case, it is impossible for a judge to throw it out,” he says. “We can all depend on a high level of transparency.”

And yet that transparency is hard to come by. Anas’ track record (and some of the backlash he has received) is thanks to his use of hidden cameras, gathering video of irrefutable “hardcore evidence,” as he likes to call it. As Anas says in his talk, “If I say you have stolen, I show you the evidence that you have stolen. I show you how you stole it and when.” But in the case of criminal investigations, says Anas, the police are often unable to employ the same methods he does. While photographic evidence is accepted in court, it’s usually at a judge’s discretion. Just as in other countries, says Anas, judges can strike down relevant evidence if it is deemed inadmissible.

Certainly Anas’ immersive tactics can be extreme. While working on a story on the Accra Psychiatric Hospital, Anas played the part of the patient, taking prescribed drugs that left him impotent for a week after he left the hospital. And in his most recent story, on Nsawam Prison in Ghana, Anas shows footage of queuing for a “proper” toilet — a manhole in the middle of the yard, around which four men are squatting, back to back. The footage, which he showed for the first time at TED2013, also contains a harrowing shot of a room within the prison piled high with dead bodies.

The story is set to break soon in Ghana. One imagines a shot of a man’s back as he walks away from the rubble, his limp straightening into a swagger, as light is thrown onto another dark corner of society. But never on the man’s face.

Here’s a list of 4 must-read stories by Anas:

1. Spirit Child: Earlier this year, Anas published Spirit Child, a chilling investigative film on the ritual killings of disabled children, who are believed in some villages in northern Ghana to be possessed by evil spirits. In these villages, elders known as “concoction men” are commissioned by parents to mix up poisonous brews to deliver to their disabled children. Anas went undercover as such a parent and found he could buy the life of his decoy son for 75 Ghana Cedi, or $40 US. At the time Anas began his investigation, he could find no public records for arrests for these practices of infanticide. By the end of the film, two concoction men are charged with attempted murder and another three men charged with conspiracy to commit murder. Of the lack of arrests in the case of spirit children, Anas says, “[Democracy] certainly cannot exist where freedom and justice, selectively applied, mean that children are killed with impunity.”

2. Chinese sex cartel: In 2009, Anas busted “King” James Xu Jin, the boss of the Accra-based Chinese sex cartel (creepily named Peach Blossom Palace), after posing as a bartender and filming the hotel where Xu Jin ran the business. Xu Jin, along with his wife and brother, was found guilty of sex trafficking. The three were sentenced to a combined 41 years in prison.

3. Spell of the Albino: Anas investigates atrocities faced by albinos in Tanzania. The bones of albinos are considered by some in sub-Saharan Africa to carry powers that bring luck and wealth. In Tanzania alone, 62 albinos have reportedly been killed since 2008. Along with journalist Richard Mgamba and albino advocate Isaack Timothy, Anas visits two young albinos recently attacked with machetes: one had his fingers cut off, the other, her arm sold. A gruesome investigation — important, but not for the faint of heart.

4. Ghana’s Madhouse Story: Anas went undercover for seven months — as a baker, taxi driver and finally a mental patient — in and around Accra Psychiatric Hospital. Mental illness is deeply stigmatized in Ghana, and inside the hospital Anas found unbearable conditions, severe neglect and abuse by nurses, and the heavy use and sale of narcotics by patients and staff. One scene shows the victim of extreme neglect, a body in the very late stages of decay, being found by hospital staff. The body is carried away in the same van that transports food to and from the hospital.

More of Anas Aremeyaw Anas’ stories can be found at African News and through Africa Investigates. He is prolific on social media — follow him on Twitter @anasglobal. Anas is also the rather public figurehead of a private investigation firm Tiger Eye, based in Accra, and the co-owner of The New Crusading Guide. On the side, Anas runs Name & Shame Ghana, a site that surfaces crowd-sourced videos of corruption. On all these sites, Anas is often depicted with his back to the viewer or with his face obstructed, as in his talk.