One of the many good things about the Petroleum Commission is that they are strongly steering away from foreign companies setting up with Ghanaian partners who do not know the industry.

Bob MILIKIN Managing Director AQUATEC MARINE SERVICES

Ghana’s local current

August 8, 2018

Bob Millikin, the managing director of Aquatec Marine Services, talks to TOGY about the challenges to working in the Ghanaian market, international competition and tender processes in the country. Aquatec provides diving and marine services off and inshore.

• On foreign competition: “Securing work in Ghana has always been a big challenge, especially for a local business. We still get asked to price up jobs, only for a foreign entity to fly in a team under the radar and then back out again once the job has been completed.”

• On government support: “One of the many good things about the Petroleum Commission is that they are strongly steering away from foreign companies setting up with Ghanaian partners who do not know the industry with the sole purpose of securing contracts.”

• On market conditions: “If there is one thing you have to have, is stickability, because discouragement can dog you the whole way, from trying to secure the work, to trying to successfully complete the work and lastly trying to get invoices settled in a timely fashion.”

• On finance: “Banking in Ghana is extremely difficult. When we started, the bank interest rate was around 52%. As banking is still done the traditional way, collateral of two-thirds of your borrowing is required as security. Businesses fortunate enough to earn US dollars can get dollar loans, which are more competitive on interest rates but still high.”

Most TOGY interviews are published exclusively on our business intelligence platform TOGYiN, but you can find an abridged version of our interview with Bob Millikin below.

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What difficulties are there working in Ghana?

Securing work in Ghana has always been a big challenge, especially for a local business. We still get asked to price up jobs, only for a foreign entity to fly in a team under the radar and then back out again once the job has been completed.
Banking in Ghana is extremely difficult. When we started, the bank interest rate was around 52%. As banking is still done the traditional way, collateral of two-thirds of your borrowing is required as security. Businesses fortunate enough to earn US dollars can get dollar loans, which are more competitive on interest rates but still high.
Ghana is on the face of it very stable, but it is surprising how many folks plan their holidays abroad to coincide with elections.

How is competition affecting local companies?
We took a step up last year because the Petroleum Commission is doing a good job for local companies. We have picked up work that I think would have otherwise gone to foreign companies, and as a result of this we have managed to train 10 of our guys on a BOSIET [Basic Offshore Safety Induction and Emergency Training] helicopter survival course. I am pleased that we were able to do this and that we are getting more work because of this investment into our team.
It is directly because the Petroleum Commission is making sure that local companies are benefiting from whatever is happening upstream. Our first diver will be going to Fort William this summer to do an IMCA [International Marine Contractors Association] course. It is a big investment, with a basic air diving course costing GBP 20,000, excluding air tickets and per diem. It has been a dream ever since I returned to Ghana from the North Sea to have IMCA-trained local divers. We have not had continuity of work in the past to implement this.

Is international competition unfair?
One of the many good things about the Petroleum Commission is that they are strongly steering away from foreign companies setting up with Ghanaian partners who do not know the industry with the sole purpose of securing contracts. Ghana has been tough, especially for a returnee. The majority of returnees to Ghana actually go back due to the myriad of challenges they encounter.

Is it mostly short-term or spot contracts that you work on?
There are long-term contracts; we, however, have not been successful on these. Raising a high-value tender bond always favours the foreign entity, so we have survived mainly on spot work.

What is the key for doing business here?
If there is one thing you have to have, is stickability, because discouragement can dog you the whole way, from trying to secure the work, to trying to successfully complete the work and lastly trying to get invoices settled in a timely fashion.

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