The Ghana Trade Fair Centre, which used to be a centre of attraction and convergence for trading activities among the business community, both local and international, is now a pale shadow of itself.
During a visit to the centre last weekend and early this week, the Daily Graphic observed that the famous Round Pavilion, which used to attract many visitors during trade fairs, was in bad shape.
The roof of the pavilion had been ripped off, while the Entertainment Centre behind the Round Pavilion was overgrown with weeds.
Apart from a few institutions, such as the Ghana National Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Federation of Ghanaian Exporters (FAGE) and other companies, which have permanent shops and stores there, there is nothing to write home about the centre.
The centre is vibrant during the weekends, as event organisers use some of the facilities to hold their programmes, such as church services, political rallies and other social events.
The GTFC has also decided to hire out the wings of Pavilion A to private individuals to use as stores, but an official told the Daily Graphic that “per our agreement, anytime we are organising a fair, such individuals either have to vacate for the fair to take place or pay the required amount in order to participate as exhibitors”.
Ghana’s first President, Dr Kwame Nkrumah, established the centre exactly 50 years ago as part of an industrialisation programme to expand the country’s international trade, especially in Africa.
From being a department under the Ministry of Trade and Industry to an authority, the company was converted into a limited liability and christened the Ghana Trade Fair Company Limited. It was incorporated under the Statutory Corporations (Conversion to Companies) Act 1993, Act 461 in April 1997.
The centre had the vision to become the preferred international trade fair centre in the sub-region to promote beneficial trade between Ghana and its g
lobal trading partners but it has not received much support from successive governments, while its facilities continue to deteriorate.
The mission of the centre is: “To organise world-class fairs and exhibitions. To be the prime institution for business trade facilitation in Ghana and to promote business exposure by creating match-making opportunities for Ghanaian businesses and their counterparts abroad”.
Lieutenant General J. A. Ankrah, who was the Head of State after the 1966 coup, which overthrew Dr Nkrumah officially opened the First International Trade Fair on February 1, 1967, with a total of 17 foreign countries, seven African as well as over 40 Ghanaian industries participating. The second and third fairs came off in 1971 and 1975 respectively.
After that there was a lull as the Trade Fair Centre was left to deteriorate. When the PNDC took over in 1981, it put in place strategies as part of the Economic Recovery Programme (ERP), which included the revival of local businesses.
Thus, in 1985, a group of local business people in the worrd and furniture sector, agreed to organise a fair and they sought the government’s assistance to rehabilitate the Trade Fair Centre.
This led to the hosting of the Ghana International Furniture and Woodworking Industry Exhibition (GIFEX), an annual exhibition to highlight activities of the furniture and woodworking industry in the country.
It openmed the flood gate for other fairs such as the Ghana Industry and Technology Exhibition, (INDUTECH) in 1987, the ECOWAS Fair, Grand Sales, the GREDA Housing Fair and Tourism Fair among other such shows.
The initiative by the private sector opened up the Trade Fair Centre for various kinds of businesses including trade shows, tradein all kinds of merchandise on an annual basis.
Every year, the trade fairs attracted business people and visitors to the centre to transact businesses and have fund.
Proffering reasons for the woes of the centre, the Chief Executive Officer of the GTFC, Dr Erasmus Koney, recalled with fond memories how the centre used to be.
“In times of old, the trade fair centre was a very vibrant place for everybody, including me. I have fond memories of what trade fairs used to be.
“In those days, the mission was to showcase Ghana as having arrived. The several industries that had sprung up in Ghana were to showcase their products here to other African countries and the whole world that Ghana was progressing,” he explained.
He, however, said with the springing up of a number of shopping malls within the country, especially in Accra, it was no more exciting for people to wait until the company organised its international fair or grand sales before they could come and buy things.
“With the establishment of various shopping malls, people do not have to wait for two weeks in a year to come here. For 365 days in the year you can visit any of the malls and you can get whatever you want,” Dr Koney explained.
He also blamed local industries for failing to patronise the centre’s fairs.
Dr Koney said currently when the company organised fairs and exhibitions, majority of the participants were always those in the tie & dye, beads and beads products as well as carving business.
Recalling what led to the conversion into a limited liability, he said in the 1992 Constitution, it was suggested that the centre, which was a department under the Ministry of Trade and Industry, be changed into an authority and later into a company.
He said a committee was set up to look into the viability of that suggestion and it came up with recommendations, among which was for the government to invest ¢919 million and $84 million to recapitalise the centre.
“But not a single cedi was sent here to recapitalise the centre. With trade fair now a company, it has been taken off government subvention and the workers are now required to work and pay themselves.
“After some time, the dilapidated nature of the buildings was such that it did not become attractive to event organisers and so they did not want to come here. They rather went to the Accra International Conference Centre (AICC),” he explained.
Dr Koney recalled that in February 2016, the government requested investors to bid to transform the centre, with Pricewaterhouse Coopers serving as advisers.
He said 10 companies were shortlisted and after an evaluation, five were chosen, out of which one was selected.
Dr Koney said currently the company was awaiting what the current government would say concerning what the previous government had initiated.
Explaining why the grounds of the centre were weedy, he said the board ordered that the cleaners and others janitors offering services be sacked, leaving only one because the centre could not pay for their services.
Dr Koney said the company was now working feverishly to host the Ghana@60 International Trade Fair slated from March 2 to 7, 2017 to coincide with the Ghana@60 celebrations.
He said the company was renovating pavilions A and B, as well as the Mobile Pavilion, and their wings to host the upcoming fair.
Dr Koney was convinced that with an injection of funds, the centre could bounce back to live, adding that after the upcoming fair, the centre would begin to transform.
The fountain at the Trade Fair Centre is now out of use