By Agnes Ansah
A sensitisation programme to facilitate the free movement of people, goods and services within the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) sub-region is currently underway.
The programme, being spearheaded by the ECOWAS Secretariat in partnership with the International Organisation on Migration (IOM), seeks to educate stakeholders in the migration chain on ECOWAS protocols.
According to the organisers, the essence is to enable individuals have access to ECOWAS countries without any hindrance for trading and other activities in order to grow their economies, create jobs, build industries, create wealth and ensure the overall well-being of its members.
In Ghana, the programme commenced on Friday at various destinations in the country, including the Ghana Immigration Service (GIS) headquarters, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration, and the Tudu trading center in Accra.
The purpose is to ensure that all stakeholders in the travelling and trading chain are well engaged and educated on the protocols to ensure its smooth implementation.
At the GIS headquarters, Mr Laud Afrifa, Deputy Comptroller General in charge of Command Post and Operations, indicated that he was pleased his outfit was being educated on the protocols, because it would help in the smooth implementation of the programme.
He said that one cannot gain access into a country without going through immigration, hence, the role of the law enforcement agencies in the implementation of the policy is very key.
He also said that “border management has changed, it’s not a one agency responsibility anymore,” hence, enjoined all security agencies to work together to manage the borders.
Mr Samuel Basintale, Assistant Commissioner General of the GIS who touched on the requirements of the protocols, said that apart from the passport, which one normally travels with, one needs to possess an ECOWAS Card, which is known in Ghana as the Ghana Card, to ensure a smooth transition from one ECOWAS country to the other.
He said that was the reason why the government of Ghana was aggressively pursuing the Ghana card policy to ensure that Ghanaians would be able to gain access to other ECOWAS countries without hindrances.
Mr Basintale said that the quest to have a common card for ECOWAS member countries had already been agreed on and signed by the various heads of state, but it had to go through some process to operationalise, thereby slowing down its implementation.
“But now, most countries have acquired the card, and that’s why the ECOWAS Secretariat is moving from one place to the other, sensitising the operational bodies such as the police, immigration, customs divisions, because they are the agencies implementing the law, since its full implementation would start soon.
“As I am speaking now, most of the barriers that were on our roads have been taken away to make way for people to engage in trading and other activities freely and without any hindrance,” he said.
Speaking about the concerns that were being raised about the possible challenges a country can encounter as a result of free movement in the era of kidnapping and terror attacks, the Assistant Commissioner indicated that it was up to the individual countries to put in place measures to ensure that those who enter are not a threat to the security of its citizens, and the country as a whole.
He said that at the entry point, the immigration officers should be able to determine a person’s country of origin, the originality of the card, including date of issuance and place of issuance, as well as being able to verify if a person has records of theft, deportations for purposes of safety.
“So Ghana, as a country, should be able to put proper measures in place to check all these things. You can’t just allow the person to enter; you have to do a proper checks. Free is not free, free is regulated, so persons moving to other countries must ensure that they are moving with the required documents stipulated in the protocols.”