Government without orders: The case of GVG and revenue assurance

Government without orders: The case of GVG and revenue assurance
Source: Ghana | Dr. Mawia Zakaria | Institute of Social Research and Development.
Date: 27-05-2018 Time: 05:05:47:pm

I have followed keenly events in the telecommunications sub-sector of Ghana with a particular focus on the role of NCA in maximizing revenue collection for the state. The parliament of Ghana promulgated several laws under the erstwhile NDC administration to enable the NCA implement projects that would accrue revenue to the state.

Amongst these laws include the National Communications Authority Act 2008 (Act 769), the Electronic Communications Act, 2008 (775) as amended by the Electronic Communications (Amendment) Act 2016 (Act 910), Communication Service Tax (Amendment) Act 2013, (Act 864) and the Electronic Communications (Interconnect Clearinghouse Services) Regulations 2016 (L.I 2234). 

The NCA decided to implement these pieces of legislation through third party entities as agents. The Global Voice Group, a Haitian Company with Gabby Otchere Darko as an alleged local agent, was the first entity that was engaged by NCA in 2010 to implement the International Inbound Traffic Verification (IITV) gateway project. This was supposed to be a live monitoring of all Inbound International traffic and revenue assurance to stopping Sim box fraud numbers. At about the same time, Subah Info Solutions was engaged by GRA to undertake Domestic Tax revenue assurance.

The Global Voice Group failed in the implementation of the project since they only relied on Call Data Records (CDR) provided by the telecommunication companies. The contract with GVG was not renewed by the NCA and given to Subah Info Solutions. Subah was now handling both the IITV and domestic tax assurance. Subah was also unable to deliver as required and also relied on CDRs provided by the telecommunication companies. There was a national uproar about the Subah contract spearheaded by the then opposition NPP.

In the mist of failures of these companies to deliver as required, the NDC Government licensed a new entity to implement the Interconnect Clearing House (ICH) project. But before the Electronic Communications (Amendment) Act 2016, Act 910 was passed into law, the NPP in Parliament led by the current Deputy Finance Minister, Honourable Kwaku Kwarteng advocated that Tax revenue assurance should not be part of the scope of an ICH to keep Subah in business. They insisted that Subah had their mandate from GRA which fell under the Ministry of Finance. Today those who ensured that Subah continued with Tax revenue assurance are the same people arguing against Subah in the selfish interest of their newly found lover: The GVG Group.

Afriwave Telecom was given a provisional (ICH) license in June 2015 to build and operate facilities for a Clearinghouse services in Ghana. And with the passage of the Electronic Communications (Amendment) Act, 2016 Act 910 and LI 2234, Afriwave was awarded its final ICH license in October 2016. The scope included the provision of interconnect electronic communications routing and reconciliation among Mobile Network Operators, Other Licensed Connecting Entities, Revenue assurance for the NCA, SIM Box detection, Centralized SIM activation and Equipment Identity Register platforms. 

With this mandate Afriwave license could easily have provide a common platform and leverage on to provide Tax revenue assurance to the GRA even at no extra cost to Government. Afriwave telecom as the ICH provider could provide this live monitoring for both the NCA and GRA at no cost to the GRA because they would have access to about 20% live interconnect traffic and it will be easy to just add 80% on net traffic.

Afriwave setup its equipment and began its operations with the revenue assurance for the NCA and SIM Box detection to reduce Government revenue leakages through SIM-Box Activities and to prevent revenue self-reporting by Mobile Network Operators. Subsequently the NCA proposed and amended the ICH license of Afriwave in October 2017 limiting the scope of the ICH license to provide International and National interconnect traffic routing and reconciliation among Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) and other licensed connecting entities. Afriwave was therefore asked to stop all other deliverables within the scope of its original license. 

The NDC administration went through an open and elaborate process to select Afriwave to undertake the ICH project as outlined below;

In April 2014, the then Minister for Finance, Mr. Seth Tekper, constituted a committee, chaired by the Tax Policy Advisor to propose a common platform for the monitoring of revenue accruing from the implementation of the Communications Service Tax (Amendment) Act 2013, (Act 864) and Electronic Communications Act, 2009 (Act 775)

The then Minister for Communications and that of Finance, agreed on the recommendation of the aforesaid Committee to license a Clearinghouse by December 2014 to achieve common platform for routing as well as monitoring of traffic on and among Telecom Service Providers in Ghana.

The then Minister of Communications met the CEOs of Telecom Operators in May 2014 where the modalities for issuing a license for the operation of a Clearinghouse were outlined.

The Ministry of Communications requested from the NCA policy advice on Clearinghouse and same was provided by the NCA.

The Ministry of Communications tabled a memorandum regarding four licenses including Clearinghouse Services to cabinet for deliberation and in August 2014 cabinet gave approval for the implementation of the policy.

The NCA met the Board Chairmen and CEOs of the telecom operators in September 2014 to outline and discuss the rationale, modalities, benefits and timelines for the process of licensing the Clearinghouse.

NCA published the process documents and draft license on 5th November 2014 at the NCA website www.nca.org.gh for comments.

NCA held a public forum on 26th November 2014 on the Clearinghouse during which answers, and explanations were given in response to all the concerns raised at the forum.

Upon an open invitation for applications for a license to operate Clearinghouse services in Ghana, on the 2nd December 2015, the NCA received five applications for a Clearinghouse license including GVG and Subah.

NCA constituted an Evaluation Panel, chaired by the then Deputy Director General, Mr. Albert Enninful and made up of eight members of experienced Professionals.

Five applicants were given the opportunity to make submissions on their bids on the 12th January 2015 and in addition provide answers to any further queries. Some additional documentation to back the responses given during the presentations was submitted by the applicants on 14th January 2015.

A comprehensive and transparent evaluation was done on the various bids of the five applicants.

On the 23rd January 2015, the NCA Board of Directors considered the evaluation report and the recommendations contained therein and endorsed the said recommendations. The Board duly adjudged Afriwave Telecom Ghana Limited as the winner of the Clearinghouse license.

2015: Court Case (Kwaku Kwarteng & 2 Others Vs. National Communications Authority & 7 Others):

In March 2015, the Member of Parliament of Obuasi West Constituency filed a case at the High Court (Human Rights Division) among other things challenging the legal basis of the introduction of ICH and therefore asking the court to place an order of perpetual injunction on the introduction of ICH in Ghana by the NCA which was thrown out by the court.

Indeed, Paragraph 21 of the NCA written defense statement through its defense counsel (Kulendi@Law) reads in parts……”that pursuant to its enabling statue, and in particular the Communications Service Tax (Amended) Act, 2013 (Act 864) the 1st respondent [NCA] is tasked with the responsibility of regulating the provisions of communications services in Ghana and is required inter alia, to establish and monitor the implementation of national communications standards which said duty encompasses, the introduction of the Interconnect Clearing House, and on that account, the Applicants’ averment that, service providers can interconnect through any means or technology of their own choosing is not maintainable by law”.

Moreover, the NCA acting on behalf of Ministry of Communications, was very clear on section 7 of the Communications Service Tax (Amendment) Act, 2013 (Act 864) which stipulated that a common platform be used for monitoring revenues, including revenues accruing from levies.

Hence, from the NCA formal and documented position, Afriwave Telecom had a legitimate mandate to build a common platform (ICH) be used for monitoring revenues, including revenues accruing from levies.

2016: Electronic Communications (Amendment) Act 2016, Act 910 and Electronic Communications Regulations, 2016, L.I. 2234:

The Parliament of Ghana in March 2016, unanimously passed the Electronic Communications (Amendment) Bill, 2016 into law (Act 910) to give legal backing to the operation of the Interconnect Clearinghouse (ICH) in Ghana.

 Section 20 (1, 3 – 7) of Act 775 was amended and therefore making an ICH the only way for telecom operators to interconnect with each other in Ghana.

Then, in July 2016, the Parliament of Ghana subsequently approved the ICH regulation that covers and guides the operations of Interconnect Clearinghouse in Ghana.

The L.I 2234 is aimed at regulating the activities of the ICH as well as service providers that connect and route national and international traffic through the ICH.

Even though, the final version of the Act 910 that was eventually passed by parliament bared the ICH from providing tax revenue assurance for Government because of Subah which was champion by the NPP then in opposition.

Within the telecommunications ecosystem around the globe, the successes of any interconnect regime are established through FIVE (5) KEY REGULATORY ELEMENTS:

The Law Governing the Sector => In the case of Ghana; Electronic Communications (Amendments) Act, 2016, ACT 910.

Subsidiary Regulation: In the case of Ghana; Electronic Communications (ICH) Regulations 2016. (LI 2234).

Operators (Service Providers) Licensing: In the case of Ghana; ICH Operator, Mobile Network Operators, Value Added Service (VAS) Operators, Domestic International Wholesale Carriers (IWCs) and other Service Providers have been Licensed.

Enforcement by the National Regulatory Authority: In the case of Ghana; greater commitment is needed from NCA and MoC to enforce Act 910 and L.I 2234.

By way of summary, below are some benefits of the IGH to Ghana if fully implemented:

Potential for job creation:

 There are 13 idling licensed IWCs with potential to employ at least 30 people if ICH goes life. Foreign exchange, which normally goes to foreign carriers, will be reduced to the benefit of Ghana’s economy. Additionally, there are several VAS providers waiting to be connected to the ICH and also likely to generate employment opportunities. Also, the ICH project at full capacity may employ up to 50 Ghanaians. All these jobs would be lost should if the ICH is stalled.

Accurate Data for MNOs and Government:

The ICH will provide accurate end-to-end information for financial settlement among MNOs and no data can be hidden. The potential settlement disputes between MNOs would be reduced to the barest minimum. This will enhance transparency in the telecom ecosystem with government the beneficiary in terms of revenue declaration.

Common Platform for Emergency and State Institutions:

NADMO and the Security Agencies can easily connect to ICH instead of individually connecting to each MNO for quick emergency response and for fighting and combating crime. ECG and GWC could also have single point of reaching their customers if need be.

Reduction in the cost of doing Business

Naturally it will cost less to connect to the ICH than individually interconnecting with about five MNOs in the telecom ecosystem. The may reduce the cost of doing for particularly new entrance and subsequently the final consumer will be the beneficiary.

These are but a summary of some the benefits of ICH with its multiplier effects on the telecom ecosystem

THE CASE OF GLOBAL VOICE OF GROUP (GVG)

Unlike the Afriwave deal under the erstwhile administration, the award of about $89m contract has seen no publicity with no record of open tender. But for the exposure of the scandal by Imani, most, Ghanaians wouldn’t have heard a thing about the deal. In fact, the contract had been awarded and payment effected for no work done for some time before Imani exposed the rot.

Again, unlike the Afriwave deal, there is some reported serious disagreements leading to the resignation of key members of the board including a former Director General of the NCA who serves as a board member of the NCA. Mr. Bernard Aido Forson has either resigned or in the process of handing in his resignation letter in opposition to the rotten deal.

Conflicting dates of incorporation have been provided by the government for this mysterious entity called GVG. Whilst the MOC claimed the company was initially incorporated in 1995 has suddenly now become a partnership between GVG and Kelni. More worrying is the fact that real owners of GVG have hidden their faces and refused to respond to the fact that they have been paid $7.5m out of our hard-earned taxes for no work done. Is it not interesting that Gabby Otchere Darko has commented on every issue including the recent BOG Sibton deal but has surprisingly being mute over this matter? It is also scary that they can change physical office addresses from Accra New Town to the Metro TV area in a day and non-existent land phone lines to mobile phone numbers.

In any forward-looking country where law and order truly works, a company that wins a $89m contract fairly should be issuing formal rebuttals in the media about the sanctity of their sweet contract. But Chai, have you heard a word from GVG? Well, all we know now is that from their websites they used to import and export goods and services which miraculously changed to having expertise in call monitoring in Liberia, Tanzania, Rwanda, Senegal, Congo and more. It is intriguing to note that their contracts in most of these countries were cancelled due to fraud related matters. Recent checks at the Registrar-Generals department indicate that the GVG file has been removed as the official said it is logged electronically but it is physically absent.

I could go on and on with why the deal with GVG sinks but this piece is already prolonged due to loads of information on the subject.

Couldn’t the NPP Government be bothered about these worrying attributes of the Company and personalities behind the company to have handed this critical and security related contract to them not to talk of the $89m dollar of the tax payer’s money?  Is our beloved Country governed in a comparable to a lemonade shop instead of in a manner comparable to apple?

 

Governance without Orders indeed!

 I will come your way soon with more info on this developing rot.

I recommend that the deal is terminated immediately and revert to the Afriwave deal to comprehensively address the multiple revenue challenges in the telecommunication ecosystem.

 

 

 

 

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