Communications Minister, Ursula Owusu Ekuful, has described as “ totally unnecessary” recent controversy over the contract awarded Kelni-GVG to monitor call traffic and revenue assurance.
Addressing Parliament on the implementation of a common platform for the telecommunication traffic, monitoring, the minister further stated the fear of privacy intrusion raised by the telecom operators on account of the new contract with Kelni GVG are “completely unjustified, fanciful or smack of disrespect for our laws.”
According to her, all the telecom operators resisting the implementation of the new monitoring law in Ghana have, without question, accepted and are complying with the same monitoring regime in Uganda and Rwanda and wondered why they are dragging their feet here in Ghana.
Except for Glo, Ursula Owusu Ekuful said all the networks have refused to comply with the law, insisting, the government will not renege on its responsibility to ensure they do.
The Minister was hauled before the House by the Minority with an urgent question to explain the circumstances under which Kelni GVG was appointed by the government in 2017.
Policy think tank IMANI Africa has been waging a relentless crusade against the $89 million GVG contract describing it as needless and overpriced.
Franklin Cudjoe who leads the group, has time without number, insisted the contract is a duplication of existing contracts with Subah and Afriwave.
He said the government did not do any value for money audit before awarding the contract and has gone fishing with the hope of catching telecom operators who it suspects to be unfaithful with the traffic and revenue figures.
But Ursula Owusu Ekuful told Members of Parliament the contract with Kelni GVG is in compliance with the Communication Service (Amendment) Act passed in 2013.
Providing historical antecedents to the monitoring regime in Ghana, the Minister said the passage of the Electronic Communications Amendment Act, 2009, Act 786, imposed a duty on the state to monitor the 19 cents per minute charged by network operators for international calls terminated in Ghana.
As a result, the Minister said Subah GVG was appointed in 2010 by the previous government to monitor the inbound international traffic to ensure the government of Ghana received the required tax revenues.
However, there was stiff opposition by telecom operators who were raising issues about a possible breach of privacy by GVG.
“…but their main motivation may have been their unwillingness for GOG to have full visibility of their actual traffic volumes to determine the real taxes payable on the revenues earned from them,” she said.
According to Ursula Owusu, the then government had to terminate the contract with GVG only to be taken over by Subah in 2012, a company which had no prior experience in call monitoring.
“…After Subah took over the GVG Contract, they continued to monitor both Local and Inbound International Traffic for the National Communications Authority and Ghana Revenue Authority. This was however not on a real-time basis, as data was only collected from the servers of the Mobile Network Operators. The network operators persisted in denying these companies the right to connect to their physical network nodes to collect the raw data for analysis.
The minister said the companies were dictating to the regulators how they have to be regulated.
“It is only in Ghana that the network operators feel they can dictate how the Regulator regulates them!,” she said.
In order to enforce the monitoring regime a new law, the Communication Service Tax Amendment Act was passed in 2013.
The law among other things is to;
“Establish a monitoring mechanism to verify the actual revenue that accrue to vendors for the purpose of computing taxes due the Government under this Act;
“Be given Physical access to the physical network nodes of the vendors' network at an equivalent point in the network where the network providers' billing systems are connected,”
According to the Minister, Subah failed to provide real-time monitoring and rather relied on call time records, a second hand information provided by the telecom operators, which is open to manipulation.
To complicate matters the NDC government appointed Afriwave to execute Interconnect Clearinghouse Services after it amended the Electronic Communications Act was amended (Act 910).
The company, according to the minister provided similar services as Subah did even though they were both relying on the call records of the telecom operators.
They were paid approximately $2.6 million per month for rendering no services, the minister averred.
She said on assumption of office by the NPP government a meeting was held and chaired by the Senior Minister during Subah, Afriwave, and all reps of the telcos were invited to make presentations.
She said after the presentations, it became clear that there was a need to comply with the law and to appoint a new company to provide real-time call information to the government.
As a result, KelniGVG was selected after the required procurement laws were followed.
According to her, Kelni is paid $1.49 million per month, (as against the $2.6 million paid monthly to both Subah and Afriwave) even though it is providing extra service including monitoring of mobile money operations.