There is raging debate over the GH¢4.6 billion the erstwhile Mahama-led National Democratic Congress (NDC) government was to spend on the establishment of a national switch to make mobile money payments and other transfers interoperable (i.e. link to one another) in the banking and the financial systems.Luck eluded the NDC when it was booted out of office in the 2016 general election; but the successor Akufo-Addo-led New Patriotic Party (NPP) government has been able to complete the same project with only GH¢18.4 million, according to Vice President Dr Mahamudu Bawumia.
The Mahama government had fixed the cost of integrating the mobile money platforms of Ghanaian telecommunication companies with the national payments switch (GHIPPS) at over $1 billion (GH¢4.6 billion) – which translates into about 15% of the national budget.
The contract was awarded by the Bank of Ghana (BoG) on a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) basis to Sibton Switch Systems Limited – an entity which sources say had no track-record in payments anywhere.
Roland Agambire of rlg fame is said to have fronted for the company.
Under the project, Sibton was to raise the funds and develop the project and earn a percentage of fees over a 25-year period to cover the over $1 billion price tag plus return on investment.
However, the price for a simple gateway and ledger for a few billing engines at over $1.2 billion has been described by many as one of the ‘craziest, most ridiculous scams hatched’ on the government of Ghana by some experts.
So far there has not been any official denial or otherwise either from the office of former President John Mahama – under whose tenure the contract was signed – or the NDC as a political party, which was in government at the time.
The former president’s trusted aide, Stan Dogbe, was the only person who went on social media to justify the claim that the amount used by the NPP was only a component since the whole project initiated by the NDC was in four different phases.
In the ensuing heat, some opposition party activists, including some former government officials, circulated a statement ‘setting the records straight’ about the contract purporting to be coming from Dr Nashiru Issahaku, former Governor of the Bank of Ghana (BoG), under whose tenure the contract was signed.
The statement had created the impression that Dr. Issahaku was condemning Vice President Dr. Bawumia for exposing the corruption in the deal signed by the bank.
The apparently cooked statement quoted the former Governor as saying, “I wish to categorically state that the claim that the Bank of Ghana (BoG), under the previous NDC regime, was to commit an amount of GH¢4.6 billion of public funds into the proposed switch to interconnect mobile money transactions is totally false and should be disregarded.”
However, Joy FM yesterday quoted a source close to Dr Issahaku as saying that the statement did not come from the former Governor.
It rather came from some operatives of the major opposition party (NDC).
NPP Vs NDC
Gabby Asare Otchere-Darko, a member of the NPP, posted on Facebook, “Why are we quiet on things like this? Just before President Mahama left office, Ghana signed a contract to pay a company sponsored by Roland Agambire, $1.2 billion for providing a service which the Akufo-Addo government, with negotiations led by the Vice President, has made sure it will be done at merely $4.5 million. Yes! You heard me right! Just a tiny fraction of what the NDC was prepared to get the same thing done at.
“You and I would have paid for such gross disregard for the public purse. Please! The NPP and the NDC are not the same! They cannot be. That is not to say, one is manned by angels and the other by something else. No! There are good and bad nuts in both. But, most importantly, it is about the integrity, foresight, competence and substance of those who lead. One government was prepared to pay ‘contractors’ 5.6 billion or so Ghana Cedis for work supposedly done that cannot be verified. The other government, after taking office, stopped it! Don’t be fooled. Ghana is on track.”
Stan Dogbe also reacted, “The project was owned by the Bank of Ghana and was to be implemented without public funds, but with enormous benefit to us, financial consumers, the firms and the economy. There was no contract sum, or payment of $4.6bn (other times told GH¢4.6bn) to be made to any company for the project.”
He said further, “We are told, now, that Bawumia (Vice President) has taken over the project and executed it for $4m. Which obviously means that it is no longer a BoG project and public funds of $4m has been committed to this. Bawumia and his copy copy party boys are telling us that the completed project is Phase 1, and which amounted to the $4m. What they have not told you is how much phase 2 and phase 3 and probably phase 4 is going to cost. Who were the beneficiaries of this $4m and how were they sourced and how much exactly were they paid?”
Sibton’s Initial Response
In February 2017 – in the heat of the transition – Sibton Switch Systems vehemently defended the GH¢4.6 billion cost for the establishment of an interoperable platform.
The company insisted that the quality and extent of services provided by the platform guaranteed its selection by the central bank.
“It’s a long term infrastructure; it’s a retail payment system that does not just cover one party; it will be interoperability for Mobile Network Operators (MNOs). It cuts across the entire retail payment systems; it comes with MNOs, banks, aggregators, merchants, among others,” an official of Sibton Switch Systems, Keiko Wantanabe, had explained on Citi FM.
She added, “If we believe that this amount is what is going to get us this infrastructure, then we’re investing this amount into it.”
Indeed, Citi Fm had petitioned Vice President Bawumia over the outrageous cost of the project when the NPP took over power, leading to a cancellation of the contract.
The company had been selected from three institutions that put in bids; the value of Sibton’s bid was GH¢4,669,414,340.82, deemed relatively higher than two other bidding competitors – Vals Intel Limited and Mericom Solutions Limited – which quoted GH¢14 million and GH¢5.5 million respectively.
The contract to Sibton was seen by many industry experts as unnecessary and shady, hence the petition to the vice president.