Thursday, 22 January 2015

Ghana's Ruling Elites Must Stop Signing Lousy One-Sided PPP Agreements

Simnet has been in the news recently - for all the wrong reasons. Yet, at the opening of an office complex for Simnet in November 2000, the then deputy minister of finance, the Hon. Moses Asaga, said in a speech read on his behalf, that the new Simnet platform would be "self-auditing"  and  "transparent".

That same day, the founder of Simnet, Ish Kumar Handa, presented a cheque for 30 million old cedis to a minister of state, the Hon. Margaret Clark-Kwasie, to be given to the Breast Cancer Foundation.

Media reports at the time stated that an agreement between Simnet and the Department of National Lotteries (DNL), as it then was, had been signed in 1999.

Why then did it take so long for the online networked lottery platform to be put in place, for the first draw under the Simnet partnership to take place in the year 2005 - the year from which the count for the ten-year agreement apparently begins? What went on in the intervening years between 1999 and 2005?

Current events clearly show that those who signed the agreement between the DNL and Simnet did a lousy job. The agreement they signed favoured Simnet not Ghana - and they should all bow their heads in shame.

Pointing to the legal travails of the National Lotteries Authority (NLA), as an egregious example of the "create-loot-and-share" phenomenon, there are those who say that the "crooks-in-high-places" have struck again - contriving yet again to use the law courts as legal cover to milk Ghana dry. And, incredibly, it is said that there is the possibilty of another US$45millions being extracted from the hapless NLA. Amazing.

Where in the world but Ghana, would a foreign company contracted to provide a state-owned entity with lottery point of sale terminals, fail to do so timeously, and then get away with shutting down the system and preventing lottery draws from taking place, in retaliation, because the state-owned lottery took steps on its own to ensure that it had the requisite lottery point of sale terminals in place to satisfy demand across the nation?

A confident and proud nation like Nigeria, despite being lumbered with massive high-level corruption, would never tolerate such corporate impudence. How did our homeland Ghana come to such a sorry pass - with parts of officialdom bending over backwards to 'placate' and please rogue foreign concerns engaged in the  rip-off of our country?

Whatever happened to the promise Simnet made to the Hon. Moses Asaga that its networked online lottery platform would be "self-auditing" and "transparent"? One presumes Asaga was merely repeating Simnet's promise to the government in his speech.

So 'transparent' was the Simnet 'self-auditing' process, that apparently three international audit firms had to undertake the task of unraveling it in a court of law - each commissioned to audit the process and present its report.

It was third time lucky for Simnet -  the reports of the first two audit firms not being in its favour. It was the last audit report that was favourable to Simnet - which rejected the first two audits that were unfavourable to it. Hard to believe, but true, alas.

Surely, by failing to provide the extra required numbers of point of sale terminals, and shutting down the system to prevent lottery draws from taking place, it was Simnet that actually ended up breaching the agreement?

The question then is: In view of all the above, why is the NLA not appealing that Ghc30 millions judgment against it - when it apparently never actually formally abrogated its agreement with Simnet?

In November 1963, at the official opening of the Tema Oil Refinery, Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, paid glowing tribute to Signor Enrico Mattei, who was instrumental in setting up the Ghanaian-Italian Petroleum Company - who had just died in a plane crash in his native Italy.

Nkrumah stated at one point during his speech that: "The Ghanaian-Italian Company is an inter-state enterprise of a special kind. And here I must pay tribute to a friend. It is interesting to note that AGIP Mineraria itself, which has given birth to Ghanaian-Italian Petroleum Company, owes its origin and growth to the vision and foresight of a politician and entrepreneur who harnessed his commercial genius with state enterprises in his own country. This is indeed an example of how the genius and skill of patriotic citizens can be put at the disposal of the state and not for the exploitation of the many by the few."

To be fair, we must presume that Ish Kumar Handa, the founder of Simnet, came to Ghana with good intensions. We must therefore assume that he did not come here to exploit our nation and its people.

Still, it will be interesting to know how much he brought into Ghana to begin with, and how much he pocketed when the Social Security and National Insurance Trust (SSNIT) acquired a 85 percent stake in the company. SSNIT apparently paid some US$8 millions for its stake.

Coming to Ghana must have been the luckiest break ever for him. What fools, he must have thought - as his headache was acquired  by a pension fund forced to act as a bank of last resort for Ghana's ruthless and greedy plutocrats.

And just who exactly owns Craig Holdings - which reportedly owns the remaining 15 percent stake in Simnet -  one wonders? It will indeed be interesting to discover who the promoters of Craig Holdings are.

Approval for the acquisition of Simnet became  a tug of war between elements in President Kufuor's administration in 2006, because some members of the administration were outraged by the price SSNIT was proposing to fork out, for the 85 percent stake it wanted to acquire in the company.

Databank, which was said to be previuosly planning to acquire Simnet for a reported US$2millions around that time,  suddenly pulled back from doing so, just before SSNIT entered the picture and ended up paying the US8millions for its 85 percent stake.

The question there is, why did Databank suddenly abandon its proposed takeover of Simnet? Are those who suggest (perhaps unfairly) that it somehow profited from insider information that led it to pull back from its proposed US$2 millions takeover, right to do so?

The present media attention focused on the alleged payment of some 30 million Ghana cedis to Simnet, by the NLA, on the orders of a court of law, should make Ghanaians ponder the difference in approach between  Nkrumah's win-win public private partnership (PPP) deals, and the one-sided rip-off PPP deals struck by our ruling elites since Nkrumash's overthrow in 1966, which invariably favour foreign 'investors'.

Why did the DNL not approach Editec directly itself to provide it with that company's  proprietory networked lottery platform - instead of going through Ish Kumar Handa's Simnet as per the 1999 agreement? That is what President Nkrumah would have ensured was done, had he been in power at the time.

Alas, it appears that our hard-of-hearing ruling elites are going to make yet another PPP mistake with the proposed new national airline - just so that another  well-connected regime-crony-tycoon can make zillions at Mother Ghana's expense again.

That is what happens when shortsighted individuals who seldom think creatively and are not original thinkers rule a nation.

Unfortunately, that has been the case with all the administrations' of both political parties that have ruled Ghana since the 4th Republic came into being: the National Democratic Congress (NDC)  and the New Patriotic Party (NPP).  It appears that when it comes to protecting the national interest in such cases, those two inherently-corrupt  political  parties,  are equally dented sides of the same debased coin.

The sensible thing to do in the case of the proposed national airline, for example, ought to be to approach an established low-cost carrier that is profitable, to set up a pan-African low-cost airline as a PPP  venture.

Why do the genuises who rule us not invite an international airline industry dynamo like  Michael O'Leary, of Ryanair, and ask his company to set up a pan-African joint-venture with Ghana? We should aim to have a pan-African low-cost carrier that flies point-to-point on the most profitable city routes across the continent in alliance with Ryanair - which will provide a fleet of new aircraft and leverage its management expertise.

Ryanair's European network will benefit the new national carrier, and and the new national carrier's (jointly-owned with Ryanair) routes in Africa and  to north America will benefit Ryanair in return.

What we will bring to the table will be the massive goodwill Ghana enjoys across Africa, getting the African Union (AU) to declare  the whole continent one open sky for all  airlines and joint-ownership of the Ghana Airports Company.

As a Plan B alternative, the founder of Easyjet, Sir Stelios Haj-Ioannou, could also be approached for the same purpose. In that instance, the new national carrier could leverage Easyjet's European network - and Easyjet could benefit from the national carrier's African and north American routes.

However, this being Ghana, this will probably never come to pass - because if the government approaches either Michael O'Leary or Sir Stelios Haj-Ioannou directly, no benefits will come the way of the plutocrats holding Mother Ghana to ransom. Pity.

The long-suffering people of Ghana are fed up with such shenanigens. Henceforth, our ruling elites must sign only win-win public private partnership agreements - not ripoff agreements that end up in the  law courts with judges awarding astronomical sums to impecunious 'investors' who come to Ghana with zilch but end up with zillions of dollars wrung out of our national treasury.

The Americans brought in by the Kufuor administration to set up Ghana International Airlines - that international airline industry equivalent of a dodo - and the Malaysians who were brought in by the Rawlings administration (and to whom  the state-owned shipyard  at Tema was handed over on a silver platter),  are classic examples of such foreign 'investors' who ended up costing Ghana's long-suffering taxpayers' dearly.

It is time Ghana's hard-of-hearing ruling elites stopped signing lousy, one-sided PPP agreements with dubious private 'investors'. Enough is enough.

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