Ghana’s existence as a sovereignty state is being undermined, following revelations that Ecobank Ghana Limited, a subsidiary of Ecobank Transnational Incorporated (ETI), has rejected Ghanaian national identification (ID) cards for Western Union (WU) transactions.
To collect money from Western Union as an agent bank, your correct name, in whatever format, surname first or last, an official government identification document, the correct Money Transfer Control Number (MTCN) and password were all one needed until just last week.
The Publisher of Ghanadot.com, E. Ablorh-Odjidja, who is the latest to face this embarrassment at the hands of the officials of Ecobank Ghana Spintex Road branch, narrated his ordeal to The Chronicle.
He stated: “I went to an Ecobank branch on Spintex Road on May 09, 2014, at 1:35 p.m., to collect a Western Union remittance, and met a WU policy that made the transaction unusually difficult.
“I had a Ghana government issued identification document, a driver’s license. It was rejected. They wanted my American passport.”
Oddly, the Ghanaian driver’s license was issued on the basis of the information provided on my American passport and driver’s license. All particulars on both Ghanaian and American documents matched. My American driver’s license was also refused, so it would not be a matter of residency, Mr. Ablorh-Odjidja, who has lived in the United States (US) for over two decades said.
He questioned: “What then was the point for the rejection; cause a delay by declaring that readily available identification documents were not useful?”
ECOBANK PREFERS AMERICA ID
Mr. Ablorh-Odjidja, who is also a veteran journalist based in the US, explained: “The bank said a WU policy required a government issued identification document, but it had to be my American passport. And that the full name on the Ghanaian driver’s license that I presented did not show the same order as the name to receive the money. My American passport was the preferred document, but this document had the same name, in the same order, as all the documents I had so far presented.”
He thought this was a matter that a little discretion could settle, since he didn’t have his passport on him at the time. The inconvenience of going back home for his passport, when he had a Ghana government issued identification document on him, was too much.
The Ghanadot.com publisher, therefore, asked to see the Manager. To Mr. Ablorh-Odjidja’s surprise, he met the same intransigence at the meeting with the Manager. Western Union policy was so strong that his Ghanaian government issued identification document was of no consequence, if he was to believe the Manager.
Ablor said he sensed a planned delay in the transaction, so he went home for his passport to collect the $1,200.
On return, Mr. Ablorh-Odjidja stated: “I first brandished the Ghanaian issued dual citizen identification green card that accompanied my passport, hoping it would induce some discretion for the transaction to move forward. The green card had allowed me entry into Ghana, and the particulars on it were genuine and same as those on my American passport. Still, the green card was refused. The American passport was the preferred one,” he lamented.
GHANA’S INTEGRITY AT STAGE
Mr. Ablorh-Odjidja further lamented: “I am not hinting conspiracy at this stage. But it suffices to say now that this WU policy, if legal, is inimical to the maintenance of confidence in the integrity of Ghana’s sovereignty.
A Ghanaian government-issued identification document has been rejected by a bank, licensed to operate in the country by the same government, on the say so of a foreign financial institution’s policy!”
The disrespect embodied in the formulation and exercise of this WU policy is something the government of Ghana should worry about, if it cared about its reputation. This policy becomes even more insulting; a fiat, when you consider the way it was exercised without discretion at the Ecobank branch, according to the dissatisfied customer.
Our cedi doesn’t sell overseas. Must our government-issued identification document be also turned into a joke in this country? Mr. Ablorh-Odjidja questioned.
Mr. Ablorh-Odjidja finally collected the money on the strength of the American passport, but his doubt about the transaction lingered: Whom does this policy seek to protect or benefit?
WESTERN UNION’S ADVICE
But Western Union’s advice on its website for money collection reads, “Visit an agent location near you with your government-issued ID. You’ll also need to ask the sender for the tracking number (MTCN).”
The above sounds like a reasonable procedure, but in the case of Mr. Ablorh-Odjidja, he went to the Ecobank branch with two Ghanaian government issued documents, and he was turned down on both.
When The Chronicle contacted officials of Ecobank Ghana to hear their side of the story, a senior Communications Officer at the Ecobank Ghana headquarters, Abigail Aye-Addo, alleged that Mr. Ablorh-Odjidja presented an expired driver’s licence to the teller that was why the bank rejected it.
She explained to the newspaper that Ecobank, like any other bank, does not accept invalid ID card for banking transactions. Auditors do not allow that, she stressed.
On the refusal of the Ghanaian passport, Madam Aye-Addo said the teller did not ask Mr. Ablorh-Odjidja to go home for it, saying he opted to go and bring his Ghanaian passport.
But, when The Chronicle contacted Mr. Ablorh-Odjidja to react to the above allegations, he stated categorically that his Ghanaian and American driver’s licences were not expired.
He added the Ecobank Spintex Road branch’s teller did not even collect the Ghanaian driver’s licence. When he presented his Ghanaian passport, she became angry and made disdainful remarks at him, so he had to give her (the teller) his American passport to enable him collect the money.
CALL FOR PROBE
In this regard, economists and analysts have called on the Bank of Ghana (BoG) and security agencies to probe the matter. According to them, the rejection of Ghanaian ID cards by the bank, which is the largest in Ghana by assets, should not be treated with kid gloves.
FIGURE POINTING AT MONEY TRANSFER FIRMS
In a recent Africa Progress Report, a former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, pointed an accusatory finger at Western Union and Moneygram, both Britain’s leading money transfer companies.
He said both financial institutions were “ripping off the African Diaspora” in the amount of billions of dollars per annum by unfair practices.
The current chair of the African Progress Panel lamented; “Africans overseas are also transferring significant sums of money into Africa, but remittance charges are unethically expensive. This overcharging impacts even more negatively on rural communities. Remitting US$1,000 to Africa costs US$124, compared with a global average of US$78, and US$65 for South Asia.”
The Overseas Development Institute (ODI), a leading UK-based international development think-tank, also accused the two companies of imposing a “super tax” on remittances to Africa.
The ODI, therefore, called on the Financial Conduct Authority of UK to look into Western Union and Moneygram, as it issued a report which said Africa was losing $1.8bn a year from excessive charges on money sent home by workers in the rest of the world.
Furthermore, the latest World Bank figures show that remittances from foreign workers are expected to be $436bn this year, more than three times what poor countries receive in overseas aid, but the ODI said the cost of sending money back to Africa was far higher than the global average.
“Migrants sending $200 home can expect to pay 12% in charges, which is almost double the global average. While the governments of the G8 and the G20 have pledged to reduce charges to 5%, there is no evidence of any decline in the fees incurred by Africa’s Diaspora. There is no justification for the high charges incurred by African migrants.”
A spokesman for Moneygram said that the ODI had got its figures wrong. “We don’t recognise those numbers at all. There is no Africa premium.” He said Moneygram was offering a competitive service for people shunned by high street banks, and that someone sending £200 from the UK to Africa would pay a charge of 5.1%, including foreign exchange fees, against a global average of 4.9%.
Western Union said: “The average global revenue earned by Western Union from transferring money (including fee and FX) is 5%-6% of the amount being sent. However, our pricing varies between countries, depending on a number of factors such as consumer protection costs, local remittance taxes, market distribution, regulatory structure, volume, currency volatility, and other market efficiencies.
These factors can impact the fees and foreign exchange rates offered.”
The ODI Director, Kevin Watkins, said the virtual duopoly operated by Western Union and Moneygram in Africa was stifling competition. “The $1.8bn lost through the super tax could put 14 million children in school, deliver clean water to 21million, and sanitation to 8 million people.”
The ODI report did not allege price collusion between Western Union and Moneygram, but said it was concerned by the uniformly high fees across countries in Africa, irrespective of underlying market conditions; “exclusivity agreements” with banks and remittance agents in Africa, which have the effect of restricting market completion; and opaque foreign currency conversion charges.
Around $5bn was remitted to Africa from Britain in 2012, and the ODI said that reducing remittance costs to the global average would increase transfers by $85m, rising to $225m if charges were lowered to 5%.
The report called for an investigation of global money transfer firms by anti-trust bodies in the UK and the US to identify areas in which market concentrations and business practices were artificially inflating charges; greater transparency over foreign-exchange conversion charges; and regulatory reform in Africa to put an end to “exclusivity agreements.”
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