Former President John Agyekum Kufuor has emphatically stated that he would sell Ghana Telecom a hundred times for the betterment of Ghanaians if he has the opportunity to do so.
He recalled that when he assumed office in 2001, 30 per cent share of the then state-owned Ghana Telecom had been given to Telecom Malaysia Berhard, for $38 million by the previous NDC government, which had then taken a loan of $50 million.
Justifying the sale of Ghana Telecom, he said there was an understanding that if government did not repay the loan, the debt would be converted into more shares for the Malaysians. This, then meant that the remaining 70 per cent shares of Ghana Telecom was likely to be sold out for a paltry sum of $18 million.
The Gentle Giant, as he is affectionately called, was profiled on PM EXPRESS on Multi TV by Nana Ansah Kwaw IV.
He added that Malaysia had been given the entire management of Ghana Telecom, even with the lesser equity holding for a five-year period in contract. During that period, Malaysia Berhard did not pay a cedi dividend to Ghana and was managing without accountability, leading to a lot of mismanagement and inefficiency.
Kufuor’s government then decided not to renew the contract with the Malaysians after the five-year contract had ended, prompting the Malaysians to demand payback for the $50 million outstanding loan and a subsequent withdrawal from the 38 per cent holdings in Ghana Telecom.
At the time of declaring Ghana a Highly Indebted Poor Country (HIPC), the Malaysians knew Ghana was not in the position of paying off the loan and “were really twisting our arms”.
The Malaysians then took the Ghana government to arbitration in London, compelling the government to engage lawyers who were charging about 500 pounds for every hour of consultation and engagement, a situation which was draining our coffers, he added.
Eventually, there was a settlement in which Ghana found about $100 million to pay them off. “After that, we decided to put the whole thing to tender because Ghana Telecom was draining the economy; it wasn’t efficient and competitive considering that the newer companies like Spacefon and others were beating Ghana Telecom in competition.”
Norway’s Telenor won the tender but government did not sell out, and rather handed them a two-year contract to ascertain their competence. “Within the two years, certain things happened; we went back to tender and through that Vodafone came on the scene”, Mr. Kufuor explained.
Mr. Kufuor concluded that for the same 70 per cent share of Ghana Telecom, government made $900 million from its sale, which was paid up front. He challenged anybody who doubts his claim to check the records.
For his eight-year tenure in office, the former President said he has no regrets for any major policy decision he took. This, for him, marked the highest growth in the country, both economically and socially.
In his account, Ghana became a middle income economy for the first time by 2006, “we saw some of the highest growth points in the production of cocoa for instance, the crop jumped from a low of Three Hundred and Fifty Thousand tonnes in 2001 to over Seven Hundred Thousand tonnes, the highest ever recorded in the history of Ghana. In 2006, I was able to predict that by 2010 the crop will exceed one million tonnes, and it did”.
The many social intervention programmes such as the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) Capitation Grant, School Feeding Programme and many others, in his view, brought a lot of relief and benefits to Ghanaians.
To his critics who said he travelled too much as President, he said it wasn’t for the fancy of it but for useful purposes, which brought quite “heavy, serious and positive results for Ghana”. These travels rather facilitated his networking and helped him to achieve set targets, he stressed.
He says not many people had access to him as President because the office was protected by security and protocol. However, as former President, he currently receives an average of between thirty to forty visitors and friends daily at his residence and private office daily, and this could sometimes even go up to about one hundred.
Though in retirement, he still loves politics and loves to make contributions to policy formulation and express an opinion occasionally on national issues. As a statesman, he would do this in private and really wished the NPP had won power in 2008, considering the good job and the legacy his administration left behind.
He is currently occupied with his role as one of three special envoys, appointed by the United Nations on climate change, a job that keeps him busy and travelling round the world. Prior to this, he was made chair of “Sanitation and Water for All”, a UN global partnership which lists over ninety-five countries around the world.
He was also called to serve as special envoy to the “Call to Neglected Tropical Diseases”, a Global network under the auspices of UNICEF and INTERPEACE, another UN sponsored organisation, based in Geneva, Switzerland, where he has been serving as chairman for almost four years.
It is his fervent hope to spend more time with his twelve grandchildren and engage in some interesting hobbies that he misses.
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