General News of Wednesday, 24 June 2015
Source: Daily Guide
Trade and Industry Minister, Ekow Spio-Garbrah’s comment that some “evil politicians” are trying to “rape the country’s treasury” in the wake of the Bankswitch judgement debt saga, has raised eyebrows.
The cancelation of the IT firm – Bankswitch’s – contract that gave rise to about GH¢197 million judgement debt continues to generate heated political debate on how some government officials take unilateral decisions.
Mr Spio-Garbrah on Wednesday, June 3, 2015, wrote to five Destination Inspection Companies (DICs) to contribute $35 million each towards the settlement of the Bankswitch judgement debt.
By computation, the government will receive $175 million from the five DICs, should they be able to afford the amount to settle GH¢197 million.
With the current exchange rate of cedi to dollar at interbank rate as at Friday pegged at GH¢4.27, the NDC government will be raking in GH¢841million, far in excess of the GH¢197 million judgement debt to Bankswitch.
The ministry of trade and industry (MoTI) in an attempt to parry its critics, issued a statement and said members of the erstwhile New Patriotic Party (NPP) government who negotiated and signed the Bankswitch contract, some current NPP MPs, their associates in civil society and friends in the media “who wish Ghana harm can distort MoTI’s action and pretend it is some kind of bribe or scandal.”
The statement said, “However, when it is understood that MoTI is rather trying to help save the people of Ghana from an evil plot by some businessmen and politicians to rape the country’s Treasury, then right-thinking men and women should sit up.”
DAILY GUIDE learnt that upon assumption of office, powerful NDC personalities wanted the Bankswitch contract canceled but after heads of the various revenue agencies demonstrated to President J.E.A. Mills that it was the right step to take, the late Professor agreed.
Reports say even Fifi Fiavi Kwetey, then deputy minister of finance in charge of revenue mobilization, was impressed with the capabilities of Bankswitch to help rake in more revenue from the ports.
President Mills is reported to have then ordered Bankswitch to continue working for at least three months for the government to assess the firm’s performance, but the then trade minister, Hannah Tetteh, allegedly went ahead to call for the cancelation of the contract a few days later, to the chagrin of President Mills.
Feeling shortchanged after setting up its monitoring centre, Bankswitch in 2014 filed a writ at the Permanent Court of Arbitration, in The Hague, The Netherlands, after the cancellation of the contract signed in 2007, to help government mobilize revenue at the Customs Division of the Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA).
Bankswitch demanded the payment of GH¢853 million in damages for the cancellation and according to the rules of the court, each party to the case was to appoint an arbiter.
The two arbiters then appointed a third person as president of the court to hear the case and sources said that Ghana refused to appoint its arbiter, forcing the hand of the court to choose one for the country.
When a teleconference was set up in 2014 at the Kofi Annan Center to enable Ghana call its witnesses, no government official showed up to question witnesses.
However, before the judgement was delivered, government filed papers explaining that the contract was cancelled because it did not have parliamentary approval.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration rejected the explanation, ruling that a local law could not be used to relieve Ghana of its international obligation; and the country was subsequently asked to pay in excess of 197million in judgment debt.
Dr Spio-Garbrah confirmed on Oman FM yesterday that the contract was awarded by the Kufuor government in 2007 and abrogated by the Mills administration, and that brought the debt.
He said details of how the deal with the DICs would work was before the ministry of finance and the Attorney General and insisted that he was not acting alone.
He said that the government had started paying the debt to Bankswitch but when the IT firm wanted to renegotiate the deal that could make it receive a whopping GH¢1 billion spread over five years from the state, his ministry decided to intervene.
When asked whether the DICs move was not in contravention of the procurement laws, Dr Spio-Garbrah said he had not broken any law, adding, “It is for the avoidance of paying GH¢1 billion that we are engaging the DICs.
“I have done my part. I have forwarded everything to the ministry of finance and the AG to determine whether we should proceed with the deal.
Dr Spio-Garbrah said he did not want to make public backroom discussions on the deal when the host, Fiifi Boafo, asked him if he was not jumping the gun for inviting the five DICs to pay $35 million each in exchange for contracts.
Dr Spio-Garbrah wrote to the five DICs at the same time that the government was terminating their contracts at the ports to pave way for the implementation of the National Single Window by September 2015.
“To pay this debt, government of Ghana is informing all destination inspection companies that any of them who can advance government of Ghana an amount of 35 million dollars would be awarded a contract of 0.35 percent of free on-board values on all Ghana’s imports for at least a period of five years to enable that company recover its investments,” the letter read.
However, Nana Akomea, Communications Director of the NPP, said it was strange for Dr Spio-Garbrah to promise the five DICs contracts since the chief of staff had already ordered that only one company called West Blue, should be given contract to implement the National Single Window from September 2015.
“It is a non-starter. These are procurement laws they are trying to abuse,” Nana Akomea noted.
“Spio continues to talk about the debt but he forgets to talk about how the debt has come to hit us in the face. Who cancelled the contract? People have to be punished for some of these things,” he fumed.