Posted on: www.dailyguideghana.com
By William Yaw Owusu
Tuesday, March 10, 2015
The Parliamentary Select Committee on Communications has raised red flag over the government’s introduction of Interconnect Clearing House (ICH) for the telecommunications sector.
The government, through the National Communications Authority (NCA), is claiming that some telecommunication companies (Telcos) are involved in scams and also underpaying revenue due the government and as a result, said it was in the process of establishing an ICH that would require Telcos and International Carriers to connect their gateways via a clearinghouse.
A Member of Parliament, Kwaku Kwarteng, MP for Obuasi West has sued the NCA and others over what he called an unlawful breach of the law.
However, the Select Committee chaired by Albert Abongo, MP for Bongo has written to the sector minister requesting him to respond to queries raised by the Chamber of Telecommunications Service Providers and other stakeholders who are complaining that an ICH regime might curtail free speech.
The letter which was also copied to the NCA, Chamber of Telecoms, Speaker of Parliament, leadership of parliament as well as all Communication Service Providers said “I write to remind you of the Members’ request that you submit to the committee, responses to the numerous queries raised by the Chamber of Telecommunications Service providers as well as the individual Service Providers.”
The Committee said that if the Ministry of Communications abandoned the process of dialogue with stakeholders it “may jeopardize the implementation of the INTERCONNECT Clearing House (ICH).”
“It is in this regard that the Committee respectively believes the need for extension of tie for the consultation processes with the stakeholders,” the letter further said.
The committee assured the ministry and the stakeholders of its preparedness “to continue to be a part of the process towards amicable resolution of the concerns raised, as the committee continues to receive petitions and representations on daily basis.”
In a related development, IMANI Centre for Policy and Education Franklin Cudjoe says the proposal to establish the ICH is illegal and said stakeholders were not even consulted.
He told Citi FM‘s News analysis programme The Big Issue, that “The National Communication Authority and the Ministry of Communication, exceedingly wasteful enterprises which are causing a lot of harm to us. Even in Pakistan their supreme court ruled that the Interconnect Clearing House is an illegality.”
He said the project is political and criticized President Mahama for describing the project as ‘transformational’ in his State of the Nation address last Thursday saying “it is a political project which is building war chest of a party and I think it is one of the grandest sponsored schemes ever”.
“That the president spends less than a minute on an illegality, which is the interconnect clearing house and he suggested that is something transformational. This is one bad piece of legislation which was smuggled through cabinet because it never had any serious discussion in the public and certainly no telco was involved. Very bad communication policy.”
OccupyGhana (OG), a fast-growing pressure group campaigning against widespread corruption in the country were one of the first groups to criticize the ICH initiative.
They issued a release on February 2, saying “while the ICH concept may not necessarily be an inappropriate solution, OccupyGhana has legitimate concerns, a number of which have been expressed by other stakeholders in the telecommunications industry.”
“OccupyGhana believes that these concerns must be thoroughly discussed and a consensus reached in the best interest of the country, bearing in mind telecommunication licenses are national assets and the citizenry ought to be assured by government that all such assets will be harnessed and put to proper use to enable the nation to gain optimum benefit”
Another organization to join the crusade against ICH was the media right group, Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) who called on Ghanaians to fiercely resist what it called “the ongoing attempt to introduce the proposed industry-crippling entity.”
MFWA in a news release issued in Accra
said the proposed ICH policy “have been quite imprudent.”
“In fact, recent actions by the regulator (NCA) have the potential of not just crippling the industry, but also rolling back the gains made in the sector so far,” it’s Executive Director, Mustapha Sulemana, said.
MFWA said that “in the attempt to win public support for the needless ICH, the NCA has put out what can be described as the fallacy of ‘ICH and SIM Boxing Fraud (SBF),’” saying “quite clearly, the solution to SBF cannot be the proposed ICH. The solution lies with dealing with the conditions that make sim-boxing an extra-ordinarily lucrative venture in Ghana.”