Posted on: www.dailyguideghana.com
By William Yaw Owusu
Monday, June 22, 2015
The National Democratic Congress (NDC) government has admitted that it indeed asked Destination Inspection Companies (DICs) to contribute $175 million to the repayment of judgement debt to Bankswitch, a private IT firm in exchange for contracts.
The Ministry of Trade and Industry in a statement issued over the weekend immediately DAILY GUIDE published what looked like the government resorting to blackmail in order to get the Bankswitch debt settled, admitted that the ministry wrote to five DICs to pay a whopping $35 million each in exchange for contracts.
It means that the government will receive $175 million from the five DICs should they be able to afford the amount to settle GH¢ 197 million.
With 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.
Bankswitch’s contract with Ghana government was abrogated by the NDC administration under President John Evans Atta Mills with current President sitting as a Vice President at Cabinet.
The ministry attacked critics of the move to pay the judgement debt through the backdoor including the media and politicians describing them as evil.
Nana Akrasi-Sarpong, acting Director of Communications and Public Affairs who signed the statement claimed the ministry initiated the move in order to save the country from paying more than GH¢1 billion.
“MOTI's open and transparent invitation on official Government of Ghana letterhead to five destination inspection companies to express interest in pre-paying the GH¢ 197 million was motivated by the national interest in saving the country more than GHC One billion in overpayments that Bankswitch is seeking from the people of Ghana,”
“The attention of the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MOTI) has been drawn to articles and commentaries in the media especially DAILY GUIDE of Saturday June 20th, 2015 regarding a correspondence the Ministry has exchanged with Destination Inspection Companies (DICs) on the payment of a judgment debt owed Bankswitch.”
“The imports of such reports and subsequent commentaries have given the impression that the Ministry is involved in transactions that may be improper or which may constitute bribery,” the statement said.
“The facts are that a company called Bankswitch has succeeded in receiving a Judgment debt against the Government and people of Ghana in the amount of approximately GH¢ 197 million. The judgment debt was for the termination by the Prof Mill administration of a contract awarded under the Kufuor Administration for services in the trade facilitation arena.”
The statement said “The Prof. Mills administration was of the conviction that the contract was improperly awarded and that Bankswitch had not performed the services for which it was contracted to perform. Bankswitch sued the Government in international courts and won a judgment debt amounting to approximately GH¢ 197 million. Due to delays in paying this judgment debt and the accumulating interest, this debt is rising.”
“As the Government has been unable to pay this judgment debt this far, Bankswitch has been negotiating with Government on alternative payment arrangements. Until recently, Bankswitch sought to have the Government pay the entire judgment debt over a 5-year period, and in addition for Government to award Bankswitch 0.35% of the FOB values of all Ghana's imports over five years.”
The statement said that the supplementary award of 0.35% of FOB imports over 5 years, were it to be accepted by the government, “would imply a contract to Bankswitch that would be worth more than GH¢1 billion over five years.”
“This additional over payment to Bankswitch of more GH¢ 1 billion would be over and above the full settlement by the Government of Ghana of the GH¢ 197 million debt, whether paid in one lump sum or over a number of years,” it said.
“It is this 0.35% of Ghana's import trade bill that Bankswitch would wish to be awarded that the Ministry of Trade has invited Destination Inspection Companies interested in paying off the Bankswich debt to present expressions of interest so as to prevent the people of Ghana from being billed an extra GH¢1billion for no work done”.
The statement said members of the 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.”
“If MOTI were interested in any scurrilous and scandalous business, it would not do so on government letterhead and address the same opportunity to five independent and separate businesses to respond in writing.
It further said the sector minister “is consulting his lawyers and is prepared to take swift legal action against any media house or commentators who wish to toy with and damage the hard-earned global reputation for hard work, creative problem-solving, professionalism, competence and integrity of Ekwow Spio-Garbrah.”
“The Ministry is of the view that, the issue at stake should be discussed, taken into consideration the payment of judgement debt through no work done. The question is, should we pay judgement debt in excess of GH₵1billion through no work done by Bandswitch?”
The letter was purportedly signed by Minister of Trade and Industry Ekwow Spio-Garbrah on Wednesday June 3, 2015 and asked the DICs with the capacity to contribute $35 million each towards repaying the judgement debt to assist government.
In the letter, the government said: “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 per cent 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 DICs were given until midday of June 8, 2015 to respond with an expression of interest according to Joy FM, an Accra-based radio station.
Samuel Atta Akyea, Member of Parliament (MP) for Abuakwa South, was the first to fire a salvo when he described as “filthy” the deal being entered into by the government.
He said the letter to the DICs was “a very veil form of bribery” and said the government could not seek to solve its problems by inducing companies through monetary donations in the form of contracts.
“This is very filthy for you to use your office to induce people to pay monies which they are not supposed to pay so they have some advantage because of your promise,” he told Joy FM.
Dr. Mathew Opoku Prempeh, MP for Manhyia South preferred to demand the immediate resignation or dismissal of Spio-Garbrah.
“Since when did Spio-Garbrah become competent enough to negotiate behind the back of everybody, a judgement debt settlement? All judgement debts are paid through the Ministry of Finance, where has Spio-Garbrah, on whose authority is he seeking to negotiate the payment of judgement debt? Is he the Minister of Finance?” Opoku Prempeh queried on Citi FM.
Sydney Casely-Hayford, a financial analyst called the move a clear case of bribery saying “if government wants to buy a new presidential jet today for which it does not have enough money, is it proper for you to call on everybody who is involved in the aviation industry and say all of you should come and give us $10 million, 10 million, 10 million and in exchange for that, we will give you a contract that says that your aviation rights will be extended or will be in perpetuity forever. Is that not a bribe?”
IMANI President, Franklin Cudjoe advised the government to tread cautiously in the strategy it is employing to pay off the Bankswitch debt.
“I will suggest that the Ministry takes a second look and I don’t know if Spio-Garbrah was making this decision single handedly or it’s the decision of the entire government because as I know, he wasn’t party to this contract so I will suggest that they should speak to the Attorney General for some serious direction…”
He said the letter had “undertones of adversity being imposed on the decision that ought to be taken. It’s indeed a very sad letter and I don’t know how the Minister himself feels.”