The Deputy Ranking Member on Trade, Industry and Tourism Committee of Parliament Hon Yusif Sulemana who is the Member of Parliament for Bolé-Bamboi has briefed the press on what Ghana Link / UNIPASS brings on.
Hon Yusif Sulemana also mentioned some issues of concern with regard to copyright and matters arising.
MINORITY PRESS CONFERENCE ON UNIPASS ADDRESSED BY HON. YUSIF SULEMANA, DEPUTY RANKING MEMBER ON THE TRADE, INDUSTRY AND TOURISM COMMITTEE ON FRIDAY 3RD APRIL, 2020 IN PARLIAMENT HOUSE
WHAT EXTRA DOES GHANA LINK/UNIPASS BRING ON?
1. In 2000, the then Rawlings Government initiated steps for the establishment of a system as Ghana looked at automating its port operations. The system sort to eliminate the rigidities and inefficiencies inherent in the manual operations and by so doing improving Government revenues. The Kufour Government implemented the full roll out between 2002 and 2006 including establishing the Ghana Community Network Services Ltd (GCNET) and since then, successive Government s have built upon it.
2. GCNET, as we are aware, is a Public-Private Partnership in which Government of Ghana through its agencies holds 35% shares.
3. In 2015, GCNET combined with West Blue Consulting Ltd (West Blue) to provide an integrated end-to-end processing platform to deliver the Ghana National Single Window (GNSW), Ghana Customs Management System (GCMS) and its Trade Facilitation Single Window Platform (TFP) -components which meets ISO 9000 and 27000 standards.
4. Since its introduction in 2015, Government revenues have consistently risen except in 2019 when Government reduced benchmark values at the ports. The accumulated growth in customs revenues between 2015 and 2018 was about 76% i.e. rising from some GHC7.5 billion in 2015 to about GHC13.2 billion in 2018.
5. For this stellar performance, GCNET and West Blue which are currently contracted till the end of 2023 and 2020, respectively; are paid a combined fee of 0.54% of Free on Board (FOB) i.e. taking into consideration Government ’s 35% shares in GCNET.
6. However, without any concrete reason, the Akufo-Addo Government after assuming office in 2017 has been bent on getting rid of the two companies and replacing them with a company with no credible track record in delivering similar solutions; Ghana Link Network Services Ltd (Ghana Link).
7. In 2017, President Akufo-Addo through the Ministry of Trade and Industry procured Ghana Link and its collaborator, Customs UNIPASS International Agency (CUPIA) through sole-sourcing to takeover the operation GCNET and West Blue without regard to proper procedures, sanctity of contracts and the fact that GCNET is partially owned by the State.
ISSUES OF CONCERN
We in the minority note a number of issues that should be of concern to all well-meaning Ghanaians.
Section 40 of the Public Procurement Act (ACT 663) provides the conditions under which sole-sourcing is allowed. Section 40. (1) states:
“A procurement entity may engage in single-source procurement under section
41 with the approval of the Board,
(a) where goods, works or services are only available from a particular supplier or contractor, or if a particular supplier or contractor has exclusive rights in respect of the goods, works or services, and no reasonable alternative or substitute exists;
(b) where there is an urgent need for the goods, works or services and engaging in tender proceedings or any other method of procurement is impractical due to unforeseeable circumstances giving rise to the urgency which is not the result of dilatory conduct on the part of the procurement entity;
(c) where owing to a catastrophic event, there is an urgent need for the goods, works or technical services, making it impractical to use other methods of procurement because of the time involved in using those methods;
(d) where a procurement entity which has procured goods, equipment, technology or services from a supplier or contractor, determines that
(i) additional supplies need to be procured from that supplier or contractor because of standardisation;
(ii) there is a need for compatibility with existing goods, equipment, technology or services, taking into account the effectiveness of the original procurement in meeting the needs of the procurement entity;
(iii) the limited size of the proposed procurement in relation to the original procurement provides justification;
(e) where the procurement entity seeks to enter into a contract with the supplier or contractor for research, experiment, study or development, except where the contract includes the production of goods in quantities to establish commercial viability or recover research and development costs; or
(f) where the procurement entity applies this Act for procurement that concerns national security, and determines that single-source procurement is the most appropriate method of procurement.”
Having regard for this Act, we note that none of the six conditions under which sole-sourcing is allowed was occasioned in 2017 to trigger Sections 40 and 41 of ACT 663. As such, we wish to assure those involved in this procurement that they will answer for it when we takeover in 2021. We also wish to warn Ghana Link/UNIPASS that a contract that is illegally procured is void and so they enter into this contract at their own risk.
9. Capacity of Ghana Link
The GCNET/West Blue system has been audited by both local and international agencies and has been acclaimed globally for its robustness and efficiency; receiving some of the highest ISO certification for this as well as several local and international awards. West Blue, for instance, has won some of the most recognised national and international awards; be it the World Customs Organisation’s International Best Practice Award, the National Information Technology Development e-Governance Award 2015, the Anas Aremeyaw Anas Transparency Award at the 2017 Ghana Shippers Awards or Best Technology and Innovative Award at the 2017 Ghana Maritime and Shippers Award.
Unsurprisingly, the system the two companies have put together has not had any system breaches since its inception. Indeed, the system’s robustness in the midst of expanded port operations has been remarkable as evidenced through the increased revenues delivered year-in-year-out.
So why will our Government seek to replace such companies with a sole-sourced company with no proper track record in the business and with no verifiable superior systems? The closest anyone can affiliate Ghana Link to port services delivery is through its subsidiary Africa Link Inspections Company Ltd (ALIC) in Sierra Leone. ALIC was contracted by Sierra Leone to deliver an end-to-end system in 2012 but as at January 2020 when their contract was being terminated, they were yet to deliver.
The Company was found not only to have failed to implement important and vital components of their contract but also to have in connivance with their parent company, Ghana Link, allegedly manipulated financial records for tax evasion purposes. Again, the Sierra Leonean Authorities also found that ALIC had allegedly failed to pay taxes to the tune of Le45 billion. The Government has accordingly initiated steps for the abrogation of their contract with the company.
In Ghana also, its earlier scanning and valuation service was noted to be poor.
In spite of these negative factors, our Government led by President Akufo-Addo has decided to replace companies that have been delivering improved services and revenues; companies that are acclaimed globally for their capacity and transparency (as shown by the awards mentioned earlier), with a Company that has been found not only to be incompetent and incapable of delivering a Single Window system but also allegedly, very corrupt.
The only reason this can happen is when there are ulterior motives.
10. Contract Fees
Furthermore, why will any Government replace a cheaper system that is delivering its mandate with a more expensive one that is unproven to be superior?
As noted earlier, the combined fees paid to GCNET and West Blue for their services is 0.54% of FOB. With this Ghana Link/UNIPASS deal, Government of Ghana has decided, for whatever reason, to pay 0.75% of FOB.
This was after granting Ghana Link duty- and tax-free importation of their inputs (which GCNET and West Blue do not enjoy).
Our question to President Akufo-Addo is; what specific addition is Ghana Link/UNIPASS bringing on to warrant the extra 0.21% of FOB? Why is Government providing Ghana Link with inordinately higher fees for a service that is being provided at a lower cost? Ghanaians want to know why they will be paying more for this unproven system.
11. Contract Termination
Another strange concession President Akufo-Addo has decided to dash to Ghana Link/UNIPASS is the conditions under which their contract can be terminated.
Our Government has committed that if it had to unilaterally abrogate or it materially breaches the contract with Ghana Link/UNIPASS, Ghana will pay graduated fees of US$93 million to US$12 million in the first to the tenth year, to the company.
The strange and worrying issue about these clauses is that Ghana is committing to pay US$93 million for terminating a contract whose total value over the 10 years is US$40 million.
What would have been logical will be to pay Ghana Link/UNIPASS the remaining value of their contract in the event of a unilateral termination of the contract by Ghana. If it is the contention of Government that this is not the logical thing to do, then on what basis are they in a letter signed by Senior Minister, Hon. Yaw Osafo-Maafo proposing to pay GCNET the value of the unspent term of their contract?
Government needs to furnish Ghanaians with the reason why they accepted US$93 million as the termination fee for year 1.
12. West Blue sues Ghana Link/UNIPASS over copyright infringement
In addition, as we speak, West Blue is in court suing Ghana Link/CUPIA and another company, World Smart Ltd at the Commercial Division of the Accra High Court for allegedly cloning their software illegally. West Blue alleges that the software for the system that Ghana Link and its partners are currently seeking to roll out is stolen. It is therefore seeking, among others, for the court to restrain Ghana Link and its partners, affiliates and assigns from using the software. Assuming after Ghana Link takes over the port services, the court were to grant this relief restraining it from using the software, what happens? How does Government propose coming out of such a conundrum?
13. Government is recklessly trying to erode the gains made by successive Government s since the year 2000. This GCNET concept is one of the only projects that each Government in the Forth Republic has built upon. The Akufo-Addo Government will be the only one to depart from this. And strangely, they are doing so, so recklessly that the potential of saddling the country with substantial judgement debt couldn’t be higher. Our believe is that the puppet masters pulling the strings for this transaction could only be motivated by what they stand to gain privately. Those people must be reminded that dawn is on the horizon and they will answer.
In the meantime, we ask the following questions.
i. Why is Government seeking to replace companies and systems that are tried and tested with those that are not?
ii. Why is Government seeking to replace competent, internationally recognised, indigenous home-grown companies and systems with foreign systems, particularly in this era of self-sufficiency and Ghana Beyond aid?
iii. Why will Government be sole-sourcing a system of this kind when an international competitive process will have given Ghana better value for money?
iv. Why is Government ignoring the record of Ghana Link and its subsidiary in Sierra Leone in this whole transaction?
v. Why is Government agreeing to pay US$93 million in case of a termination for a contract worth US$40 million?
vi. Why is Government choosing to abrogate cheaper contracts for more expensive one?
vii. What is the problem with current system that warrants its replacement?
viii. And most importantly, what is Ghana Link/UNIPASS bringing onboard that the current service providers don’t have?
ix. Where is the feasibility study which is a condition precedent in the agreement they signed with Ghana Link to show the extraordinary benefits that are expected from the Ghana Link contract?
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