Since IMANI launched its public campaign for a review of the NCA’s handling of the Interconnect Clearing House (ICH) matter, and resurrected our longstanding position that: 1. There should be no monopoly in the newly created license category (as is the case in Nigeria and other places where ICHs have been operating for a decade or more); rather, more than one company should be licensed to provide the service; and 2) The telecom companies should have a say in which company they engage to provide the service, since the due diligence in respect of this matter is both commercial and technical, we have been the subjects of extreme mudslinging by the Deputy Minister of Communications.
By IMANI Staff | IMANI Alert | IMANI Africa
Since IMANI launched its public campaign for a review of the NCA’s handling of the Interconnect Clearing House (ICH) matter, and resurrected our longstanding position that: 1. There should be no monopoly in the newly created license category (as is the case in Nigeria and other places where ICHs have been operating for a decade or more); rather, more than one company should be licensed to provide the service; and 2) The telecom companies should have a say in which company they engage to provide the service, since the due diligence in respect of this matter is both commercial and technical, we have been the subjects of extreme mudslinging by the Deputy Minister of Communications and assorted accessories to the fraud that is seeking to impose a discredited model on Ghana (readers are asked to check how a corrupt and disgraceful attempt to impose a monopoly ICH was defeated in the Philippines in 2001).
Let us emphasise clearly, once and for all, that IMANI’s interest in this matter begun as far back as early 2015, when the diabolic idea of a monopoly, mandatory, ICH was first mooted. We are not mounting this campaign on behalf of any company in particular. In fact, our belief is that until the flawed policy itself is amended no tender shall meet the public interest test.
Now, let us take a look at the latest, twisted, attempt by the NCA to perpetuate the con that is now unravelling very fast in the public domain, and embarrassing the people and government of Ghana.
A careful look at the NCA’s newly published report shows the following:
(i) Inconsistencies in the color format for scanning the same document presumably from the same scanner. Funny enough these inconsistencies correspond to the actual report narrative, and that of the evaluation score table. These two categories are different in colour / contrast. It can only be inferred that different scanners, different scanning periods, apply to these categories, as it is impossible to change the contrast for different pages of the document when scanning.
(ii) Standard report writing does not suggest that captions/subheadings appear as the last line on a page whiles the narrative of that subheading goes onto another page. Indeed this principle is completely kept throughout the report we have.
However, because the report was doctored, the fear of distorting information on subsequent pages makes them leave these trails. Check page 23 of 66, 20 of 66 etc of the newly doctored report of the NCA at http://www.nca.org.gh/downloads/ICHL_Application_Evaluation_Report.pdf (readers are advised to save this on their hard drives as we expect potential further tampering)
(iii) Take a look at the final detailed score sheet, which is also an exhibit/appendix 3 on page 60. If their scanned evaluation report is anything to go by, then the right side of appendix 3 should have been perforated from the binding, if it truly came from the same document. However, appendix 3 alone isn’t perforated, whiles the appendix 3 inserted in the evaluation report is perforated. (Audit Trail will expose those who are not trained to think like auditors and forensic examiners). Talk less of the differences in the contrast from the scan of both documents.
Media Debate with Deputy Minister of Communications
Some readers may have followed the ongoing discussions in the media. It turns out the Deputy Minister of Communications has three versions of the NCA report when it should now be clear that the legitimate copy of the report is what was leaked from within the tender process itself to IMANI. The new, fraudulent, report has 66 pages with the last page blank. The legitimate, properly signed and endorsed, report has 67 pages. These contraptions must derive from the Deputy Minister’s unsigned and amenable soft copy which he brought with him when he appeared on the news and current affairs radio show, Newsfile on Saturday the 13th of February. He was badly exposed by the keen acumen of Mr. Kweku Baako and Mr. Matthew Prempeh, MP. This freshly doctored NCA report, which has no signature of the board chairman alongside those of the members of the evaluation panel, now joins the newly released scanned version of a strange hard copy of the report, which the Deputy Minister appears to have belatedly placed the signature of the board chairman of the NCA on a separate sheet.
The signatures of the AEP on the new report of the NCA significantly vary as they were signed in narrower boxes whilst the original document had them in slightly bigger boxes with the hand written approval of the NCA Board Chairman.
Now wait for the clincher! Using a forensic PDF metadata extractor and OCR algorithm, redacted and sanitised information can be retrieved from the document, and some frightening tell-tale signs appear.
We analysed 30 PDF documents on the website of the NCA and developed a metadata benchmark. We saw digital signatures and other trails linking various NCA documents to apparent employees such as:
JUSTICE APPIAH &
This latest document, apart from the fact that attempts have been made to remove authorial marks, was:
- Produced on a Sunday, the 14thof February (i.e. yesterday)
- on a wholly different device
- using different grades of paper and
- bears fascinating traces to documents issued by the Ministry of Communications and none whatsoever to documents authored and released from the NCA.
Clearly, this could not have been retrieved from NCA electronic archives as purported, nor was it even prepared at the NCA.
We have equally suspicious evidence from the metadata that we are continuing to analyse. Suffice it to say that there is now conclusive backing for the accusation that the Deputy Minister of Communications and certain individuals at the NCA are not shy about manipulating the official record to perpetuate this con of an ICH policy, and that they are happy to even forge and tamper with documents to do so.
It has also now emerged that the Ministry of Communications actually approached Cabinet for approval for the tendering process on December 10, 2015 when it had together with the NCA already awarded the licence in January 2015 and June 2015! It is also now in the public domain that the Ministry of Communications is in a fierce tussle with the Ministry of Finance over which Ministry has the mandate to undertake revenue assurance. The mandate is in law (Reference Section 14 of the Communications Service Tax Act, 2008) and the Finance Ministry through the Ghana Revenue Authority has it, not the Ministry of Communications.
So, the reader should by now understand the source of the energy at the Ministry to drive through the flawed ICH policy come what may.
IMANI’s Policy Stance & Responses to the Ministry’s & NCA’s Misguided Defence of the ICH Debacle
1) TIME FRAME FOR THE EVALUATION WAS SHORT
NCA: As a rebuttal to Imani’s accusation that the timeline for the evaluation of the applicant was too small, NCA said the entire process began from November 2014 with extensive public consultation.
IMANI: The process mentioned by the NCA was not the Evaluation process since the application deadline was 17th December, 2014 and the schedule of the Application Evaluation Panel (AEP’s) work, which they claim to have stuck to, showed that the evaluation began on the 2nd January, 2015. Page 11 of the AEP report shows that the AEP was requested according to the TOR to submit the report to the NCA by 23rdJanuary, 2015. According to the release today and the NCA’s statement at the press conference, the report was presented to the NCA board on 29th although the same NCA told Ghanaians in their first release that the NCA received the report by the 23rd. At any rate, how could a committee report had been completed by the 29th of January, reviewed by management of the NCA, submitted to the Board of the Agency, carefully deliberated upon by members of the Board in advance, voted upon, and then been signed by the Chairman of the Board on 30th January! This indecent haste shows not only how willing the NCA was to throw out of the window all dictates of sound governance, but also how much pressure must have been brought to bear on them to subvert due process.
2) PRE-QUALIFICATION, REVIEW AND TECHNICAL GUIDANCE FLAWS
NCA: It says that pre-qualification was actually done but it was done through a combination of two stages by the AEP as said on page 12. Also, the NCA board did its review within two days (29th and 30th of January, 2015) and Technical guidance was provided by Mr Albert Enninful Engineer and Deputy Director-General of the NCA who was chairman of the AEP.
IMANI: This is another of those instances where the people in charge of our national affairs show unbelievable and embarrassing lack of familiarity with due process. The whole point of a prequalification exercise is to prevent unqualified applicants from entering the full evaluation process in the first place, and by so doing to save time for the critical substantive phases of the exercise. There is no seriousness in a proposal that combining pre-qualification and the full exercise amounts to the same time. In fact, it is incompetent thinking and practice.
Furthermore, purporting to review and approve a document of such importance with over 65 pages in a day or two by nine people, all of whom would have had to spend time examining the contents ahead of time before attending the final vote, shows the quality of the administrators we are saddled with as a country.
Also, the presence of Albert Enninful could not have made much difference since the manipulated scores emanated from the very Technical Sub-committee in which he was a member.
3) NO CLAIM OF REFERENCES OR TESTIMONIALS
NCA: The NCA claims that there was no need for this since ICH services are a novelty and no firm which applied had the prior record of providing all the full range of services required either in Ghana or any other country.
IMANI: This is weird logic. Are there no companies in the world providing ICH services? Isn’t the NCA saying that the bid winner is partnering to provide the service? Couldn’t there have been visits to locations where these partners are purportedly delivering such services? Doesn’t Ghana have to learn from such experience? What about the component services that together make up the ICH? Couldn’t the Panel have made site visits to verify that the tendering companies and their partners have successfully deployed such services in a context SIMILAR to the high-risk context of an ICH? In fact, this statement is a major indictment on the attitude that the AEP took to this incredibly important exercise.
4) MANIPULATION OF SCORES TO GIVE AFRIWAVE THE CONTRACT
NCA: NCA claims that the report with IMANI is fabricated and it is a “fraudulent attempt by IMANI to alter public documents for reasons best known to them”.
IMANI: There is sufficient proof that the document with IMANI is the true and original final report presented to the NCA Board because it not only contains all the signatures of all eight (8) members but also the signature of the Board Chairman by the 30th of January. The Board Chairman clearly stated and signed that it has been “accepted and approved by the board”. The evidence of the Chairman’s signature is not on the so-called final report published on the NCA website.
Also, the attempt of deception by the NCA of the general public is clear from their responses so far. The first statement released by the NCA clearly said that, ““Imani based their arguments on a draft report….Furthermore, we note that even the draft report that Imani has in its possession answers all the questions that they asked, so we are amazed that Imani fails to make reference to the said responses”. But at the press conference, the NCA responded to a question by a journalist by saying that they did not know what document Imani has. Today, the NCA has released another statement signed by the same William Tevie who signed the first statement. Today’s story is that Imani altered the documents? The discerning Ghanaian public can clearly judge!
The report published by the NCA (without the NCA Board Chairman’s signature) is also short of one (1) page (that is, it is 66 pages), when the actual report in IMANI’s possession with all signatures contains 67 pages showing that the NCA has decided to change and share a different report with the public. Indeed, pages 60 to 65 show features different from the remainder of report by looking not only at the font size but also the topic of APPENDIX 3 is coloured blue which suspiciously gives away the NCA as having changed original report. More damning is our forensic examination of the PDF, which shows its recent vintage and extra-NCA origins.
5) OTHER ISSUES
It is critical for the general public and the policy community in Ghana to understand very clearly what the NCA is purporting to do with the ICH policy it has concocted.
Firstly, unlike anywhere in the world, this interconnect clearing house is not just an exchange point for traffic from one telco to the other. It is also going to sit on every telecom network and MONITOR every call. It will serve as a billing conciliation service and also manage data and VAS intermediation. In short, it is going to be a mini-God imposed on the telecom industry, run by a monopolist selected through dubious means by a dogged few.
Firstly, this flies in the face of all common sense. If the ICH is going to be carrying traffic, then it is also a telecom carrier, with an incentive to under-declare revenue. Best Practice suggests in such a context that it cannot play both roles.
Secondly, monitoring every call is not a sound way of measuring revenue because telcos reserve the right to change pricing and apply discounting at their own pace and in consonance with competition. Thus, the expensive, over-engineered, approach of mounting probes to count phone calls is misguided. There are software packages costing a few tens of thousands of dollars that can monitor billing directly using airtime activation as a leaner, more, effective option.
Lastly, at no point in our history and the history of so many nations has a monopoly service provider in any part of any value chain ever delivered excellent service. A monopoly provider cannot fear sanctions of their clients if they underperform, making such a provider a dangerous limitation of critical redundancy in the network.
It is for these and many other reasons that we are calling upon the President to intervene and establish a commission of enquiry to look into all these matters as the behaviour of the Deputy Minister of Communications show clearly that the Ministry is now compromised. The Commission of Enquiry should also engage an independent, world class, forensic examiner to get to the root of this fabrication and tampering spree.
This con must not be allowed to stand.
ABOUT THIS ALERT
This alert is issued under open license by the IMANI Center for Policy & Education. Citations, extracts and republication are allowed provided due credit is given to IMANI. References and bibliography can be obtained by writing to IMANI: INFO[@]IMANIGHANA.ORG