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Who Owns Ghana Card & the Story of NIA’s Incompetence

IMANI received through one of its Vice Presidents a statement from the Executive Secretary of the National Identification Authority (NIA) purporting to be an official response signed by one “Abdul-Ganiyu” to a tweet by an honorary executive of ours, Bright Simons. We have noticed this evening that the statement has been blasted across the NIA’s social media channels .

NIA report card
Brimming with vitriol, contempt and utter arrogance, the purported response does nothing to deny the actual facts contained in the tweet. It looks as if the tweet only provided a premise for Professor Attafuah to launch an attack he must have been relishing for a while on our colleague.

What did Bright’s tweet say?

One: that for years Ghana didn’t even own the design rights to its own National Identification card.
Two: that the government ended up having to pay through its nose to get those rights back.
Did the NIA’s statement being circulated around by Professor Attafuah deny it? No, it didn’t. It confirmed these facts and then proceeded to add a padding of completely self-serving commentary that did nothing more than reconfirm the suspicions of crass incompetence that have dogged the NIA for years, especially in Professor Attafuah’s tenure.

Let us examine these additional layers added by the NIA to Bright’s facts in detail.

  1. Ghana signed a contract with a French company to roll out Ghana Card services in 2008. Ghana paid the company for these services. At all material moments, this company was a contractor working for Ghana.
  2. Yet until 2017, the company was holding on to the design rights of the Ghana Card and only released it after Ghana paid good money for what should have been hers from day one. The specific amount has never been disclosed in any Ghanaian audit. Our enquiries suggest that it was hefty.
  3. Let us repeat for emphasis: for more than five years after Ghana had passed various measures, and eventually a law in 2012, forcing every act of citizenship in Ghana to be expressible only through the Ghana Card, the design rights of this vaunted instrument were actually in the hands of a foreign company. If it had no claim to it, we wouldn’t have had to pay money to secure the rights. The fact that we had to pay them off means that it could have refused our terms and held us hostage. We should all allow that to sink in, slowly.

We understand that Professor Attafuah is a trained lawyer. Unlike him and his colleagues at NIA, we understand basic courtesy. So, we won’t presume to teach him basic contract and intellectual property law in the same manner that he deigned to teach our colleague policy analysis. But we will point out a few critical matters for the sake of the general public.

  1. Ghana committed $60 million (nearly GHS 600 million in today’s terms) to the Sagem project that the NIA refers to in 2008. Ghana was the paying client at all material moments. It is an elementary fact of contracting and intellectual property management that where an essential aspect of a system is outsourced to a contractor to build or develop, the prudent thing is to craft the arrangement as a “work for hire”.
  2. A “work for hire” engagement ensures that those aspects of the system being developed that are essential to its integrity and continued functioning become the property of the paying client at the end of the engagement.
  3. Work for hire clauses are such a basic element of outsourcing contracts that even small startups yet to get their first product onto the market know to use them when engaging contract manufacturers, designers and contractors.
  4. This is even more rudimentary when one realises that we are talking about the fundamental design of the card itself not something the contractor already owned that we wanted to incorporate into our design. We are talking about the whole visual feel and conceptual presentation which makes this “Ghana Card”, not “Nigeria Card” or “Ecuador Card”.

That a trained lawyer heading such a vital national agency as the NIA would be so lackadaisical about such a massive intellectual property protection lapse is sufficient indication that we have got serious problems on our hand with this whole Ghana Card business that we have sunk so much resources into and placed so much faith in.

IMANI’s investigations, which in due course we will say more about, reveal that there are similar problematic contractual issues woven throughout the entire fabric of the Ghana Card project. If dispassionate and patriotic analysts seeking the best for Ghana continue to be rebuffed in the way that Professor Attafuah has done, the country can rest assured that it is sleep-walking into a major ditch in the future.

The NIA compounds this mess by trying to draw a comparison with Ghana’s currency designs.
Once again, we are not going to presume to teach Professor Attafuah basic law, but we must point out that the whole currency anti-counterfeiting regime prevailing in Ghana is based on the fact that there are laws in Ghana (such as the 1964 Currency Act) banning any attempts to replicate currency designs. The very integrity of currency protection rests on the sole sovereign ownership and command over Ghana’s own currency designs.

It is trite knowledge that following the ditching of the British West African Pound as sole legal tender in Ghana, and the switch to our local Cedi, Ghana has always owned the actual artwork of its currencies and only licenses specific security features, such as holograms, polymer substrates, and microlettering techniques, from contractors. It does so in a manner guaranteeing it the right to replace contractors as and when necessary.

This is exactly why the Bank of Ghana can hold tenders anytime it wishes to print a new consignment of banknotes or refresh the design without having to pay the likes of Crane, De la Rue and Giesecke+Devrient (G+D) for the release of the design artwork. In fact, it would be preposterous if every time Ghana needed to change its printing mint or contractor, it first had to negotiate and pay for a release of the artwork.

Citing the Ghana currency example is clear evidence of the NIA’s serious lack of sophistication in intellectual property matters, and a strong basis for alarm among all right thinking Ghanaians about the sort of management Ghana has entrusted this vital national endeavour to.

The NIA statement suggests that IMANI and its analysts are not interested in offering serious commentary on matters to do with their mandate. It should be clear from a more than decade engagement with NIA and Ghana Card matters that we are very serious commentators in this regard (see, for example: IMANI Report: don’t mess up the national ID system.)

Whenever NIA chooses to climb from its high horse and indicates its readiness to engage us on these matters to the greater success of Ghana, they will find in us a ready and committed respondent.

The people who run IMANI strive to be patriots and devote serious time and resources to working in the interest of our country. We will never put any information into the public domain just for fun, mischief or attention for attention sake.

Here, we have an organisation that is willing to spend tens of millions of dollars on a system and beguile the whole nation into investing all its hopes in it, when even the fundamental Intellectual Property is at risk. Even today a whole host of confusion surrounds the cryptography and other elements of the Ghana Card.

Were we all not witness to another government agency flatly refusing to use NIA biometric validation infrastructure and instead opting to create a wholly parallel system to collect and validate biometric data of citizens for SIM card registration whilst the NIA was reduced to writing pointless letters and lamenting to everyone who will hear in the background? Is this a sign of seriousness and reliability?

The facts are sacrosanct: two whole decades and hundreds of millions of dollars later, the country is still limping on its national identification journey. It is obvious to everyone except the wilfully stubborn that there is much that can be improved about the entire NIA process and architecture.

Whenever the NIA is willing to engage those who want to see it succeed in an honest, decent and open-minded manner, as indeed any public agency should engage with the citizenry, they will find many willing partners in Civil Society.

Until then, our mission is to keep the nation alert and fully aware about any dangers ahead so that we don’t sleep-walk into a mess as we have done so often in the past.


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