Blame the foreigner - Ghana Telecom’s Norwegian management kicked out

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Ghanaian press reports were full of jubilant crowing that the Norwegian contract managers Telenor were kicked out of Ghana Telecom in the run-up to privatisation scheduled for June 2007 (watch for almost inevitable slippage on that date). Whilst the reports were full of the under-performance of the company’s contract managers, there was little discussion of the company’s considerable problems (including under-investment by the Government) or even the under-performance of some of the company’s staff. In the blame game, it’s always easier to blame foreigners than those closer to home. Ask Nigeria’s politicians who did much the same with Nitel.

According to the Ghanaian Chronicle, the Board of Directors of Ghana Telecom (GT), after a marathon meeting last week, accepted the resignation of the Norwegian Chief Executive Officer Fraude Haugen from Telenor, appointing MD. Oduro-Nyaning, Deputy CEO as the new CEO. Haugen was allegedly taking home US$100,000 a month and in addition there was a monthly contract fee paid to Telenor of $150,000.

The Board's decision formally brings to an end the three-year management service contract signed in 2003 and ended on 31st December 2005. Both parties agreed to end the management service contract whose term had elapsed. A wholly Ghanaian Management Team takes over with immediate effect, with a one- month transitional period to allow for a handover.

Other members of the new management team are: Joe Owusu-Ansah, Acting. Chief Financial Officer, who will continue to act in that position, David Mettle, Chief Technical Officer, Philip Sowah, Chief Officer, Onetouch, Fitnat Adjetey, Companay Solicitor and Ekow Mills as Company Secretary.

The Communications Ministry has had 13 companies respond to the tender for international advisers to oversee the privatization process. The Ministry is to conduct a financial review of the company as part of the preparation for this process. The company needs a deep-pocket investor who will make improvements to the core network and cut over-staffing levels to improve profitability. After all, this is a key strategic telecoms company, not a local job creation project.

The Ghanaian Chronicle’s report comments:”It was hinted that following the public outcry that greeted the astronomical sums being carted away by the Norwegians, both the President and the Minister have vowed to ensuring an open and transparent process to protect the national interest”. Local press coverage is almost hysterical over the amounts paid to foreigners but local reporters seem to suffer amnesia on the point that these sums were agreed by Ghana Telecom’s main shareholder, the Government.

But the Ghanaian Government has always been rather good at deflecting attention away from its own laggardly and indecisive performance. Ghana has the unique distinction of being the only country in Africa where the Government has ended up being the main shareholder in the country’s three key telecoms assets -Ghana Telecom, Westel and Voltacom - after a flawed privatisation programme. No timetable has yet been set out for the privatisation of Westel and Voltacom. As ever there is much talk but little action.

Similarly the Government “talks the talk” on attracting call centre business and external ICT investors but there is still no sign of legislation to legalise VoIP that would help encourage these developments. External investors can see quite clearly that the “talk, talk” does not connect to action. Whereas Ghana was once in the vanguard of those developing its ICT sector, it is now in danger of slipping behind other more advanced countries like Kenya and Nigeria.

Meanwhile the foreigners were also getting it in the neck in the transition from Areeba (formerly owned by Investcom) to MTN. In this process, local Ghanaian lawyer David Hesse, formerly Company Secretary, took legal action to prevent the Board unseating him from his position and the Board of Directors. There has also been the curious sight of Richmond Aggrey, a 20% shareholder in the local Areeba subsidiary taking on the contention that his name had been removed from the shareholders list of Scancom Ltd, without any explanation, as a result of which he filed an ex parte motion for an interlocutory injunction against Investcom Consortium Holdings SA (now Investcom LLC) of Beirut, the parent company, Scancom Limited and Grandview Management Ltd in the USA to restrain them from dealing with the shares, stock and or interest in Scancom Limited in any manner. According to him, if the defendants are not restrained it would affect his 20 per cent interest in Scancom Limited.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of each of these individual cases, what is at issue is simply the takeover of one company by another and in these circumstances both management and officers are usually changed as a matter of course. But again the local press portrays the whole drama as if it was solely the fault of those insidious foreigners and that the challenger Ghanaians are heroic figures much wronged.

Perhaps it is time for serious Ghanaians to put their money where their mouth appears to be and invest in the forthcoming Ghana Telecom privitization and show that they can run things better than their Government and the foreigners.