The country is about to witness yet another controversy over the negotiation and transfer of the ownership of the Telecom Company, AirtelTigo by its mother companies; Bharti Airtel Ghana Holdings B.V. and MIC Africa B.V.
The majority shareholders, have signed an agreement to transfer their shares to the Ghanaian government at a fee said to be in the region of US$25 million, but The Herald has picked up disturbing reports on some secret discussions between Bharti Airtel Ghana Holdings B.V. and MIC Africa B.V. on one hand and the Akufo-Addo government on the other hand.
AirtelTigo serves around 5.1 million subscribers and offers direct and indirect employment opportunities to almost 10,000 people.
The ultimate aim of the underground meetings is to have the Akufo-Addo government use state power to take over the AirtelTigo and hand it over to another company at a knockdown price.
Behind the new company it is alleged are the interest of some family and friends of President Akufo-Addo.
The government of Ghana and Bharti Airtel Ghana Holdings B.V. and MIC Africa B.V, are said to have concluded negotiations and signed an agreement to transfer the shares of the company to the state.
This follows the company’s departure from the Ghanaian telecom market in October 2020 as announced by Airtel and Millicom.
The agreement transferred all customers, assets and agreed liabilities of AirtelTigo to the Ghanaian Government.
But The Herald’s information is that those to whom the Akufo-Addo government is about to handover the AirtelTigo to, are the same as those being behind the controversial Kelni GVG Limited, said to be a Haitian-Ghanaian company whose dealings in the country has been very elusive.
The owners are not known to the public except those on the corridors of power, but rumors abound that they have some Nigerian connections and are highly connected to Presidency with the Minister of Communication Ursula Owusu mentioned their biggest protector.
In May 2018, IMANI’s executives at a meeting with the Ghana Anti-Corruption Coalition (GACC) CSO platform members (“CSO Platform”) during which a contract between the Ministry of Communications and the Ministry of Finance, on one hand, and Kelni GVG, on the other hand was discussed.
IMANI at that time, said as partners in the common fight against administrative abuse, had join forces with GACC to solicit more information from the Minister of Communications on a $89 million deal the Akufo-Addo government had signed with Kelni GVG.
Unfortunately, however, the Minister at the time, Ursula Owusu-Ekuful, who has been retain by President Akufo-Addo, “refused to treat our correspondence with the necessary seriousness when her office responded on June 11th, 2018, that it could not immediately provide access to the requisite information”.
This led to a lawsuit filed by three affiliates of IMANI on June 18, 2018 at the High Court against the Ministry of Communications, the Attorney General and Kelni GVG Limited, citing breach of the Public Procurement Act (Act 663) and the Public Financial Management Act (Act 921). Details of that lawsuit are not immediately available.
But as the secret discussion goes on between Airtel Ghana Holdings B.V. and MIC Africa B.V. and the Akufo-Addo government, the Member of Parliament for Ningo Prampram, has jumped into the fray.
Samuel Nartey George, has indicated that the Communications Committee of Parliament, will be inviting the Minister of Communications to answer some questions relating to the AirtelTigo agreement with the government of Ghana.
Sam George, who is Deputy ranking member on the committee, told the Hot Edition on 3FM, last week Friday April 16, noted that the deal raises questions about the condition of workers and others issues which makes it prudent for the sector minister to give explanations to the committee.
In October 2020, Airtel and Millicom announced that they were exiting the Ghanaian market and this agreement concludes the extensive negotiations between the parties to ensure a seamless transition and continued operation of AirtelTigo thereafter.
“The telecommunications sector is of strategic importance to the government, and it is critical the sector remains healthy, dynamic, vibrant and most importantly, competitive.
“We are determined to make Ghana the digital hub of the sub region and this acquisition is a step in the right direction,” the government said in a statement.
The Minister of Communications and Digitalisation, Mrs. Ursula Owusu-Ekuful had also given assurance that the interest of workers, customers, contractors, suppliers, stakeholders will be protected after the Government of Ghana and mother companies of AirtelTigo, Bharti Airtel Ghana Holdings B.V. and MIC Africa B.V signed an agreement to transfer the shares to the Ghana Government.
Mrs. Ursula Owusu-Ekuful signed on behalf of the Government of Ghana, while Ms. Jatina Catharina Uneken-van de Vreede, Mr Martin P Frechette, Mr Timothy Pennington, Mr Eric Nana Nipah and Mr Vish Ashiagbor signed on behalf of the seller entities.
“We consider this a positive step as it adds to the growing portfolio of digital infrastructure assets being utilised by the government,” a government statement said.
“Government will operate this national asset in the best interest of the nation, the company, telecommunications industry, and ensure the protection of the interests of all employees, customers, contractors, suppliers, stakeholders and sustain the digital transformation of Ghana.”
But Sam George said further explanations are needed on this agreement.
“We are going to be inviting the Minister to the committee to throw more lights on the details of this deal to the parliamentary select committee because this is going to be at cost to the Ghanaian tax payer.
“We need to be sure, guided by the history of Government of Ghana in the telecom space, don’t forget what you know as Vodafone today used to be Ghana telecom and it used to be owned by government and government had failed severally to manage that asset well leading us to where we have gotten to today,” he said.
He added “AirtelTigo, government used to have shares in it. As recently as two years ago AitelTigo told us that government had failed to pay its part of moneys that were needed for capital expansions.
“…So now the government is taking over the whole assets, it is going to be interesting for us to see how we can hold government to account on the requisite level of investment that is needed to keep telco highly competitive .
“The other angle will be the conditions of the Ghanaians workers in there. That for me, is the most primary issue. As recently as 72 hours ago there was agitation over bonuses and salary increment for three years the workers there had not seen any salary increment.
“My understanding is that before this signing was done some indications of approval was given by the board, to be taken care of. We will want to see the implementation of that by government because government takes over assets and liability, we will also want to see what happens to staff strength, are there going to be retrenchment? Are there going to be layoffs, we need to be minded by all of these.”
Meanwhile, Ursula Owusu-Ekuful, has disclosed that shareholder loans of AirtelTigo were not transferred to the state as part of its takeover of the company saying some creditors have either written off loans advanced to the company or slashed down the liability.
She noted that “the shareholders of Airtel and Tigo are not passing on the shareholder loans that were advanced to the company.”
According to her, “that is one of the main items that was hurting the balance sheet of the company.”
“So 100 percent of all the loans have been forgiven, more or less. They are not seeking the repayment of those loans.”
Among the notable liabilities was a $100 million facility from Standard Charted Bank.
But according to Mrs. Owusu-Ekuful “the company is now only saddled with 50 percent of that liability.”
“These measures also helped free the company from the debt burden that it was under,” she added.
The minister assured all local creditors of the company that “we are going to sit down with them and look at ways in which we can assist the company to meet its obligations towards them.”