Government has been groping in the dark for months, frantically looking for something to smear the agreement to sell majority shares in Ghana Telecom to the UK’s Vodafone. So far the fishing expedition doesn’t seem to be yielding much. That the Mills administration finds it necessary to publicly disagree – and vehemently so – with the committee it set up to investigate the deal is ample testimony to the futility of this endeavour to “review” the GT-Vodafone deal.
After sitting for months and drinking tonnes of tea, the only adverse findings the Vodafone Review Committee could come out with are the same over-flogged arguments the NDC (then in opposition) used to oppose the sale of GT to Vodafone. For starters, the committee says Ghana didn’t get “value for money”. It also says that President Kufuor acted wrongly by personally negotiating the deal and to sound a little bit original the committee had the temerity to declare the deal unconstitutional, null and void – much to the annoyance of government, which now says the “committee overstepped its remit in expressing an opinion on the constitutionality or otherwise of the transaction”.
How could the committee have “overstepped its remit”? Did its members get so drunk on abundant tea or they just couldn’t offer much within their remit? The chairman of the committee is a retired Appeals Court judge. He should know a thing or two about staying within your remit and yet he decided to do what no one had asked him to do. I think it’s a little bit of both. So let’s look at the two main issues raised by the committee.
First, they say that Ghana didn’t get value for money. Really? Vodafone (the former Ghana Telecom) is up and running, providing jobs for thousands of Ghanaians. It’s now a company with a swagger – a far cry from the Ghana Telecom which was on the verge of collapse. Recently, Vodafone launched the biggest marketing promotion in the history of this country, scaring the hell out of the marketing managers of company’s like MTN and Tigo. What other value for what money does the country need? Would the committee rather that Ghana Telecom had collapsed with all its workers sent home without pay? If you think Vodafone’s decision to lay off staff is bad, think about what would have happened if Ghana Telecom had not been sold off at the time the Kufuor administration did.
The argument being put forth to illustrate how Ghana didn’t get value for money in the transaction with Vodafone is as flawed as it is illogical. The committee says that Telkom South Africa offered more money for GT and suggests that their bid – not Vodafone’s – could have been worth more the country’s while. This doesn’t wash. Money is not everything, you know. That’s why, for example, you will occasionally come across a woman who turned down a rich man’s hand in marriage, preferring to settle down with man without a dime to his name. You remember ‘I told you so’, right? In that classic Ghanaian movie of the 1960s, Bob Cole’s character insisted that he will not allow his daughter Rosina to marry a rich man. Rosina and her mother didn’t pay heed and I suppose you know the rest of the story. The story in ‘I told you so’ doesn’t only happen in the movies. In real life parents sometimes, for very good reasons, refuse to allow their children to marry rich suitors.
In the same vein, you just don’t sell off a company – its future and that of its staff – to the highest bidder. You also need to look at several other factors such as the expertise, the track record and the prospects of the company making the bid. In their home country, Telkom South Africa is no competition for MTN and they have only two subsidiaries in Africa – Africa Online & Multilinks, a company in Nigeria. Vodafone, on the other hand, is a global giant with footprints in several countries around the world. For my money I’d settle on the bigger player offering less – not on the small player offering more. That’s what John Kufuor rightly did. It was a wise decision.
There are many things Kufuor did which were not so sensible. Selling Ghana Telecom to Vodafone wasn’t one of them. This fact seems lost on those who opposed the Vodafone deal and so in their bid to make Kufuor look bad, the government’s review committee is unjustly accusing the former president of being the sole negotiator who in an “in an inelegant manner” sold Ghana Telecom for cheap. That, for me, is also a lot of crap. No major national asset will be sold off without the explicit approval of the sitting head of state. Kufuor met with Vodafone executives and instructed his guys to push the deal through and so what? That’s not a crime, is it? Presidents meet with prospective investors, strike deals with them and ask their subordinates to follow the deals through. Rawlings did it. Kufuor did it and Mills will not be any different – unless he tells me that he’s not going to take any interest in promoting Ghana as an investment destination.
Maybe – just maybe – Kufuor met secretly with the Vodafone guys to negotiate his kickbacks (I am not saying he took and I won’t be surprised if he took any) but nothing has been proven yet. The committee’s declaration that there are no minutes of those meetings between Kufuor and the Vodafone crew is nothing for us to hang the man on. When President Mills met with Vodafone officials on his recent trip to the UK, were any minutes taken? I am just asking…
And, oh, lest we forget, the Vodafone review committee (inter-ministerial, or whatever they call it) also claims that by being the sole negotiator, Kufuor didn’t follow due process in selling off GT to Vodafone. The absurdity in this fallacy is mind-boggling. I very clearly remember that the deal was subjected to intense public debate (it was the subject of discussion for months on almost every radio station in Ghana) and it was taken to parliament, which duly approved it – only for vice President John Mahama to come and formally launch Vodafone’s operations here in Ghana. What other process could be more ‘due’ than this?
Government says it will formally issue its comments on the Vodafone deal in about two weeks. We will wait for that but I am thinking that committee’s recommendation that another (higher level) committee be set up to further investigate the deal should be disregarded. Any attempt to follow it through will definitely amount to an awful waste of precious tea – not to mention money. In fact, I think that the committee’s report, snippets of which have been released to the media, should be left at the entrance to one of the KVIPs in Chorkor or Nima for our underprivileged brothers and sisters who cannot afford toilet roll.
Vodafone has taken enough of a beating in this country already and their only crime was coming in to buy a faltering company. A country badly in need of investment should not behave this way. Whether the Vodafone deal was ‘inelegant’ or not, we are all in this country and we are seeing its fruits. It can only get better – and it will. And so for God’s sake, government should leave Vodafone alone because the so-called ‘review’ is leading nowhere. It will not get any more value for money than we got and government cannot dare force Vodafone out. And Kufuor will not share his kickbacks – if he took any – with the NDC. So what’s the point?