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Ministers fight over West Blue contract

"Tempers flared up during a meeting at the Flagstaff House recently to discuss the modalities for the enforcement "

Source: GHR1/Today Newspaper

Posted on : Fri 03 Jul 2015

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Tempers flared up during a meeting at the Flagstaff House recently to discuss the modalities for the enforcement of President Mahama’s order to ensure that West Blue Consulting, an IT-consulting firm, is awarded a multi-million dollar Single Window contract to take over the functions of the Destination Inspection Companies (DICs).

Sources told Today that the meeting which was called at the instance of the Chief of Staff, Mr. Julius Debrah, involved the Ministries of Trade and Industry (MOTI) and Finance and Economic Planning (MOFEP) with their respective deputy Ministers, Ibrahim Murtala Mohammed and Helen Mona Quartey representing their bosses.

The sources said hell broke loose half way into the meeting when it got to the point of how to implement the President’s executive order.

The deputy Minister of Finance, Madam Mona Quartey, the sources alleged, was bent on carrying out the order whilst her colleague deputy Minister of Trade, Murtala Mohammed, was not in support of her decision.

And when it became obvious that the two deputy ministers had taken entrenched positions on the matter, the deliberation which was cordial all along, suddenly turned into hot exchanges, the sources revealed.

The chief of staff who chaired the meeting, according to a deep throat source at the seat of government, looked on helplessly whilst Madam Quartey and Murtala Mohammed used unprintable words at each other.

The sources further revealed that since day one of the President’s executive order, MOTI had expressed its discomfort at the “imposition” of the inexperienced company on the ministry and other stakeholders charged with the country’s import data management.

The trade ministry, the sources said, was not only worried about the imposition of an inexperienced company and its effect of short-changing the country’s revenue collection, but also its potential to saddle the nation with a judgment debt issue in the future.

That, the sources said, was due to the fact that the executive procurement order would enable the 3-year-old company (West Blue Consulting) with little or no track record to take over some of the crucial functions of Ghana Community Network (GCNet).

While GCNet is run by highly competent institutions with at least 35 per cent of the company owned by state institutions, West Blue Consulting which is new in the country, the sources alleged, was using its connection at the seat of government to the disadvantage of the qualified inspection companies.

Although MOTI consequently articulated its position variously through memos, unsurprisingly, a plausible source at the ministry said President Mahama appeared to be invoking one of his favourite lyrics, “Yen tie obiaa” (to wit: We won’t listen to anyone) as a response to the ministry’s concerns.

A letter signed and issued by the Chief of Staff on 12th May, 2015 which was intercepted by this paper reminded the minister of finance, of an earlier letter, dated 9th April, 2015 on the same subject matter.

It further directed the ministry of finance to “take the necessary steps to secure the Public Procurement Authority’s (PPA) approval in order to engage West Blue on a single source basis;” implying that the minister must ensure that the PPA rubber stamps the procurement deal without tendering.

Considering that the functions of the DICs fall under the MOTI, the sources wondered why President Mahama would direct the ministry of finance to handle a procurement that falls under the mandate of DICs.

Sources close to the corridors of power further alleged that Mrs. Mona Quartey appeared to be the preferred enforcer for such backdoor procurements.

Plausible sources close to the presidency indicated that the President’s decision was not based on any independent assessment or advice by any professional institution or objective evaluation of the merits of the procurement.

“No due diligence has been undertaken at the time of President Mahama’s executive procurement order,” the sources stressed.

The use of executive power for a non-critical procurement has raised questions, even among some of the President’s own appointees, about his sense of judgment and what his motivation in this particular case may be.

What appears apparent is that the President may be invoking his executive powers for the West Blue procurement to enable him circumvent laid down procedures and shield the deal from cabinet scrutiny.

Inside sources have indicated that the multi-million dollar deal that the President is handing over to an infant company with no track record to support their competence is so bad, with dire financial consequences for the nation, suggesting that this could be the reason the president is afraid his cabinet could shoot down the deal if called upon to evaluate it.

GCNet is a company that the government helped to set up in November 2000 to computerise operations of Customs, Excise and Preventive Services (CEPS).

The Ghana government owns a sizeable percentage of shares in GCNet. In view of government’s stakes in the highly reputed company, government is well represented on the GCNet board.

Furthermore, based on the sterling performance of GCNet since inception, one gets all the more dumbfounded as to why such a crucial component of Ghana’s tax revenue infrastructure will be entrusted to the untested hands of a company that is less than three years old and wholly private with interests that are not fully ascertained.

It would be recalled that the previous government under John Agyekum Kufuor went through a similar backdoor operation to sign a questionable contract with Bankswitch for the same mandate assigned to GCNet which was later cancelled for lack of performance, leading to a 78 million dollar judgment debt hanging on the neck of the state.

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