Spio Hot Over $175m Deal

Trade and Industry Minister Ekwow Spio-Garbrah is mounting a spirited defence over a letter he wrote asking Destination Inspection Companies (DICs) to contribute a total of $175 million to defray GH¢197 million judgement debt to Bankswitch, a private IT firm, in exchange for contracts.

The minister is unwavering over his demand of $35 million to be paid by each DIC, in spite of criticisms that the move is pure blackmail and feeds into the widely-held perception of widespread corruption in the current National Democratic Congress (NDC) government.

He told pro-government Radio Gold in Accra yesterday that he did not break any law in asking the DICs for support to settle the Bankswitch debt.

“Which law has been broken here? Cite the law which I have offended. Have I stolen something or paid illegal money? I am working in broad daylight with as much transparency and as open as possible,” he charged.

Mr Spio-Garbrah said his action was in the best interest of the country and to protect the public purse.

He repeated a statement released by the ministry at the weekend describing critics of the move as evil and said the debt had been caused by ‘evil politicians.’

But former minister of state at the finance ministry, Dr Anthony Akoto Osei, said Spio-Garbrah doesn’t get it that he has erred.

According to the former minister and minority spokesperson on finance, Spio had broken the procurement law by promising contracts to DICs if they helped raise $35 million each to help pay a judgement debt.

Dr Akoto Osei told Joy Fm in Accra that it was the responsibility of the finance minister, not the trade minister, to go around looking for money to fulfil a government obligation.

‘When did he become the loan officer for Ghana? When did he become a loan officer? So if he doesn’t know the laws he should check the laws that no minister, not even the president, can sign a contract worth that amount. That is why we have rules,’ Dr Akoto Osei underscored.

GH¢200m Payment
Mr Spio-Garbrah claimed Bankswitch had already been paid GH¢200 million but maintained that certain people were still plotting to run the country down by demanding an extra GH¢1 billion – an amount that could easily be used to fund the building of schools and roads among others.

‘This is totally unconscionable,” he said, adding that the ministry devised means to stop that GH¢1 billion payment and pointed out that it was the reason why the ministry decided to ask the DICs to help the government.

It means that should they be able to afford the amount, the government will receive $175 million from the five DICs to settle the GH¢197 million debt.

With current exchange rate of cedi to dollar at interbank rate as at Friday pegged at GH¢4.27, the NDC government will be raking in GH¢841 million, far in excess of the GH¢197 million judgement debt to Bankswitch.

Cancelation Of Contract
Bankswitch’s contract with the Ghana government was abrogated by the NDC administration under President John Evans Atta Mills, with current President John Dramani Mahama as then vice president, at Cabinet.

Bankswitch then dragged the government to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands, for unlawful termination of their contract. It demanded the payment of GH¢853 million in damages for the cancellation; and the court awarded damages in excess of GH¢197 million to the company.

According to the rules of the court, each party to the case was to appoint an arbiter.

The two arbiters then appoint a third person as president of the court to hear the case.

Sources said that Ghana refused to appoint its arbiter, forcing the hand of the court to choose one for the country.

When a teleconference was set up at the Kofi Annan Centre to enable Ghana call its witnesses, no government official showed up to question witnesses.

Before a judgement was delivered, government filed papers explaining why the contract was cancelled, saying it did not have parliamentary approval.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration rejected the explanation, ruling that a local law could not be used to relieve Ghana of its international obligation.

By William Yaw Owusu


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