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Mobile Money vendors; Who is protecting them?

Unemployment had been with us for years and when in 2009 telecommunication giant, MTN introduced Mobile Money services it was welcomed and hailed by many and the reason was obvious; it was an opportunity to take advantage of rising unemployment situation, growing number of the unbanked population and massive progress in ICT or telecommunications.

The results has been the huge figures recorded by both the central bank and the telecommunication companies as transaction volumes year on year basis for the past nine years as well as the many of our compatriots who have had gainful jobs through the mobile money services.

According to figures available, MTN which pioneered the Mobile Money services in Ghana had registered over 2 million subscribers as at October 2010 and were expecting that figure to quadruple in subsequent years since mobile phone users at the time was some 15,000,000. Almost a decade after, mobile money accounts alone is 22 million, nearly half of the 11.6 million accounts existing in the traditional banks at October 2017, thus according to the Bank of Ghana.  Now, around the same time the volume of transaction on mobile money grew from about 51.4 billion in 2016 to 109 billion cedis as at September last year which represented a whooping 112 percentage growth. In terms of employment, the mobile money service alone has created jobs for 194,000 vendors nationwide, a significant growth from the 136,000 figures the previous year and that is direct jobs alone. At almost every mobile money, there are indirect jobs created for cleaners, attendants, drivers and nearby food and water sellers.

From the above, the emergence of mobile money services has been of immense blessing to the nation. In a country where close to 80 percent of the population are unbanked, Mobile Money service, popularly referred to as MoMo transformed the banking industry while promoting financial inclusion using proximity and access in a convenient way. Many Ghanaians have tales about how MoMo saved lives and situations for them. regrettably however, many Mobile Money vendors have left their personal safety and the security of their money and other properties to chance, exposing themselves to recent wave of armed attacks on them and I find this development quite unfortunate because it is a phenomenon if not quickly nipped in the bud could erase all the gains made and enumerated earlier.

For some time now, hardly a day passes without news of armed attack on Mobile Money vendors. And their customers in most cases, the victims are shot, wounded and their monies and electronic equipment taken away from them. But there have been instances, vendors and customers get shot and killed in the process. This phenomenon started in Accra and has now spread to almost all major towns and cities across the country. As a result, many vendors and mobile money patrons are living with constant fear. One vendor I know around Kokomlemle in Accra has virtually caged himself in a tiny kiosk made of metals, having been robbed at gun-point on 6 different times in eight years.   There is virtually no security at most Mobile Money joints, despite the huge transactions taking place in some cases. Police figures show over 30 cases of attacks on merchants/agents have been reported since the start of the year 2018. This is scaring. For example, two people including a vendor was shot at Busia Junction in Accra just two weeks ago. Earlier, two Mobile Money vendors were reportedly shot and killed by armed robbers at Afigya Kwabre and Bomso respectively both in the Ashanti Region while luck run out for a group of armed men who attacked a vendor at Madina in Accra. I do remember also that in 2017, there were similar incidents at Tatale, Walewale, Tema, Accra, Kumasi and Kasoa involving significant number of innocent people who died.

Following such incessant attacks, the mobile money vendors association appealed to the Ghana Police Service for protection as citizens to enable them go about their business in tranquillity and that call was legitimate because these fear-gripped persons are citizens of the state and they are naturally or constitutionally entitled to such protection. But it is the police’s response and attitude towards that appeal that has surprised many of us. On 11th February, the Greater Accra Regional Police Commander granted an interview to Citi FM, an Accra-based radio station and was later reported to have remarked that the police cannot man every mobile money joint. Considering their technical or operational challenges, I first thought that comment was fair until I read on the 14th of same month that” IGP creates special directorate for embassies’ and missions’ security” and I was like wow. Are they not the same people who had said due to limited personnel they are unable to protect Mobile Money vendors? They have men to man the security of foreigners and their installations?  Ghana is a signatory to many international statutes and conventions and our obligations are expected but I do not subscribe to any attempt by any state institution with responsibilities towards Ghanaians will choose foreigners over tax-paying citizens.

I have a few recommendations and I hope they will be useful in ongoing efforts to arrest the menace. First, the police must prioritize protection of citizens because if for nothing at all, it is their taxes that are used to pay them, accommodate them and used to buy equipment for their use. The rising phenomenon has already deprived many families off their bread winners and if we quantify the overall impact of the situation on families, companies and the national economy in general against the impressive statistics enumerated earlier, then everything possible ought to be done to ensure this category of Ghanaians do not continue to become endangered species.

The porous and exposed nature of most mobile money points is an eyesore, that is true but in the words of Accra Regional Police Commander, DCOP George Alex Mensah “The banking sector is such that there is a law that without the presence of an armed officer you cannot open a bank so at the banks, if by 8.oclock, the police officer is not there, you cannot open. There must be a regulation as to where you can operate a mobile money business.”. I agree perfectly with him and that is my second recommendation is for the National Communications Authority (NCA), Ghana Chamber of Telecommunications, Bank of Ghana and the Ghana Police Service to collaborate to up their game, improve and insist on standards to ensure only best practices are implemented in the financial intermediation arena. For instance, it may be necessary for regulatory regime spelling out where a Mobile Money point can be sited. The telecommunication companies through the Telcom Chamber and NCA must approve a uniformed design or architecture for all mobile money vending structures to have security features including installation of CCTV device connected to a central monitoring area at either NCA or Police offices. It is on this note that I commend a recent meeting between the Telecom Chamber and the Greater Accra Regional Police Command on the ways of addressing the issue and I want to suggest the initiative should be replicated in the remaining nine regions.

Now, while waiting on the police to find a way to offer free security for these vendors, what about an arrangement for paid security services? so for example, the vendors and their owners can liaise with the Telecom Chamber to have armed guards for stationed at various vending outlets and the cost either jointly shared among vendors and the telecom network operator or assumed fully by the vendor. Afterall, he or she is engaged in business and he keep his or her profit alone.

And while at it with the police, what happened to the Community Policing concept? Like many of the good ideas that have been abandoned, the concept was to give true meaning to contemporary policing. The police administration must revive it or ensure its Visibility personnel remain much more visible in our communities since Mobile Money joints are springing up at all corners in our neighbourhood on daily basis.

It is becoming increasingly necessary that the Ghana Police Service to recruit more personnel to augment its numbers to face the rising internal security challenges of the state. This will enable the service deploy personnel to economically prudent facilities like mobile banking sites. In the interim, it will be necessary for the Mobile Money vendors and owners to take their personal security a bit more seriously. They ought to be more vigilant, close early and Mobile Money customers must not wait till it is getting dark before going out to transact business.

And lastly, government must speed up process for the introduction of Mobile Money Interoperability. This will mean one will not necessarily have to go out to a vendor to receive or send money. It can be done in the comfort of one’s home or office on your phone. It drastically reduces exposure to external physical attacks.

Like it or not, the Mobile Money services has done to us so much good. It has become essential catalyst in our socio-economic dispensation and the least we can do will be to safeguard it by offering the needed protection for all who matter in the value-chain.

By Emmanuel J.K Arthur| Media practitioner| [email protected]

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