Good news emanating from Ghana’s public procurement system is rare. At least in the recent past, corruption and financial waste has riddled a good number of deals the office has been engaged in. While we still fight against this seeming norm, it is of troubling concern when international contracts are handled by the State in a manner that results in unnecessary legal disputes and judgements debts. The Accra Intelligent Traffic Management Project (AITMS) is yet another case where the country is being ripped off, albeit an avoidable one.
The purpose of the AITMS project, originally signed in 2012 by the previous government, is to improve the performance of the traffic lights system in Accra and reduce traffic congestion in the capital city through a coordinated traffic signal system and a centralized control centre for all traffic signals. The total cost of the Project was to be financed through the China Development Bank (CDB) Financing Agreement between Government of Ghana and China Development Bank. Under the arrangement, the total component cost is US$ 236.10 million; the road component is US$136.1 million, whilst the Accra Intelligent Traffic Management System is US$100 million. CDB is to provide up to 85% of the funding and Government of Ghana expected to provide the 15% counterpart funding.
In a confusingly dramatic fashion, the ongoing project has been re-awarded to another Chinese contractor smacking of bad faith and poor diligence on the part of government. The original project contractor, Beijing Everyway Traffic & Lighting. Co, Limited, had its ongoing works commissioned by the current President himself in August last year in what was noted as the first Traffic Control Centre in West Africa. Never mind that the same project received a special commencement ceremony on February 21 this year conducted by the Minister of Roads and Highways, Hon. Kwesi Amoako-Atta and along with it a good press coverage.
The new contractor, Huawei Technologies Co., Limited and China Technical Import and Export Cooperation (CNTIC) have on 6th November secured in parliament (under the certificate of emergency) $100 million project approval and waiver of such Import Duties, Import VAT, GETFund Levy, NHIL, EXIM Levy, Special Import Levy and Domestic VAT amounting to the Ghana Cedi equivalent of Twenty-Five Million, Eight Hundred and Thirteen Thousand, Eight Hundred and Fifty United States Dollars and Sixty-Six Cents (US$25,813,850.66) on materials, equipment, and services to be procured for the Project.
Even more puzzling, the Presidency has directed the Ministry of National Security to replace Ministry of Roads and Highways as the owner or implementing agency of the Traffic project. Interestingly, these new directives sharply conflict with that of the Vice President, who after chairing several Technical Committees of this project in April this year ordered for the continuation of original terms of the project with Beijing Everyway as contractor and the Ministry of Roads and Highways as implementing agency.
At best, these events tell strongly of an apparent lack of coordination and harmonization at the seat of central government. At worse, they could only have been precipitated by a political turf war at the Jubilee House stimulated by the opportunity of procurement. If these hypotheses are not plausible, how else can be explained the conflicting divergence at the presidency on the pathway of a national project in a manner that offends the Public Procurement Act and the Public Financial Management Act. It is of no wonder now that the State is receiving from Beijing Everyway the threat of law suit for breach of contract in a what could potentially cause Ghanaians a judgement debt of USD 100 million.
Here is the main chronology of events followed by an analysis:
- January 20th, 2020.
Government defaults on project payment affecting work progress
- February 21, 2020
Office of the President changes Project Contractor to Huawei and Owner to Ministry of National Security potentially sparking legal dispute with Beijing Everyway
- November 19th, 2020
Parliament rescinds its approval decision on contract agreement between Government of Ghana (Ministry of Roads and Highways) and Beijing Everywhere Company of USD 100 million.
Issues and Concerns
- The foremost striking concern about the project timeline outlined above is the unexplained reason motivating the spontaneous re-awarding of an existing project contract. The improper termination and re-awarding of contracts as was seen in the UNI-PASS contract are far becoming rampant. These acts most often than not spring from needless collusions and schemes that violate good governance principles.
In furtherance of project harmonization, the Vice President rightly called for the two technical meetings between Minister of National Security, Minister of Finance, Minister of Roads & Highways and the Deputy Attorney General on the 7th and 9th April 2020. It is noteworthy that the technical teams appreciated that the components of the project to be undertaken be rescoped and split between Ministry of Roads and Highways and Ministry of National Security. Conclusively however, the Ministry of Roads and Highways was to continue as the implementing agency and Beijing Everyway the contractor.
In the face of a judgement debt, the last-minute project changes from the presidency few days to the election deservingly beg for an explanation to the public. At the barest minimum, there should be a convincing competitive advantage that the State will gain from improperly terminating an ongoing contract and re-awarding it.
Chairman of the Defense and Interior Committee of Parliament, attempts to provide for this in a rather weak explanation that the contractor had not yet secured permit and license from the National Communication Authority (NCA) in executing the project. Even assuming that this permit is a crucial need, could a simple notification of this requirement and subsequently granting it not have sufficed?
- Second, the procurement processes involved in this project brings to light once again the old plague we suffer with sole sourcing of contracts. Each year, millions of dollars belonging to tax payers are lost due to the undying love our politicians have for sole sourcing and restricted procurement tenders. Why are our governments almost always bent on excluding open and transparent participation in our procurements? The gains in open and competitive tendering are evident and cannot be belabored.
Fancy however the consideration that the original contractor had to be terminated on good grounds for which reason the project procurement needed reopening – why should the new contractor be necessarily be secured under the certificate of sole sourcing? Where is the transparency and openness that should underride the transactions of government? Where is the value for money concern in protecting public purse?
Be that as it may, the Public Procurement Authority (through the Acting Chief Executive) on July 28th, 2020 granted sole sourcing approval allowing the Ministry of National Security to extend Phase II of Integrated National Security Communications Enhancement Project to include the AITMS project to be executed by Huawei Technologies Company Limited in partnership with China National Technical Import and Export Corporation. The contract is in sum of USD 100 million.
It is commendable that the PPA cautioned the Ministry to ensure that the Ministry of Roads and Highways properly terminates any contracts with Beijing EVERYWAY Traffic & Lighting Tech. Co., Ltd. “to avert possible litigations”. Yet, it is curious why the same institution would not wait on evidence of contract termination before re-awarding the ongoing government contract. On the other hand, Parliament is now (November 19th, 2020) hurriedly rescinding its earlier approval decision of the original contract agreement with Beijing Everywhere Company, some 4 months after PPA’s sole sourcing approval Huawei Company, leaving in its way many questions than answers.
- Third and conclusively, it is extremely dangerous for Parliament to take lightly its sacred duty of checks and balance. There is clearly absolutely nothing achieved by a Parliament that is always in haste to approve anything and everything before it. Due diligence and strict accountability should not be sacrificed for expediency. Ghanaians may no longer accord the much-cherished reverence to its legislature, and rightly so, if Parliament and elected parliamentarians fail to promote and protect the interest of citizens. Much is the trust Ghanaians repose in the scrutiny and supervisory role that Parliament offers to the Executive arm of government. When therefore, calculated schemes and transactions, wherever they may emanate from flout good governance principles with consequent financial loss to the State, the nation and its people will be well-served when the public interest is put foremost.