The Bank of Ghana has explained that its recent decision to engage a third-party firm to interconnect mobile money retail payment was taken in the best interest of the economy.
The bank said it was informed by the need to ensure that the monetary policy transmission is not impaired in any significant way.
Public Affairs Director of the Bank, Mr Bernard Otabil told an Accra-based radio station, Joy FM on Monday, the Central Bank as the regulator of the monetary market, only acted to facilitate an effective and efficient mobile money payment system in Ghana.
He was responding to recent concerns raised against the award of a GHC 4.6 billion contract to a private company, Sibton Switch Systems to intermediate in mobile money transactions across different networks and make them interoperable.
When the system becomes functional, mobile money can be sent to people irrespective of the telecommunications network the recipient uses.
He said the Central Bank is not bearing any cost in the transaction which he said is a global best practice and has enormous benefits for the consumer.
Mobile Money Penetration and value
Ghana currently has in existence, an institutional infrastructural arrangements and processes to enable economic agents (individuals, businesses, organisations and Government) initiate and transfer monetary claims in the form of commercial and central bank liabilities and the Telecommunications companies play a pivotal role in these transactions. Globally, the mobile money market is said to worth some $230 billion, some $ 60 billion in Africa while Ghana has witnessed an exponential growth from $35million to some $300million. Mobile telecommunication penetration is said to be close to a 100%.
The involvement of Telcos
The Ghana Chamber for Telecommunications were the first to raise eyebrow over the contract, saying they had been side-stepped in the arrangement. The Chamber said the involvement of a third party was unnecessary but the Central Bank spokesperson said explained only a third party will be in a possession to independently validate deposit mobilisation processes as well as the potential risks capable of jeopardising the whole financial sector. “We are only facilitating. The Telcos are supposed to work with the commercial banks and therefore not competitors”, he said.
He said even though the Telcos were asked to technically position themselves for an interoperability, that preparation, investment and positioning were to the extent that their systems was going to be easily connected to a future switch.
The role of GhIPSS
Apart from the Telcos, the Ghana Interbank Payment and Settlement Systems (GhIPSS) have also claimed that even though they have the technical know-how to implement such a switch, the Bank of Ghana ignored them and awarded the contract to a private firm. But according to the central bank, GhIPSS is a subsidiary of the Bank of Ghana and that allowing it to operate the system would have meant that the BOG finds money to invest in the project, which it was not prepared to do. He also added that even though GhIPSS has some capabilities in terms of money payments and transfers, the national switch operator was going to do far more than that. “ That is why we thought a third party with financial muscle, technically vetted, could play that role better. The BOG wants to provide oversight role responsibly, to increase competition and bring about innovation and ensure that other private sector players are equally doing their job”, Mr Otabil added.
According to him, “The Central Bank has not paid money to anybody to build, operate and own any system of that sort. We are being very careful, tactical, bearing in mind the benefits consumers stand to gain from such operations and typically to ensure that the sanctity of the financial system is well protected”.
Asked who will bear the cost of the switch when it comes on stream, Mr Otabil said it will depend on how the operator convinces the stakeholders to pay into the system based on revenue streams over a long period.
Three companies submitted bids for the advertised contract. They are Vals Intel Ltd which proposed to execute the project with a GH¢14, 094,795.00 while Mericom Solutions Ltd offered GH¢ 5,465,396.06 for the operation of the national switch. The winning firm, Sibton Switch’s GHC4.6billion was accepted and experts explains that by virtue of how the system works, the highest bidder is required to bring a lot more to the table in terms of technical capabilities, approach, security and innovations.