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Monday, April 22, 2024
FeaturesBright Simons writes: The People vs Fidelity Bank of Ghana

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Bright Simons writes: The People vs Fidelity Bank of Ghana

Everyone on my Twitter timeline knows by this time that in response to a tweet I posted asking ECG to confirm and explain a USD – GHS rate they indicated in submissions to the PURC, Fidelity Bank has decided to sue for libel.

Here is the tweet:

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Fidelity alleges that my tweet libels them because it suggests that they have obtained benefits through a “sweetheart” arrangement with the Electricity Corporation of Ghana (ECG).

Fidelity is represented by Dominic Akuritinga Ayine, the Member of Parliament for Bolgatanga East, who doubles as the Chairperson of the Committee in Parliament that examines and approves most species of regulatory and administrative law in Ghana. He is also a member of the powerful House Committee, which is responsible, in an advisory capacity, for the welfare of parliamentarians and the parliamentary staff, as well as of the Trade, Industry and Tourism committee. Some might recall that he was the Deputy Attorney General in the previous government who signed the Ameri deal and, for that reason, was locked in a long tussle with me on social media about the merits of that agreement.

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As I have already said on Twitter, I intend to vigorously defend against this suit in the law courts. For that reason, I will not say too much about the specifics of the case or about my defense. As the saying goes, I will have my day in court.

However, because this is not a private matter (I was sued in the line of duty of seeking public accountability from ECG), and there is a broader context to all of this, it is important to be transparent about a number of issues.

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As a member of a network of extremely activist Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in Ghana (eg. IMANI and ACEP), I can say that we do view this insertion of Fidelity into what is essentially a tussle for accountability between us and ECG as serendipitous.

For a while now, it is becoming apparent that we cannot hold public institutions to account without, at least occasionally, demanding cooperation and answers from private businesses and institutions.

Much too often, the actions of public institutions that lose this country large amounts of money involve private businesses to an extent. Of course, in many instances, private businesses are just pursuing their legitimate enterprise. But it is also true that their involvements have sometimes, more often than we would like, served to enable financial loss to the country. We must not shy away from confronting private businesses if we believe that their actions in anyway, intentionally or inadvertently, are causing problems for Ghana’s already beleaguered governance.

In this ECG-Fidelity-CSOs triangular situation, dumsor is the context.

For far too long, the country has underplayed the financial mismanagement that leads to debts piling, fuel shortages, poor maintenance, and generation and distribution shortfalls. If transformers are overloaded, it is because there aren’t enough resources to increase their density. If gas quantities have fallen, but the country can’t buy crude to substitute, it is because resources are insufficient. If too many plants are going out of action, it is because maintenance activities are being serially postponed due to financial constraints. In such a context, this country cannot afford to lose money due to any lack of diligence or, worse, sheer recklessness.

As anyone who has followed the judgment debt saga in this country realized, private businesses were always in the mix. Everyone who has followed procurement shenanigans in this country could not have missed the role of private businesses. We cannot hold public sector actors accountable, if we are afraid to ask hard questions of private sector actors for fear of being sued.

Their profits are not more important than our public losses.

All the above said, and in the spirit of transparency, I would like to confirm that Fidelity’s lawsuit will not stop myself or the CSOs with which I am affiliated from continuing to demand accountability from the Bank in situations where they are entangled with public sector financial matters.

I would therefore like to publicise that on March 4th, 2024, I asked my lawyers to inquire of Fidelity about their exact role and involvement in a number of Ghana’s energy finance value chain issues. So far, they have not deemed it necessary to respond to these inquiries.

However, we will persist.

Here are a few of the issues where we would like to see Fidelity actively assisting the public accountability and public financial governance interests of the Ghanaian people. These are matters in respect of which the people demand clear and unambiguous answers from Fidelity.

  1. The governance issues manifesting at ECG, and attracting serious regulatory censure, belong properly at the Board of ECG. ECG is accused by its primary regulator of stonewalling auditors, hiding data, misrepresenting financials, and generally being shifty and dodgy.
  2. When ECG was asked by Cabinet of Ghana to consolidate its bank accounts, it chose Fidelity Bank as the primary custodian of this new single account. Fidelity thus became ECG’s principal banker, with Fidelity bank account number 1070006628289 becoming the primary treasury node.
  3. ECG thus has extensive commercial and financial dealings with Fidelity Bank.
  4. Today, Fidelity’s Group Head of Legal and Company Secretary is Maataa Opare, a member of the board of directors of ECG.
  5. Ms. Opare has extensive oversight over Fidelity Bank’s compliance with regulations, policies, ethics, and laws.
  6. It seems to us that this represents a major entanglement between her fiduciary responsibilities at ECG to ensure that the organisation is procuring competitively, demanding high performance from vendors and bankers, and ensuring strict standards and compliance in all business relationships, on the one hand, and her role at Fidelity to negotiate the most favourable contracts and commercial arrangements. It is not possible to see how this conflict is manageable on an ongoing basis. Ms. Opare will be drafting contracts at Fidelity to extract maximum commercial advantage from ECG on Monday, and then on Tuesday, she will go to ECG and approve them?
  7. Recusal is not an effective remedy when the business relationship is now so strategic and all-encompassing.
  8. On top of all this, Ms. Opare is believed to be politically exposed. Our sources say that she is a “close associate or relative” of Ms. Frema Opare, the all-powerful Chief of Staff of the Ghanaian Presidency.
  9. Since coming to ECG, Ms. Opare has used her close relations with the Chief of Staff to secure her patronage for her initiatives at ECG such as the ECG Power Ladies and fempower corporate activity.
  10. What we have now then is a powerful, politically exposed, business executive at Fidelity strategically positioned on the board of ECG, an organisation that has become noted for flouting regulatory directives and thwarting government policy.
  11. Our honest and objective assessment is that this complicated arrangement heightens the level of scrutiny that must be applied to ECG-Fidelity dealings, generally. There must be a rebuttable presumption that dealings between ECG and Fidelity are fundamentally high-risk, on a governance level.
Ms. Maataa Opare, the CEO of ECG, & the Chief of Staff at the Presidency of Ghana

Our past RTI request to Fidelity Bank and the upcoming ones transcend this specific matter. We have raised, and shall continue to raise, questions about Fidelity’s reported flouting of regulations related to the national FX platform managed on behalf of the Bank of Ghana by Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters; Fidelity’s role in the Gold for Oil program; and a host of others.

For now, however, we would prefer not to overload the reader. These investigations are at an early stage. The effort to enhance scrutiny of the role of private businesses in Ghana’s public sector financial issues and challenges is a marathon rather than a sprint.

In time, the people will have their answers.

Source: IMANI AFRICA Vice President, Bright Simons

DISCLAIMER: TIGPost.co will not be liable for any inaccuracies contained in this article. The views expressed in the article are solely those of the author’s, and do not reflect those of The Independent Ghana.

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