By Cecil Mensah
The Minister of Communications, Dr. Omane Boamah, has sworn in Boards of Directors of three agencies, under the Ministry with a number of charges and deadlines for them to deliver on programs and projects under their respective agencies.
The three organizations were the National Communications Authority (NCA), the National Information Technology Agency (NITA), and the Ghana Investment Fund for Electoral Communication (GIFEC), where the Minister himself is Board Chair.
The board members of the NCA are Eugene Baffoe-Bonnie, Chairman; Paarock VanPercy, Director-General of NCA; Kwaku Dua Dankwa, National Security; Issah Yahaya, representative of the Ministry; Farida Nana Efua Dedwei, Kevor Mark-Oliver, Abdul Baasit Aziz Bamba,the President’s lawyer in the dismissed
Election Petition Nana Owusu-Ensaw and George Sarpong from the Executive Secretary of National Media Commission(NMC).
The Board members of NITA are Dr. Nii Narku Quaynor, Chairman and the members are the Director-General William Tevie, Doris Efua Gafachi, representative of the Ministry, Charles Aboah, George Samuel Nartey, NDC Communications Team Member, Eva Lokko, the Vice Presidential Candidate of Progressive People’s Party (PPP) ,Fortunate K. B. Fio and Rita Sraha.
GIFEC’s Board members were drawn from the telecommunication companies (telcos) because GIFEC is a universal access fund, with the telcos as the main source of funding. The telcos pay one per cent of their annual profits into the fund for GIFEC to, among other things provide last mile infrastructure
to enable telcos to reach un-served and under-served area.
The Board members of GIFEC therefore are the Minister himself as Chair, Kofi Attor the GIFEC Administrator, Paarock VanPercy, the NCA Director-General, Hon. Herod Cobbina, MP and member of Parliament Select Committee on Communications, Kwame Ofosu-Adarkwa, representative of the Ministry, William Tetteh, MTN; Sylvia Owusu Ankomah, Tigo; Hannah Agbozo, Airtel; Ken Gomado, Vodafone, and Ernest A. Brown, GISPA.
On NCA, Dr. Omane Boamah charged the NCA Board to ensure that they start quoting their fees in Cedis to help government de-dollarize the economy.
Apart from fines for poor quality telecom service, almost all other fees at the NCA is quoted and charged in dollars. But the Minister said that is
defeating government’s policy to de-dollarize the economy and strengthen the local currency so the NCA must change its ways.
He also noted that the issue of quality of service is not going away even though the NCA seem to be doing a lot to push the telcos to meet quality standards. He therefore asked the NCA Board to ensure the NCA collected data to inform the public on which telcos have coverage in which areas, and which telcos’ services are of the highest quality in which areas.
“This will help the good people of Ghana to make informed choices in terms of which network to sign on to as they move into particular communities. It is better than leaving Ghanaians in the dark to choose any network and when they don’t have service the NCA then fine the networks as the consumers continue to suffer,” he said.
Dr. Omane Boamah also charged the NCA to follow up on the three private 4G LTE licensees (Blu Telecoms, Surfline Telecoms and Goldkey Telecoms) to launch sooner than later. He said where the licensees have challenges, the NCA should assist in getting partners for them to launch within the given deadline.
He also urged NCA to widen its scope to capture third party content providers who work with telcos to offer value added services (VAS), so that the NCA could properly regulate the flow of bulk SMS and often unsolicited electronic communications (UEC) that go to people’s phones for a fee.
He told the new NITA Board the first deadline they need to meet is to ensure that within the next three years NITA would be off government’s payroll because “so much investment has gone into NITA such that it should be self-sustaining within the next three year.”
Dr. Omane Boamah argued that if NITA was a private entity, it would have been profitable and would have been paying dividends to government by now, so no more government subvention for them after 2016.
“NITA has the widest deployment of 4G technology in the country right now and it the only entity which has covered some of the remotest areas where telcos have not been able to go because of their own capital requirements,” he said.
He said the inauguration of the Ghana Electronic Payment Project (GEPP) would be the first item on the NITA’s Board’s table, and they would be expected to deliver on that mandate by the end of March 2014.
The GEPP is to ensure that Ghanaians could securing every government service such as passport, drivers license and others online and pay for the service, and even for delivery online.
The Minister indicated that a lot has already gone into the GEPP so the Board had up to the end of March to launch it, saying that the GEPP would be the fulcrum around which government’s e-commerce program would drive.
“Your next major assignment is to deploy broadband in at least ten public tertiary institutions to boost e-learning on the campuses. You can use creative ways to go into partnerships with private sector players to provide reliable and affordable fixed or wireless internet service for students and teachers of the tertiary institutions,” he said.
Dr. Omane Boamah also noted that government institutions usually purchase computers and software in wholesale but use just aspects of the software and never use others. He therefore charged the NITA Board to find ways of segmenting the purchase of software and computers for various government institutions to cut cost.
“Even in acquiring the relevant software for specific institutions we should look at open source and find which software we can get for free instead of rushing to pay money for things we can get for free,” he advised.
The Minister said he had already tasked the bosses of NITA, the Kofi Annan ICT Centre of Excellence and some directors in the Ministry of Communications to work on that project, but the NITA Board would have to “be on their necks to deliver on this by the end of the first quarter of this year.”
He also tasked the Board to use economies of scale in the procurement of superior software so that instead of individual government institutions separately acquiring those software, NITA would serve as a representative body to procure them for the collective and save money.
“Your task by the close of the first year of being in office would be to report back to us on how much savings you have made with respect to the issues I have raised. I have no doubt in my mind that you are capable of delivering on these mandates in the interest of the good people of Ghana,” the Minister said.
Concluding, Dr. Omane Boamah said, apart from providing last mile telecoms infrastructure, GIFEC is also helping to computerize the processes in various government institutions such as the Ghana Fire Service, and the Ghana Police Service.
“We are developing a communication platform for the Ghana Police Service that would help the police to publish the particulars of criminals online so the public could have easy access to such information and be guided by it,” he said.
On the rural telephony front, he charged the GIFEC Board to work in concert with the NCA and NITA Boards, and the Ghana Chamber of Telecommunications to expand coverage to more rural communities, particularly in areas where highway robbery is rampant.
He observed that highway robbers usually pitch their camp in areas where there is no telecom coverage so that when they attack unsuspecting travelers, the victims would not be able to call for help.
“To the extent that the GIFEC is mainly funded by the telcos I believe the telcos are not opposed to taking advantage of their own indirect investment to ensure that more vulnerable communities would get telecoms access,” he said.
The Telcos have often questioned the wisdom in some of the spending of GIFEC, but the Minister believes any challenges and disagreements could be ironed out in the interest of the public.
He noted that GIFEC has also been building Community ICT Centres, saying that last year the commissioned 16 of those centres and the plan is to build 35 more this year, but funding has been secured for 20 so far.
“These centres would help create jobs for the youth in the communities, particularly in the area of outsourcing, where the centres are used by organizations working in the rural communities and needing ICT support,” he said.
The Minister also urged the Board to intensify the ICT training in Ghana’s prisons and ensure that within the next three years 70 per cent of prisons are covered to ensure that inmates came out of jail with ICT skills to contribute to society.
The Minister urged members of all the three boards to familiarize themselves with the respective Acts of Parliament governing their work, so that they would work within the law, rather than with good intentions that may not necessarily be legal.