….Using timber merchant
Explosive revelations have emerged, solidifying concerns surrounding the Finance Minister’s establishment of what appears to be a “Private-Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA)” through Strategic Mobilisation Limited (SML).
The whole arrangement, spanning the past seven years, has been disguised as a revenue assurance effort, with many distraught about the long-term covert operations of the finance minister and the President.
Billions of taxpayers’ money, have been funnelled into this suspicious private entity, masked as revenue assurance initiatives, have been confirmed, sparking widespread apprehension at the Finance Ministry and GRA. One Worker of GRA, described the SML relationship as “a parallel revenue agency operating independently, while drawing resources from GRA”.
The meticulously planned collaboration between the Ministry of Finance and SML, dating back to 2017, has raised legitimate questions about the transparency and objectives behind major revenue stream takeovers disguised as revenue assurance initiatives.
SML, owned by one Evans Edusei, a timber merchant, turned into an IT and revenue assurance company in 2017, was first awarded a contract to inspect import data, with entitlements averaging US$35 million a year.
In 2020, SML’s operations expanded into the petroleum downstream sector through an undisclosed contract, effectively duplicating the functions of both GRA and the National Petroleum Authority (NPA). The obscure nature of this arrangement is underscored by the reported annual payment of about US$25 million to SML for its role.
A particularly troubling aspect of this saga is the alleged involvement of an ex-adviser to the Commissioner General of GRA, Christian Tetteh Sottie, who is said to have swiftly transitioned from an advisory role to securing deals from the former employer, GRA and operating as the front of the Finance Minister to lead the revenue assurance business of the new “Private GRA” as Managing Director of SML. This confirmed information raises ethical questions about the integrity of the procurement process.
The checks conducted by The Herald indicate that then Deputy Minister of Finance, Kweku Kwarteng, was detailed to be the key interface in charge of the SML deal to disguise the direct involvement of his minister Mr Ofori-Atta.
The Herald’s attempts to speak to the Deputy Minister, who is currently in charge of Revenue, Abena Osei-Asare, on the activities of SLM haven’t been successful.
Her promise to revert to the paper on October 26, 2023, was not fulfilled. She had replied to a WhatsApp message sent to her on the activities of SML saying, “I’m not aware of the details, so I will have to revert, pls”. But she never did as promised.
However, a Ministry of Finance letter dated June 22, 2023, signed by one Ernest Akore with Chef De Cabinet as his designation tells a story of how SML is simply awarded Revenue Assurance deals at the whims and caprices of the finance minister.
The letter reveals an expansion of SML’s scope of work to monitor oil production and gold shipments, encroaching further on the functions of GRA and other regulatory bodies.
The letter titled “Expansion of the scope of work by Messrs Strategic Mobilization Limited” revealed how “The Honorable Minister has determined that there is a need to monitor the production and shipment of oil and gold out of the Country,” and “to this end, he will like to expand the scope of the Revenue Assurance work being performed by SML to include upstream oil drilling by the oil production companies and the gold mining companies”.
The letter sent to the Commissioner General of the Ghana Revenue Authority, had attached a 54-page revised contract, which it said had been reviewed by the Legal Department of the Ministry of Finance, adding, “However, because the Ministry of Finance (MOF) and the Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA) signed the original contract on behalf of the Government, there is a need for GRA to also review and opine on the expanded contract before signing. The GRA boss was thus instructed to “…forward the new proposed contract to the GRA’s Legal Department for their review and input”.
In terms of financial implications, the executed agreements would see SML’s annual entitlement confirmed to exceed US$140 million, a figure surpassing the budget allocations for several ministries.
These confirmed allegations have triggered an outcry in the Ministry of Finance and GRA and demands for immediate, thorough investigations into the dealings between the Finance Ministry, SML, and GRA.
In response to a recent exposé by the Fourth Estate led by Manasseh Azure Awuni which estimated the potential payment to be more than US$100 million for the SML transaction captured a video promo, a Member of Parliament (MP) for Mpraeso Constituency, Davis Opoku, has questioned the credibility of the investigations, suggesting a conspiracy to undermine a Ghanaian company allegedly aiding GRA in curbing fuel trade illegalities.
The MP in a Facebook post said, “I’ve seen Manasseh Azure’s attempt to run down yet another Ghanaian company, helping the state (GRA) clamp down on the illegalities in the fuel trade in Ghana. Abinitio, He gets it wrong in his promo video. I have cited documents from the GRA, PPA and contract agreement, which indicate that the company, SML Ghana, is not receiving 100 million a year, and their contract is not for ten years as he suggested. This cartel in the oil industry, wanting to destroy government monitoring efforts, will be exposed”.
Perhaps, the MP does not know the expanded operations of SML go beyond oil interest. The new revenue syphoning operations of SML, have grown from the ports to oil and gas production and gold production.
The Herald made efforts to reach the MP, but was busy at a marriage ceremony. He promised to reach back, but could not as at the time the paper was going to press.
Also, according to a new report sighted on the website of SML, the Minister, the Board and Management of GRA, are poised to give other juicy revenue spots to SML.
This is further confirmed by insiders in the Ministry of Finance and GRA. The gravity of these allegations is turning what was disguised as revenue loss containment into a full-fledged scandal of the presidency of Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, which is no news given the many corrupt transactions that have emanated from the presidency such as Agyapa, AMERI, Aker and Kelni GVG.
SML, also operates similarly to Suba Info Solutions Limited, an IT company reported to have pocketed a whopping 144 million cedis for no work done after being contracted by the same GRA in 2010 by the Mills and Mahama government to provide telecom traffic monitoring services for revenue verification for the tax agency.
Transparency, accountability, and a thorough investigation are urgently needed to address the systematic effort to annihilate GRA and syphon revenues needed for development.