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Why the GRA boss was removed in favour of an Indian company

By Samuel Dowuona
Article Ken Ofori-Atta and Dr. Amishaddai Owusu-Amoah
MAR 31, 2024 LISTEN
Ken Ofori-Atta and Dr. Amishaddai Owusu-Amoah

The government, led by the Ministry of Finance and some persons with vested interest, are in a suspicious and indecent haste to get Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA) to hand over all of Ghana’s domestic tax mobilization and management to an Indian company called TATA Consultancy Services (TCS), represented by another Indian-owned IT company in Ghana, IPMC by 2025.

The fact that government is setting this deal up now for an Indian company to take over domestic tax mobilization in 2025, when this particular government would have gone out of office, no matter which party wins the 2024 election, raises questions about the genuineness of the deal.

Rev. Dr. Amishaddai, who the government kept in office two years after his retirement age, just to use him as a puppet to execute their grand plan, is said to have raised objections about the whole deal. That is suspected to be the reason-in-chief for replacing him with another retiree, 61-year-old Julie Essiam, who is said to be a favourite of former Finance Minister, Ken Ofori-Atta, and is likely to help them exact that grand plan before they leave office.

Former Board Chairman of GRA, Prof. Emeritus Stephen Adei even alluded to the scheme to hand over domestic tax mobilization to an Indian company in his response to recent baseless corruption allegations against him, when he wrote the following:

On the contrary we saved the country several millions of dollars a year by ensuring that due process was followed resulting in giving a contract to some young Ghanaian IT specialists at a fraction of the cost being incurred by using GCNET or the foreign alternatives that “who is who in Ghana” were pushing on the Authority. It is known that today an Indian firm is being considered while the Ghanaian bidders have out bid them technically and financially in open

competition.”
Ningo Prampram MP, Sam Dzata George also alluded to same in an interview on an Accra radio station not long ago.

Just like in the case of GCNET, the Indian company, TATA is practically being shoved down the throat of GRA in spite of the fact that its tax administration system called iTAX, has been found to be problematic and too expensive in parts of Africa, where TATA has either been kicked out, or is in the process of being kicked out.

TATA kicked out of 3 African countries

Techfocus24 can at least confirm that TATA has been kicked out of Kenya, Rwanda and Zambia, and is on the verge of being kicked out of Uganda because its solution is too difficult, slow and expensive to manage and customize to meet specific requirements of the client.

Persons who have had experience with TATA elsewhere in Africa, have also alleged that it is the style of TATA to bulldoze their way into contracts in developing countries, often through the help of compromised government officials and public servants. But sooner than later, the challenges with their services become apparent and they are kicked out. However, they get to walk away with fat pay cheques, because of the way their contracts are drafted.

According to sources at GRA, an official of IPMC (the local representatives of TATA), has made comments in some circles, to the effect that he has sorted persons at some high offices in the country, including the Ministry of Finance, so GRA cannot stop them from getting the contract.

GITMIS
Meanwhile, the system Ghana currently uses, called the Ghana Integrated Tax Management and Information System (GITMIS), developed by a Ghanaian company called Axon Information Systems with inputs from the expert brains at GRA, is lauded for its efficiency, cost effectiveness and how it has helped GRA to far exceed tax revenue targets over the last three years.

Several officials of GRA, from the top to various offices across the country, particularly at the domestic tax revenue department (DTRD), have been telling Techfocus24 that GITMIS is comparable to any tax management system in the world by all standards; plus it can easily be customized to meet specific requirements within the shortest possible time and at very minimal or zero cost to the state.

Even the Board of GRA also made it clear that Axon’s GITMIS with the Taxpayers’ Portal is a much more superior software, because the Taxpayers’ Portal component of GITMIS allows taxpayers to do at anything tax anytime and anywhere in the world.

The GRA officials say they had, in a number of meetings, raised concerns to the then Minister of Finance, Ken Ofori-Atta that replacing GITMIS with TATA’s iTAX will create a lot of problems for domestic tax mobilization and administration. But the former Minister was said to be bent on replacing GITMIS with the ‘problematic’ and expensive iTAX from TATA at all cost. In fact they suggested that the former Minister seem not to care about the consequences of his insistence.

Indecent rush and machinations
In spite of the obvious challenges with cost and management of the system pointed out by GRA staff, and a number of times by the Public Procurement Authority (PPA), the recently sacked Commissioner-General was made to rush the contract through the process on the blind side of other stakeholders, and it was presented to the PPA again for approval, while two other shortlisted candidates – Axon Information Systems, and Atos and Persol Systems Limited, who also qualified for the financial evaluation level of the procurement process, were left to believe that GRA had called off the whole project due to lack of funds.

It was after all these machinations that Dr. Amishaddai Owusu-Amoah, noticing that the matter was being investigated by the press, felt the need to put the brakes on the rush to hand over Ghana’s destiny into the hands of an Indian company with a problematic tax management system. And that was when the people behind the whole scheme thought it was time for him to go.

Now the details
The facts of the matter are that, as part of the conditions for the US$3 billion IMF bailout, Ghana was to implement a world class Integrated Tax Administration System (ITAS) for the domestic tax revenue mobilization. So, GRA opened a tender in 2022, and 12 entities from Ghana and abroad, put in bids for the contract, including Axon Information Systems, the developers and managers of the current system, GITMIS, which is also an ITAS, according to GRA officials.

The 11 other bidders were IPMC & TATA Consulting Services, Atos & Persol Systems Limited, Ascend Digital Solutions Limited, Tis-Tech Angola & Ibanking Solutions, Sogema Technology Inc., TGTS Africa Inveno Solution, Innolink Ghana Limited, Defense Electronic Technology, Arab Soft & Yameo, Strategy Security Systems & Quali Soft Information Technology, and finally MFI Ghana Limited.

All the 12 bids were examined by a technical committee at GRA, and under very strange circumstances, IPMC & TATA emerged as the ONLY qualifying entity.

Techfocus24 learnt from very reliable sources within GRA that some persons in the ruling party had put in a word for IPMC & TATA, following which even the former Finance Minister, Ken Ofori-Atta met with some GRA top officials and insisted on them giving the job to IPMC & TATA without any further delays.

The GRA officials, according to the sources, raised concerns that the IPMC & TATA solution was going to create a lot of problems given what they knew about it from parts of the continent, where they visited to ascertain the facts for themselves. Moreover, GITMIS was very efficient and had helped GRA meet and exceed domestic revenue targets for three years, including a GHS3.6 billion extra revenue in 2022 alone. Indeed, in 2023, GITMIS was responsible for over GHS82.6 billion of the GHS113 billion total tax revenue in Ghana, more than 60% higher than it did in 2022.

In spite of the strange circumstances under which the IPMC & TATA solution was selected as the only qualifying bid by the GRA technical committee, it still made it to PPA, but was rejected swiftly because it was too expensive. In fact it was the most expensive solution among all the bids.

KPMG reviews bids
Following the rejection by PPA, GRA contracted private audit firm, KPMG to take a second look at all the 12 bids and make recommendations. This time round, KPMG chose three entities – Axon Information Systems, Atos and Persol Systems Limited as well as IPMC & TATA Consulting Service. And among the three, IPMC & TATA was still the most expensive.

Per excerpts of the KPMG report, cited by Techfocus24, IPMC & TATA had the highest cost of $69.7 million, followed by Astos & Persol with $61 million and Axon had the most affordable cost of about $42 million. As such, KPMG gave Axon maximum score of 20% on cost, while Astos & Persol scored 13.76% and IPMC & TATA came in last with 12.05%.

CTRC rejects IPMC & TATA
In spite of the obvious shortcomings of IPMC & TATA’s bid and its initial rejection by PPA, the Finance Ministry in January and also in March 2023 tried to get the Central Tender Review Committee (CTRC) to ignore the process and give the job to IPMC & TATA. But on both occasions, the committee pushed back, stating categorically, in two separate letters cited by Techfocus24, that IPMC & TATA, among other things, failed to meet up to 80% of GRA’s requirements on deployment experience and also failed the 30% local content test.

Faking the cancelation of the project to favour IPMC/TATA

Subsequent to CTRC’s refusal to give the job to IPMC & TATA, GRA, for reasons best known to them, wrote a letter in August 2023, signed by the recently sacked Commissioner-General to all 12 original candidates, telling them the whole procurement process had been called off due to budgetary constraints.

In that letter, headed: CANCELLATION OF THE PROCUREMENT PROCEEDINGS FOR THE DEVELOPMENT OF AN INTEGRATED TAX ADMINISTRATION SYSTEM (ITAS) FOR THE DOMESTIC TAX REVENUE DIVISION OF THE GHANA REVENUE AUTHORITY (GRA), the Commissioner-General wrote, “We regret to inform you that there is a cut in the budget intended for performing the project. Based on the above information, GRA is unable to continue with the procurement proceedings.”

Then, just a month later, September 2023, the same former Commissioner-General wrote exclusively to IPMC & TATA asking them to present their combined technical and financial proposal for the same project. This was done on the blind side of the two other qualifying candidates, which had lesser costs.

That letter, headed RE: DEVELOPMENT OF AN INTEGRATED TAX ADMINISTRATION SYSTEM (ITAS) FOR THE DOMESTIC TAX REVENUE DIVISION OF THE GHANA REVENUE AUTHORITY (GRA), read in part: “You are invited to submit Combined Technical and Financial proposal on the above subject based on the attached Terms of Reference.”

IPMC & TATA was given up to Friday, September 22, 2023 to submit the proposal at the GRA Headquarters at 10.30am, which they did.

Techfocus24 got wind of all these moves and started looking into the matter. We reached out to several GRA officials at the head office and across the country. Some shared valuable information while others declined comment. We also reached out to the Board Chairman, Mr. Oteng Gyasi via his PA, and some board members, but they all deferred to the former Commissioner-General, Rev. Dr. Amishaddai Owusu-Amoah, obviously because he was the one targeted to be used a puppet for that grand scheme.

Once the interested parties realized the matter was being investigated by a journalist, they quickly pushed IPMC & TATA to reduce the cost of their bid by more than half so that it can be presented to the PPA again for approval. Upon doing that, the bid was presented to PPA to rush it through the process and ensure IPMC & TATA from India will take over the domestic tax mobilization job in Ghana by 2025, when the sitting government would have been out of power and another government would have taken over, in spite of which party wins the 2024 elections.

On September 28, 2023, the Board Chairman of GRA, Mr. Oteng Gyasi, who is also the CEO of Tropical Cables, and had earlier deferred to the former Commissioner-General, forwarded the IPMC & TATA documents to the head of DTRD and technical team of GRA for “thorough review”.

But Techfocus24 learnt that the former GRA boss had long given his expert advice to the government about the deal, and it was not what they wanted to hear.

Now the appointment of Julie Essiam in the place of Dr. Owusu-Amoah is suspected to be one final move by government to get GRA to push that deal through, so that an Indian company with a problematic tax management system will take over domestic tax mobilization from a Ghanaian company lauded for their patriotism and for doing an excellent job so far.

Looming judgment debt
If this questionable deal goes through, a capable Ghanaian company with an efficient solution would have been denied in favour of a relatively less capable Indian company with a problematic solution. A subsequent cancellation of the Indian company’s deal by a new government would most likely leave Ghana with a judgment debt to be paid to the Indian company. All that will be behind the current government, whose former finance minister and other officials are the ones working this whole scheme from behind the scenes to get GRA to give IPMC & TATA the contract, in spite of the several flaws with their bid and problems with their solution.

This is obviously one of the classical ways by which people in government and their cronies in the private sector use public procurement as a channel to line their pockets for no work done, something Mr. Oteng Gyasi alluded to in a recent famous public lecture.

Techfocus24 has since reached out to both IPMC and Axon for comments but to no avail.

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