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20.11.2009 Business & Finance

E-zwich Mess....A hoax, scam or a flop?

By The Mail
E-zwich Mess....A hoax, scam or a flop?
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While Finance Minister Dr. Kwabena Duffuor was presenting the National Budget to Parliament with hope, one critical area – modernization of the cash sector of the economy - remained at best in a confused state and at worst an embarrassing drawback.

Whoever thought of making Ghana a cashless or near cashless state with the introduction of the E-zwich smart card last year might have had good intentions, but good as they may have been, those intentions have come unstuck. In many a developing country's bid to leap frog the technological/digital divide, they often end up making a complete mockery of the technologies they are in such a hurry to adopt. After pumping so much money into its introduction, the E-zwich is just not working.

The national switch (E-zwich) launched in May last year by the Bank of Ghana, seemed such a brilliant idea but after barely a year of existence, it is becoming evidently clear that the promoters got it all wrong and have perhaps also blown away a large chunk of the nation's resources on what could pass for a “misplaced priority”.

Over the past few months The Mail's investigations have exposed a system fraught with confusion, inefficiency, ignorance and huge financial costs to the state. Signals from the corporate world and individuals alike on challenges facing the system reveal a loss of confidence and trust in it. The situation has reached disturbing levels, forcing users to abandon the E-zwich smart card which has failed to bring relief and comfort in the trading of goods and services in the country.

Some outlets visited by The Mail in the national capital complained of low patronage, broken down point of sale devices and constant interruption in the mobile network connectivity. The device relies on uninterrupted connectivity and so breaks make it difficult for traders using it to transact business. The point of sale device relies on General Packet Radio Service (GPRS), a network data which uses the existing mobile network in an area to transmit and receive data to and from other GPRS mobile devices. But it has not been efficient as the definition suggests.

A sales attendant at a major petrol filling station in North Kaneshie told The Mail that he has been complaining of their broken down point of sale device for the past six months. “We used our machine for only two months when it was first introduced but afterwards, the device broke down. We've sent messages to the body in charge to complain of the fault but nothing has been done to solve it.” A shop attendant re0echoed the sentiments expressed above and wished for it to stay like is since, she confessed, it was becoming burdensome. “If the problem stays like this I will very much like it. It's a lot of stress trying to handle a system like this. Some of the customers come to us with the belief that they have money in their cards only to be disappointed by the point of sale device. It's a lot of hell”, she lamented.

A manager at a shop in the Central Business District of Accra complained of low patronage in the usage of the E-zwich card by customers. “Our problem is that the customers are not patronizing it like they used to. It seems they have lost faith in the system”.
Some individuals who talked to The Mail expressed similar displeasure with the system and swore never to recommend it to any other person as an alternative source of payment. Disturbingly, The Mail discovered that many big businessmen and women, who should be at the vanguard of its patronage, dismissed it almost with contempt. An electrical engineer at Alajo, a suburb of Accra, like many other E-zwich card holders said he got introduced to the system by his bank, but a combination of unwillingness of other banks to attend to him and the daily fights he picks with sales attendants who claim they don't know how to use the point of sale device, has ensured his total disinterest in the system.

When he was asked if he wanted to comment on the benefit or otherwise of the system, he said “my brother, don't even talk about it. As it stands now, I would not advise anyone to go for the card.” An editor of one of the private newspapers in Accra, who was similarly introduced to the system by his bank has described it is a big hoax and perhaps an avenue for those who introduced it to get their “fat consultancy fees and bonuses”. He recounted how he went to the bank earlier this week to enquire about the status of his care and was simply told that the “one in charge has not come to work”, End of transaction…

Merchants are not the only ones complaining. Even though on May 23 this year, the GHIPPS launched E-zwich compliant Automated Teller Machines (ATM's) to increase access to the general public to their funds, the problem doesn't seem to have been solved as some banks visited by The Mail complained of recurring faults with regards to the point of sale device. The E-zwich from the beginning was handicapped. It was in competition with the ATM cards introduced by the commercial and merchant banks in the country. In addition, some trading companies like the OMCs also had their specialized cards for their customers. The E-zwich was doomed.

In a rebuttal to the seemingly embarrassing situation, Mr. Kweku Tetteh, the Manager, Business Development, of the Ghana Inter-bank Payments Settlement System (GHIPPS) – the body set up by the Bank of Ghana in 2008 to among other things, manage the settlement and payment system in Ghana, in an interview The Mail, admitted that the payment system is currently faced with challenges but hoped to fully wrestle those challenges by the second quarter of next year.

Reacting to a question on what might have accounted for the low patronage of the system, despite the fact that a number of people have the card, Mr. Tetteh blamed the situation on the refusal of certain shop attendants to introduce the E-zwich card to their customers as an alternative source of payment. “Some of the merchants, for reason best known to them, have refused to introduce the system to their customers. This is certainly not right. Our quest to make Ghana a cashless state won't be successful if we continue like this” he said.

Source: The Mail

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