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18.12.2005 General News

Network Computer Systems versus Sam Jonah saga

By GRi
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When NCS was confronted with a possible shutdown a couple of years ago, questions were asked and silence was interpreted to mean culpability. Our position then, was that we ought to concentrate our efforts at redeeming what had the potential of destabilizing industry and development in Ghana.

We recognized that we had partners and clients to account to and promised to tell our side of the story when we feel adequately assured. Two years on, it is our pleasure to honour that pledge.

Thursday November 26 2003, NCS was confronted with what to us looked like an attempt to shatter a millennium turn-around. On that day, an SME that led in the computer, technical and engineering services, was pushed into shutting down service to thousands of clients.

That was as a result of a dispute involving the landed property that housed the company. Initially, we at NSC thought, perhaps wrongly, that the event should/could not on its own lead to shutting down of services especially because it is common knowledge that developments in the ICT industry has meant that its product maintain a decreasing lifespan.

Also, NCS was at the time on the verge of extending its range of products to deprived communities in the country in fulfillment of the "Accelerated Development" policy. Maybe that was the problem but we shall address that later.

The simple facts were that on that Wednesday November 11 2003, at or about one o'clock post noon, the installation site of the network was attached by bailiffs of the Courts in Accra. They also attached all material assets it had.

That site as you may be aware was the nerve centre of NCS, the first Internet service provider in west Africa.

At that initial stage, we were convinced that there had been a misunderstanding or misrepresentation of events around the property in question. We were convinced because of a discussion that had opened between the parties that culminated in an agreement towards resettlement.

It was led as was told on JOYFM, by then Council of State Chairman Professor Alex Kwapong. Among others, our understanding was that NCS could buy the property off the certified owners. We may state here that the processes were hastened by a letter via his lawyers, Kudjawu and Co, (who also happen to be the lawyers for UTC Estates) introducing Mr. Sam Jonah as agent of Madam Rosemary Finiba Arthur, who happens to be the wife of Mr. Sam Jonah.

In the arrangement brokered by Prof. Kwapong who, consented to intervene because of convictions that a captain of industry would not hurt industry, NCS, was to pay after a High Court ruling, an accumulated rent of1.5bn cedis representing a judgment fee of $175,000 at the exchange rate of 9,000 cedis to the dollar.

The court case had been engendered by our confusion over who NCS really ought to be dealing with-UTC Estates that rented the property to us, or the other groups that had shown up one way or the other.

Be that as it may, the understanding was that after the accumulated rent accruing from the legal tussle had been honoured, NCS and owners of the property would agree on terms of purchase. NCS therefore facilitated the payment of amounts totaling 1.5bn.

It may be put on record that discussions had gotten to where a provisional $500,000 had been suggested for outright purchase of the property which, we found on the high side but could really not refuse since we had demonstrated our desire to stay on-what with strong, heavy installations that engineers and other professionals agreed would be three times more expensive and inconveniencing dismantling and re-locating.

Negotiations were therefore still on-going after several visits by the company's then Chief Executive and Board Chairman Dr Nii Narku Quaynor as well as meetings and summons suggested by Mr. Jonah in his AGC office, when the bailiffs struck.

With this shock of an intrusion, only two options were open to NCS, either to engage both physical and faceless entities in a war of attrition while the client suffered, or attempt to salvage as best we could, the service and business of our clients and the trust and confidence of our partners at that crucial period of the year-almost one month to Christmas and 35 days to the end of the year.

Conscious of the position of the client in our scheme of things, we decided to stake our chances on the latter-salvage the company. But being the pioneer was an added decider because we could not let the industry down. We therefore felt the need to lead the way to demonstrate the resilience of the industry.

By December 2003, NCS had made a total payment of $223,998.66 (C2, 015,987,940.00) as proof of goodwill.

We also refused to join in any public displays and PR distractions that would have been little comfort to client and partners, including thousands of consumers of the service. The truth for us we believed, would definitely be proven in court . We therefore resigned our faith to the courts while our engineers migrated the entire network within what has been acknowledged as a record seven days to our Customer Service Centre at the Trade Fair Site, La, Accra.

Sadly though, after two weeks, the management of the Trade Fair facility served notice they did not want to see NCS at the place after a deadline.

Again, the same engineers migrated the service to Labone, current site of our headquarters while we awaited the final determination of the court.

It may be prudent to point out here that the first approach we made as a company in distress was to our sector ministry and to the Minister for Communications whose immediate reaction was to equate the possible shut down to a shut down of the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital. He gathered a team that included the leadership of the NCA. Unfortunately, positive arbitration with Mr. Jonah was unsuccessful.

In the background too, were moves made to a cross section of the country's cream including members of the House of Chiefs and Council of State to intervene, since the company had already settled its indebtedness and was not placing itself in any way whatsoever to cause pain to the landlord as determined by the courts.

But the network refused to shut-off because its engineers had resolved that the engineering challenge of dynamically migrating an online service before equipments perished was the ultimate test.

Meanwhile, the implications to private sector development and confidence in investors on the industry, the political undertones of exploitation and political persecution were all gathering pace and serving as footnotes.

Could it not be argued that reflections in recent Internet penetration figures where Ghana fell below Africa's average are consequences of attempts to destroy the leading ISP in Ghana?

For us, the issue was assuming the stature of the bizarre. Court had ordered NCS to pay an accumulated rent of $175,000 (C1, 575,000,000.00) at judgment as well as quit the property. The company complies but expresses the desire to acquire the property. Negotiation still on-going, a demand is made of a principal and interest of 4.7bn cedis on rent arrears of 1.575bn cedis. Admitted there was the issue of possession which was to revert to UTC Estates, we found it extremely incomprehensible, that a 4.7bn cedi bill could be introduced into this transaction.

That perhaps was our undoing because we were probably expected to just comply. It may interest you to know that NCS had earlier been in court with UTC Estates on claim of rent from 1996 till date of judgment, May 2002. Naturally, the rental agreement between UTC Estates and NCS expired in March 2003 the same period that the lease between UTC Estates and the Government of Ghana was scheduled to expire. To the best of our knowledge, on the expiry of the lease, the government of Ghana had an interest. We had an interest while 4 others claimed the rights to the property ranging from the OSU stool, Ms. Rosemary Finiba Arthur, Mr. Sam Jonah and a William Ofori real estates company.

NCS negotiated with Mr. Jonah, as direct authority on the strength of a letter he presented through his lawyers Kudjawu & Co. (who, are also the lawyers of UTC Estates) that made him agent for Ms. Finiba Arthur.

However, all efforts to resolve the issues especially wit Mr. Jonah proved to be extremely difficult. At certain times, the issues appeared to be shrouded in a political aroma.

We refused to be drawn into that because we trusted the courts and wanted to stay focused. Also, our readiness to accept the status quo which later events made us realize indiscreet, was demonstrated by our acceptance of the position of the chief mediator, Prof. Kwapong, that NCS pays directly to UTC Estates instead of the court.

It might interest you to know, that it was really after the cheque had cleared and UTC Estates or its assigns had custody of the full payment of the principal that the other party finally decided to enforce the quit order of the High Court and thereby, reneged on the understanding that was been brokered.

Obviously embedded in the dispute was a conviction of some fraud that only the laws of the land could unearth. We are happy though, that as we await the final determination of the real interest payable as against the 4.7bn cedi claim, NCS has not only maintained a healthy competition with other service providers, but that its strength in Research and Development has ensured, that new innovative products that offer the client absolute choice for less, are added to the many traditional services NCS has been known for.

These include Click a pre-paid Internet access service and its derivatives including ClickTEL, a PC telephony; the Click Card and Clickmail/web for mail and web services as well as the e-cash merchant service.

We take space in the newspapers today to express our sincere gratitude to all our cherished clients and partners who through these hard times have acknowledged the depth of our services and stayed with us and also use the remembrance of two years of revival to resolve, that the conditions that led to the creation of the impasse that related to the climate that culminated into what seems to be a predatory act against a corporate entity and challenges development never recurred.

Finally we take this opportunity to wish corporate Ghana and our esteemed clients all the best in your endeavours this coming new year convinced, that together, Africa can, Ghana can.