GHANA:BoG freezes US$1bn Sibton deal

The central bank has reportedly put on hold the billion-dollar deal it handed to Sibton Switch, a local IT firm, to interconnect all payment systems in the country, following public outcry over whether such an intermediary was necessary, given the cost implications for consumers.

Sources close to the central bank told the B&FT that the Governor, Dr Abdul Nashiru Issahaku, has directed that the deal be halted while a reevaluation of the entire project, known as the Ghana Retail Payments Infrastructure, is conducted.

The central bank is said to have sent out a mail to the major stakeholders involved in the project saying the brouhaha generated by the Sibton contract, after the B&FT’s exposé on the matter, warrants that the deal be put on hold while an extensive stakeholder consultation takes place.

Aside the huge amounts of money involved, as well as the cost implications for consumers, concerns have been raised as to whether the central bank’s wholly-owned subsidiary – the Ghana Interbank Payment and Settlement Systems (GhIPSS) – could not undertake the project.

Known as the Ghana Retail Payments Infrastructure, the project is aimed at facilitating transactions across various payment platforms, including mobile money transactions from one network to the other, and transactions from, say, e-zwich to mobile money.

But GhIPSS, which is already facilitating inter-bank transactions, has told the B&FT it is in a position to implement the new all-inclusive system.

GhIPSS was incorporated in May 2007 “with a mandate to implement and manage interoperable payment system infrastructure for banks and non-bank financial institutions in Ghana.”

As part of its role, GhIPSS facilitates electronic clearing of cheques and the processing and settlement of bulk debit and credit transfers between banks.

“The same infrastructure we use to interconnect the banks can be utilised to connect the telcos to provide the interoperability service. Indeed, GhIPPS is not far from implementing such a switch,” a source told the B&FT earlier this month.

Telecom companies have already given indication they are not too impressed about the new system, raising concerns about the “pricing model” and lack of clarity on the “project scope.”

“Our understanding from the start was that the project was to facilitate interoperability of payment systems in Ghana, including Banks and GHIPSS, but the current engagements have been restricted to electronic money issuers (EMIS) [mobile money operators] only, without clear understanding of when and how the others, especially the banks, will participate,” the telcos said in a letter to the central bank.

If the deal goes through in its current form, consumers are likely to pay more for mobile money transactions in particular, especially from one network to the other, although Sibton Switch has asked critics to look at the long-term benefits.