GRA Admits Privatizing Transport Unit - But dodges Competitive Bidding Process

GRA Board Chairman, Prof Stephen Addae GRA Board Chairman, Prof Stephen Addae

The Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA) has confirmed discussions between management and board, as well as car dealership firm, Mechanical Lloyd in a deal to lease, insure and service official vehicles of the Authority, as disclosed by The Herald, on Wednesday.

It, however, failed to respond to the question on value for money analysis. Many have asked why GRA, had failed to engage in competitive bidding processes, rather than the usual restrictive tender process as is the case with many state institutions these day.

Another question begging for answer, is why the GRA management is engaging Mechanical Lloyd, since it is not into transport or car rentals. It is a dealership company holding franchise for Ford Motor Company of America, BMW of Germany and Massey Ferguson, also of America, in Ghana.

According to the Authority, "management of the GRA has indeed presented and discussed with the Board and considering leasing the Authority's vehicles rather than outright purchases. The leasing company will be responsible for maintenance, insurance and servicing".

A memo issued yesterday October 15, 2020 in responseto the workers' concerns said "That, it is not true that the Authority has any intention to privatize the transport department neither has the board ever discussed it. It is important such stories are verified with Management".

It was under the signature of the Commissioner-General of the GRA, Rev. Ammishadda Owusu-Amoah.

He debunked claim that drivers for the yet to be leased vehicles were going to be employed by Mechanical Lloyd and not the Authority.

The memo sighted by The Herald said "Leasing vehicles does not entail having private drivers introduced into GRA. The vehicles will be driven by GRA drivers and the status of drivers does not change in anyway".

Among others, people familiar with the deal, said management is bent on rushing it ahead of the December 7, 2020 polls. Hence there is no consultation with stakeholders whatsoever.

There was the question of the absence of open tender to ensure value for money purposes and also the issue of security concerns covering tax invasion as well as smuggling.

The GRA memo was addressed to George Amadu Awinbilla, the Chairman of GRA PSWU copied to the Acting chairman GRAWU, Dominic Nartey, was silent on concerns of limited consultation and the question of value for money and so on.

The two had in a joint-memo in the names of Public Service Workers Union (PSWU) of Ghana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) and Ghana Revenue Authority Workers Union (GRAWU) registered their disagreement and determination not to have the GRA transport unit privatized pointing out security implications it may have on the Authority.

The joint-memo, condemned the privatization and demanded those pushing it, the Commissioner-General Owusu-Amoah, Prof Stephen Addae-led board and Ken Ofori-Atta and his cohorts at the Ministry of Finance halt it immediately.

The joint-memo dated Tuesday, 13 October 2020 and sighted by The Herald, had chairman of PSWU, Amadu Awinbilla and acting chairman of Ghana Revenue Authority Workers Union (GRAWU) Dominic Nartey, saying the Union is in the know of the on-going discussion between the two bodies, but it is against it.

According to the memo titled "Privatization of the GRA Transport Unit", this is not the first time such a move is being made by management of GRA. The Union said similar deal was started by the Authority in 2019 but, it was vehemently shot down by the entire workforce.

The memo spelt out what it thinks should be done and also the danger the deal poses should it be allowed to pass. In a four points, the Union expressed serious concerns about the on-going discussion saying the deal has CBA implications and that it requires a Standing Joint Negotiations Committee meeting to discuss.

It said it "Borders on the employment status and rights of divers and its auxiliary staff" insisting it is going to "Promotes leakages of revenue information to the public", adding it also "has the potential to increase operational traveling risk. Indeed staff cannot trust workers with "outsiders".

The unions were particularly worried about the new drivers, who are going to be employed by Mechanical Lloyd pointing out saying "the presence of "outsiders" can have national security implications since GRA (Customs Division) deals with intelligence and information gathering".

It continued that "this Customs Division has a Para-Military function and cannot be driven by an outsourced body. To this end and for many other reasons, we advise management to halt all discussions, agreements and moves geared towards ceding GRA Transport Unit to external companies".

The memo which was on the letterhead of Organized Labour's GRA local chapter was copied to all regional chairmen of the Union.

But in a swift response, the GRA management attempted to assure the workers' union and staff that it will not engage in any agreement that will not be save and inure to the benefit of the institution.

In what appears to be a caution of some sort to workers, the memo warned that the current management will not be compelled by anyone or group of persons, to do what will cause the Authority a fortune in"vehiclemaintenance" and "servicing" like it occurred in the past".

"However, Management will not be compelled by anyone or group of persons who in the past caused the Authority a fortune in vehicle maintenance and servicing through nefarious activities that rather rob staff of resources to improve their lot".

Adding "Management would like to assure Organized Labour and staff that the best intent of the Authority is taken into consideration at all times and this proposal is no exception since this will ultimately save cost and benefit the Authority".

The two memos come days after this paper revealed discussion GRA and the Ministry of Finance, had with Mechanical Lloyd this week about the deal.

The agreement, also has the support of key personalities in both GRA and the Finance Ministry headed by Ken Ofori-Atta, is curiously being rejected by stakeholder groups such as the Trades Union Congress (TUC), GRA Workers Association, Transport Workers Union and others.

The Commissioner-General of GRA, the Board of GRA, headed by Prof. Stephen Addae and a few others, are supportive of the agreement and pushing it through, although the workers are against it.

Last Monday's meeting held between GRA and Mechanical Lloyd, had Finance Ministry's Chief Director, Frank Gadzekpor, who incidentally happens to be the brother of Keli Gadzekpor, co-owner of DATABANK and CEO of Enterprise Insurance owned by the Finance Minister present.

Frank Gadzekpo, who was brought into the Ministry by Mr Ofori-Atta, worked with his brother at Data Bank owned by the Finance Minister.

Also present representing the Finance Ministry, was one Paul Hammond, as well as, Joseph Hider from Mechanical Lloyd.

The meeting, chaired by Prof Addae, was attended by all board members and details of the contract are that Mechanical Lloyd, will buy and lease vehicles to the Authority at an unspecified cost.

This paper gathered that there are a total of 700 vehicles that are being used by the three departments of GRA namely Customs Excise and Preventive Service (CEPS) Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and Value Added Tax (VAT) Service.

The deal, which is being held at the top management and board levels, has been described as "state capture".Some say because there is a lot of money in the transport and procurement businesses, the intention is to shift attention there so that moneys can be made by people.

There are also concerns over the procurement process. Aside Mechanical Lloyd, no other company is taking part in the discussions to ensure the state gets value for money. Insiders have claimed that the deal will see the insurance of the cars going to Enterprise Insurance which is owned by Finance Minister, his wife Angela and Keli Gadzekpo.