Meet the Press Statement

Delivered By Mrs. Ursula Owusu-Ekuful, MP, Minister for Communications

Mr. Chairman, the Hon. Minister for Information

Hon. Deputy Ministers

Heads of Department and Agencies

Chief Director, Directors, and staff of the MoC,

Friends from the Media

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Government of Nana Addo-Dankwa Akufo-Addo is determined to use ICT to deliver efficient, effective, and improved services to citizens, and the ongoing digitalization efforts are also geared towards formalizing the economy to support the Ghana Beyond Aid Agenda.

The Ministry of Communications will continue to implement policies and through its agencies, provide adequate regulatory oversight in the Communication sector to ensure that expectations of stakeholders are met within the confines of the law.

Mr. Chairman, this presentation will provide an overview of the following areas:

  1. Increase of Communications Service Tax (CST) by 3% to fund Cyber Security
  2. Implementation of SIM Re-Registration
  3. Implementation of ECOWAS Free-Roaming Initiative
  4. Establishment of a Central Equipment Identity Registry
  5. Update on FM Audit and Radio Station Closures
  6. Expansion of Girls in ICT Initiative

 

INCREASE OF COMMUNICATIONS SERVICE TAX (CST) BY 3% TO FUND CYBERSECURITY

Mr. Chairman, Ladies, and Gentlemen, recent figures reveal that Cybercrime cost the global economy as much as $600 billion in 2017 and experts have predicted that, the cost of cybercrime is likely to hit $21 trillion by 2021 and 74% of all businesses can expect to be hacked in the coming year. Most African countries including Ghana are extremely vulnerable and are likely to have a greater share of these losses. Lack of IT standardization, lack of required skillset, inadequate technical measures, lack of general awareness on cyber risks are some of the reasons why Ghana we are all at risk.

The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) estimates that in the reported cases of cyber incidents, victims – both individuals and businesses, lost about USD105 Million in 2018. This figure excludes indirect costs as well as other incidents that were not detected and/or reported to law enforcement and other regulatory bodies. Reported cases of cybercrime include hacking into protected databases/systems, business fraud, social media impersonation/identify fraud, ransomware attacks, data leakages/breaches and online safety breaches involving children.

Cyber-attacks continue to undermine digitalization efforts globally. In July this year, Bulgaria, with a population of 7 million became the target of a cyberattack that compromised the systems of its National Revenue Authority and exposed the National Identification Numbers of 5 million adult citizens. Records on revenues, tax, and social security payments dating as far back as 2007 were compromised. Maersk offices globally and the banking sector in several countries have suffered cyber-attacks. Reports of cyber interference in and hacking of electoral processes are increasing and a few weeks ago, the Brazilian president and hundreds of others had their cell phones hacked into. Residents in Johannesburg, the largest city in South Africa, were left in the dark for hours after the city’s power company got attacked by a ransomware virus which prevented prepaid customers from buying power. The unauthorized interference with our Computerized school placement system and the ensuing chaos that was orchestrated by some elements of our society at the Black Star Square is one incident that comes readily to mind. Similar attacks last year disrupted UK’s National Health Service and the Bangladeshi Central Bank lost eighty million dollars in a single attack. The list is endless. Similar incidents occur each day and Ghana needs to take proactive steps to protect its digital ecosystem. GIFMIS, HRMIS, e-governance infrastructure in health, education, the judicial service, procurement, payment systems, security systems, utilities, etc. are all at risk of cyberattacks.

Attacks on our Critical National Information Infrastructure (CNII) will result in a significant impact on the critical services and affect the lives of Ghanaians. Cybercrime is the easiest way for criminals to perpetrate crimes using the same medium we use for our day to day online activities. It provides anonymity and is not limited by geographical boundaries.

Having ratified the Convention on Cybercrime (Budapest Convention) and the African Union Convention on Cyber Security and Personal Data Protection (Malabo Convention), Government is required to implement these Conventions to promote confidence and trust in our digital economy even as we ready ourselves to host the African Continental Free Trade Area,

Government has taken a number of steps to scale up Ghana’s cybersecurity readiness and protect the Critical National Information Infrastructure (CNII).

During the mid-year budget review in parliament on Monday, 29 July 2019, the Finance Minister announced the increase of Communication Service Tax (CST) from 6% to 9% effective 4th September 2019 to provide revenue for cybersecurity initiatives to protect the digital infrastructure being used by both the public and private sector. As you are aware, the Communication Service Tax (CST) has been in existence since 2008 and has been levied on charges payable by consumers for the use of communication services.

It must be said that from 2008 to 30th September 2019, Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) have been absorbing the 6% CST, and as far as the subscriber experience was concerned, and they suddenly decided to stop that practice when nothing had changed apart from the 3% increase3 in the rate of the existing tax. Getfund, NHIL and VAT levies were all deducted based on usage and not an upfront deduction upon recharge.

The Ministry met MNOs and the Regulator on 7th and 8th October 2019 on this unusual practice which flew in the face of industry experience and we were informed by MNOs that they took advantage of the 3% increase to pass on the entire tax to subscribers. This has effectively increased their profit margins at the expense of subscribers when there has been no other change in their operational environment.

Whatever they may have lost in absorbing the 6% CST, they more than made up for it by refusing to roll over credit that had been paid for by customers but remained unused on the expiration of the bundle period. They are now effectively robbing consumers by passing on the full tax while retaining the unused data and voice bundles.

The Ministry upon receipt of numerous complaints from Consumers has given policy directives for all Mobile Network Operators, Broadband Wireless Providers and Internet Service Providers to the Regulator, NCA, to ensure the immediate implementation of the following:

              1. CST should be treated the same way VAT, GETFUND, NHI levy and all other taxes imposed on entities doing business in Ghana are treated. The extraordinary upfront deduction of CST and notification of same to subscribers must stop with immediate effect.

              2. All unused voice and data bundles purchased by subscribers should not expire and must be rolled over with the next recharge.

              3. MNOs will be subjected to strict compliance with existing Quality of Service (QoS) standards to ensure value for the subscribers’ money in accordance with their license obligations.

Examples of Companies which Roll Over Unused Data bundle

Vodafone Fixed Broadband customers are able to keep their remaining data only if they top up before their bundle expires. This means at the expiry date of your bundle if you don’t top up your bundle account you lose all your remaining data.

The new policy directive only means that all subscribers will enjoy what was limited to only Vodafone fixed broadband subscribers. There will be no discrimination in the treatment of customers.

MTN Fixed Broadband customers required specified minimum airtime on their MTN Fibre broadband number before expiry date to keep their remaining data whereas Prepaid Customers lost all remaining data after date of expiry unless they had opted for roll over.

The directive means all MTN subscribers will enjoy their unused voice and data upon recharge, regardless of the type of service they are on.

Surfline customers who purchase a bundle before the expiry date enjoy automatic rollover but after expiry date, they lose the remaining data bundle. This practice must stop with the directive.

AirtelTigo is currently running “BIGTIME DATA BUNDLES” for data that doesn’t expire. The new data bundles are available to all AirtelTigo pre-paid subscribers, including new and existing customers and all data packs have no Validity. This is what all operators are now required to do with the directive.

We will also countenance no excuses for poor service quality and encourage all customers to report any issues of poor quality of service or substandard user experience to the regulator for remedial action. We will work with operators to resolve any issues they may have but will expect the same cooperation from them in complying with their license conditions.

We are committed to the implementation of the necessary policies, protocols, and laws governing and securing our cyberspace. Our security agencies and judiciary must be equipped to investigate and prosecute cybercrime offences. Technology is developing at a very fast pace and Ghana needs to develop a cadre of intelligent, hardworking cyber analysts and specialists to support system and network security operations. We all have a part to play to sustainably fund the cybersecurity initiatives for our own benefit and this CST increase is geared towards supporting some of the initiative’s government is putting in place to protect our digital infrastructure for our collective peace of mind. The UK is spending five billion pounds over 5 years for its cybersecurity program. We cannot do as much but the little we get from this is better than burying our heads in the sand and hoping we will not suffer any cyber attack. That’s the recipe for disaster. We need about 100 million USD for the first year alone to implement our cybersecurity strategy and about 250 m over 5 years. This is a mere fraction of what more developed economies are spending on cybersecurity. The criminals aren’t asleep so we will be foolhardy to pretend we are ok. While this CST alone cannot provide all the needed funding for our CS efforts, it is a concrete step towards the initial funding for building a robust and resilient CS architecture and will provide seed funds for the CS Fund envisaged in the draft CS law. It is better to be safe than sorry.

 

IMPLEMENTATION OF SIM RE-REGISTRATION

Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen, Ghana enacted the Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) Registration Regulations, 2011 (L.I. 2006) primarily to reduce mobile phone related crimes such as prank calls, cyber-crime, mobile money fraud and its related issues and general security.

It is also intended to help the law enforcement agencies to identify the SIM card owners, track criminals who use phones for illegal activities, curb incidents such as phone theft, hate text messages, mobile fraud activities, inciting violence, and to combat crime such as SIM Box fraud.

SIM registration also enables subscribers to be properly identified for the use of value-added services such as mobile banking, mobile money, and electronic payment services. Due to the crucial nature of SIM registration and its security implications for the country, MNOs were required to ensure SIMs were registered properly before activation on the mobile network to avoid inconsistencies and fake subscriber identity.

Even though the SIM Registration regulations are still in force, it is not being enforced due to the lack of an acceptable, fake proof, Identification card and non-existence of verification by a national database to ensure the traceability of the individual who registered the SIM card.

Currently, there is no solution in place to integrate all the databases of Card Issuing Agencies for the seamless verification of IDs used for registration of SIMs to be effectively conducted.

In addition to this, the Ministry of Communications has noted other deficiencies of the existing SIM card registration regime in Ghana including the sale of pre-registered SIM cards, the use of pre-registered SIM cards and fraudulent registration of SIM cards. All of these activities are proscribed by law. These deficiencies facilitate fraudulent activities perpetrated through the use of mobile phones such as mobile money fraud, illegal SIM swap, illegal termination of international traffic (SIM-Boxing) leading to loss of revenue to the state, impersonation and cyber-crime.

Though some IDs submitted for registration of SIMs may have been valid, however, due to the poorly implemented manual verification process, millions of SIMs registered have been rendered invalid because of non-verification of these IDs electronically with the databases of the Card Issuing Agencies.

 

Some MNOs also hired illiterate or semi-literate agents to do the SIM registration on commission basis – i.e. the MNOs paid agents according to how many subscribers they registered per day. Due to the monetary considerations, some agents cut corners and even pre-register several SIMs with different IDs for sell to unsuspecting clients that seek SIMs Reports received from some subscribers indicate that some agents registered SIMs without taking subscribers’ ID details, while others presented valid IDs for registration but later checks indicated their SIMs are registered in the names of other persons they do not know. Others indicated that some agents gave them an option to either buy a pre-registered card or queue to register and some subscribers obviously opted for the pre-registered SIMs to save time.

It is clear that the current SIM card registration regime is deficient and fraught with many challenges, defeating the purpose of the SIM Registration Regulations.

Mindful of this, Cabinet early this year directed the Minister for Communications to instruct all Telecommunication Companies to fully comply with the law governing SIM card acquisition which requires the presentation of a valid identity document prior to registration. The NCA has been directed to establish an efficient solution to link all existing databases and ensure strict compliance with the law on the acquisition and registration of SIM cards in Ghana. This will restore the confidence and trust in the entire ICT ecosystem and enhance the activities of the law enforcement agencies in clamping down on crime committed using these SIM cards.

The Ministry has consulted all relevant stakeholders and hereby announces that from 1st January 2020, we will all be required to re-register our SIM cards. Any SIM card which is not registered will be deactivated by June 2020, giving a six-month time frame for this exercise. We entreat all citizens, residents and visitors to cooperate to ensure the success of this exercise for our collective security.

 

IMPLEMENTATION OF THE ECOWAS FREE ROAMING INITIATIVE

Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen, the ECOWAS ‘Free Roaming’ initiative was proposed by ECOWAS Ministers of Telecommunications/ICT during their meeting in Niger in 2016 and in 2017, ECOWAS Ministers in charge of Telecommunications/ICT adopted Regulation C/REG.21/12/17 on Roaming on Public Mobile Communications Networks in the ECOWAS Region. This initiative will reduce roaming rates within the ECOWAS Sub-region, to promote Cross-Border investments and encourage competition among Operators to reduce call charges. The implementation of the ECOWAS roaming initiative will also enhance regional integration and economic development and facilitate our hosting of the Secretariat of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).

It is worth noting that the free movement of goods and persons in the West Africa Region has been of immense benefit to citizens of all Member States and the ‘Free Visa’ has eliminated the stress of visa acquisition for travel within the ECOWAS region

Due to the high cost of roaming charges, many people currently practice “plastic” roaming (by buying a local SIM) or use OTT (over-the-top) services on Wi-Fi networks.

During the just-ended 16th ECOWAS Meeting for Telecommunications/ICT Ministers in Burkina Faso from 1-4 October 2019, one of the key issues discussed was the state of preparedness of each country in the implementation of free-roaming in our sub-region after the commitment given by the Ministers in 2016 and 2017.

The Roaming Initiative is a People-Centred policy which will revolutionize the communication pattern of citizens in the ECOWAS region. Experiences from other regions that have implemented free roaming in their jurisdictions demonstrate exponential growth in traffic volumes with corresponding revenue increase. This has meant more revenue for MNOs and increased tax revenue for Government. The current dispensation records minimal volumes of traffic-Voice, SMS and Data- and this brings in minimum tax revenue to Government. Implementation of the ECOWAS Roaming Initiative will enhance our revenue generation in the ECOWAS corridor similar to that experienced in other free-roaming zones and remove barriers to communication for Subscribers.

This initiative is a multi-country initiative (15 Countries) for the creation of a harmonized enabling environment for the international mobile roaming market to ensure affordable access to roaming services for Voice, SMS and Data.

The European Union (EU), The Southern African Development Community (SADC), and The East African Community (EAC) have all implemented free-roaming for their citizens. It is time for West Africa to join.

At the Ouagadougou meeting, all the Ministers of the ECOWAS Member States, Ghana included, committed to complete all the Legal and Administrative processes required to facilitate this initiative by the fixed deadline of 31st December 2019.

The 6-cent surcharge on all incoming international calls must be removed for all ECOWAS traffic and we are in consultation with the Ministry of Finance for this to be done during the 2020 budget hearings. All Operators in Ghana must also conclude roaming agreements with Operators in the ECOWAS region by 31st December 2019 and all countries must have a proper fraud management system to combat any possible abuse of this initiative. Fortunately, our Common Monitoring Platform has fraud prevention capabilities. An accurate SIM registration system should also be established to facilitate reconciliation between countries and we are in the process of doing so. A committee comprising the regulator, NCA, all network operators, Ministry of Finance, GRA, law enforcement and national security, chaired by the Ministry of Communications will be established immediately to facilitate the implementation of this initiative by the end of the year.

From January 1, 2020, all ECOWAS citizens traveling within the region will experience no roaming tariffs but would roam at local rates.

 

IMPLEMENTATION OF THE CENTRAL EQUIPMENT IDENTITY REGISTRY

Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen, Ghana has about 34 million mobile subscribers with a mobile penetration rate exceeding 119%. It is a huge market for mobile devices, however some subscribers use substandard and smuggled devices, resulting in cybersecurity threats, has health implications and revenue loss for importers, Government of Ghana and operators. 

Mobile device manufacturers estimate that about 5 million genuine mobile devices are imported into the country annually. The unregulated market in Ghana has resulted in a thriving device black market with sales of substandard mobile devices, a high incidence of device theft and cloning of devices. Substandard and smuggled devices are sold through visible retail sites, unofficial retail outlets and online websites.

Registered businesses have to deal with unfair competition from these devices, which are cheaper and threatend the survival of legitimate businesses.

To address the challenges of the thriving trade in substandard equipment, the Ministry will establish a Central Equipment Identity Registry (CEIR) to register all devices in the country and reduce the influx of stolen, substandard and counterfeit mobile devices. The CEIR has the capability of blocking all unregistered mobile devices and preventing them from operating on any network in Ghana.

The Ghana CEIR will be connected to the Global System for Mobile Communication Association (GSMA) database to access the IMEI of approved and blacklisted devices. This will ensure that mobile devices entering the country are properly authenticated and give us an idea of the scale of use of grey or black-market devices in Ghana.

It will also be connected to the EIR databases of all mobile network operators in Ghana, to synchronize and update data on blacklisted and whitelisted devices in Ghana. This will ensure that only approved mobile devices recognized by the CEIR would function in Ghana. It will generate and store a list of all blacklisted and whitelisted devices in our own repository.

The CEIR will also be connected to the National Communications Authority and Security agencies to minimize device theft and use of substandard and counterfeit mobile devices.

Current technology trends in the manufacture of mobile devices demonstrates its possible utility for e-voting, e-commerce, access to government services, etc. It is therefore important to ensure data confidentiality, integrity, protection and security of mobile devices. The CEIR will promote security, confidence and trust in the digital infrastructure of the country and generate user acceptance. Device theft will be curbed as the CEIR will reduce and discourage mobile device theft threats by enabling individual operators to prevent the use of stolen registered handsets on their own networks.

We have had one stakeholder meeting with mobile device dealers and importers but will have more interactions with all interested parties to fashion out the modalities for implementation of the Ghana CEIR which will become operational in 2020. Further updates on its establishment will be provided in due course.

 

UPDATE ON FM AUDIT AND RADIO STATION CLOSURES

Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen, as we may recall in 2017 the National Communications Authority (NCA) embarked on an Audit of all Authorized FM Radio Broadcasting stations in Ghana. As a result of the Audit findings the NCA imposed pecuniary sanctions on FM Radio Stations found to have been operating with expired authorizations.

Dissatisfied with the Authority’s decision, some of the defaulting FM Radio stations, in accordance with the due process, filed individual appeals at the Electronic Communications tribunal (ECT) in November, 2017 whilst other defaulting FM stations filed as a group under the auspices of Ghana Independent Broadcasters Association (GIBA) on.

 

On 18th June, 2018 the ECT Panel chaired by Prof. Date-Bah JSC. (Retired) delivered its unanimous decision in the case of Ghana Independent Broadcasters Association (GIBA) vrs National Communications Authority (NCA) (Appeal No.: ECT/APP/02/2017).

The Tribunal quashed the Pecuniary Penalties imposed, but it also stated that a person with an expired FM Radio Authorization reverts to the same position as a fresh applicant and as such did not have a valid authorization with which to operate. In effect, the NCA was directed to close down all such stations as they had no right to operate. The NCA had preferred the easier option of a pecuniary fine and regularization of the defective FM authorization but was compelled to obey the ECT decision to shut down defaulting stations.

Subsequent to this decision, the Authority in December 2018 took steps to ensure that all such stations operating with expired authorizations were closed down, since they did not have a valid authorization with which to operate. They were however given the opportunity to submit fresh applications for consideration on a case by case basis.

Dissatisfied with this decision, one of the defaulting FM Radio Stations, Medeamaa FM Limited again appealed to the ECT, arguing amongst others that since they had already submitted their application for renewal of their authorization, the Authority had no right to close them down.

In its ruling on an application for stay of execution pending appeal in the case of Medeamaa FM Limited vrs National Communications Authority (Appeal No.: ECT/APP/012/2018) delivered on 1st April, 2019, the Justice Date-Bah led Panel dismissed Medeamea FM’s application and agreed with the NCA that any renewal application submitted after the expiration of an Authorization was an invalid application and as such could not be processed.

The Tribunal stated clearly that the only remedy available to any such station is to submit a fresh application to the Authority for consideration. The Authority was therefore well within its rights to close down stations operating without authorization.

Subsequent to this decision, the Authority again closed down some stations in May and June 2019 for operating without valid authorisations. Once again, some stations including filed fresh appeals at the ECT in June 2019.

FM AUDIT STATISTICS

A total of 144 FM stations were identified for various infractions with their Authorisations from the 2017 FM Audit. Fifty-Seven (57) out of the 144 were closed down in 2018 and 2019 following the decisions of the Electronic Communications Tribunal (ECT).

In accordance with the decisions of the ECT, thirty (30) out of the 57 stations have submitted fresh applications for FM Authorisations, of which fifteen (15) have been processed. The applications for the remaining fifteen (15) FM stations are still being processed and the outcomes will be communicated to them after they have gone through all the requisite processes which include technical review, management review and Board approval.

Twenty-Seven (27) out of the 57 stations that were closed down have not submitted fresh applications for new FM Authorisations.

It is factually incorrect and a blatant untruth to say, as some, including former President John Mahama and the Media Foundation for West Africa, who really ought to have known better, have sought to portray, that only opposition radio stations have been targeted for closure using the law. No such intention actuated this exercise and I am not sure we can claim that all the 144 stations in breach of the Electronic Communications Act were NDC or opposition radio stations. I know of two, XYZ and Radio Gold, and the latter had operated without renewing their authorisation for 16 years. They are certainly not untouchable or above the law as some would have us believe.

 

Resignation of Chairperson of the ECT and Composition of New Members

Whilst those cases were pending before the Tribunal, the Chairman of the Tribunal submitted his resignation letter to the Public Services Commission (PSC) in June 2019. In his resignation letter he stated that his resignation was to take effect on 1st July, 2019. He did not cite pressure from any quarter as the reason for his resignation and I certainly have never spoken to any member of the tribunal on their work.

The PSC accepted his resignation and decided to recompose the Tribunal’s Panel and announced the appointment of new members in August 2019. The new Panel, however, could, not start sitting until after the legal vacation. The new Panel Chaired by Dr. Kissi Agyabeng resumed sitting on 8th October, 2019. It is therefore untrue to say the PSC has refused to reconstitute the ECT, as the former president also intimated. To put it mildly, JM goofed again.

 

Discontinuance of Legal Actions by some Defaulting FM Stations

During the intervening period some stations that had instituted actions before the Tribunal against the NCA filed Notices of Discontinuance. At its sitting on 8th October, 2019, the Tribunal considered the Notices of Discontinuance and accordingly struck out the appeal as withdrawn and without liberty to reapply.

Subsequent to that one station on 10th October, 2019 also appeared before the ECT and withdrew its appeal, and same was struck out by the Tribunal as withdrawn. It is instructive to note that even though during the pendency of these appeals, some stations had submitted fresh applications for consideration in accordance with the previous ruling of the ECT, these applications could however not be considered as the appeals were still pending.

These are the bare facts and I hope all commentators henceforth will desist from ascribing non existent political motives to this exercise which is just meant to ensure compliance with existing laws and regulations. The media should hold itself to the same high standards that it holds everyone else to. You are not above the law.

 

Girls in ICT Initiative

As part of measures to bridge the gender gap existing in the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector, Member States of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) adopted in 2012 the celebration of the Girls-in-ICT.

In May 2019, the Ministry celebrated the Girls in ICT in Western region training 600 students drawn from 9 Districts in the region.

We want to make it bigger and better, so we have instituted a biannual celebration and will be training 980 girls drawn from 14 Districts in the Central Region. The training of Trainers has just been completed and the training of the Girls start today. The Mentorship day and Climax Event will be held in Cape Coast on 4th and 5th November 2019, respectively. The next stop for the Girls in ICT after the Central Region will be the newly minted Oti Region in the first quarter of next year.

We want to stimulate the interest of girls in STEM education and careers, demystify ICT and narrow the gender digital divide and we have just launched the Ms. Geek Ghana competition which is open to girls of ages 13-25, to excite them to innovate and use technology to solve everyday challenges. Submission of entries is open until 10th November and I am using this opportunity to encourage all interested girls and young ladies to apply and hopefully win the attractive prices on offer. The winner of Ms. Geek Ghana will represent Ghana at the Ms. Geek Africa competition in Guinea Conakry in March 2020 during the first Transform Africa Summit to be held outside Kigali, Rwanda.

We have much more information to give you on the DTT implementation process, The Common Monitoring Platform, Rural Telephony Project, Cyber Security and E Governance initiatives among others but will end here to prevent information overload. I hope to get another slot to continue this interaction in the not too distant future.  

Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen, I thank you all for your attention.