Graphic Business News

Telcos opposition to GVG a way to evade tax

By: Daniel Ofosu Dwamena
Ms Ursula Ekuffu
Ms Ursula Ekuffu

The strident opposition to the government’s decision to contract Global Voice Group (GVG) to monitor the inbound international traffic represents the unwillingness of Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) to allow the government to have full visibility of their actual traffic volumes, the Minister of Communication, Mrs Ursula Owusu-Ekuful, has said.

She said the continuous resistance had prevented the government form determining the real taxes payable on the revenue earned by MNOs in the country.

The minister said this when she appeared before Parliament to answer questions on the GVG deal.

The Electronic Communications Amendment Act, 2009, Act 786, provides that 19 cents be the minimum amount to be charged by network operators per minute for international calls terminated in Ghana.

Section (5) of the act specifically imposes a duty on the National Communications Authority to establish a mechanism and institute measures to monitor compliance with this floor price per minute of international calls.

To give effect to this in the act, the NCA contracted the services of the GVG, a leading telecommunications revenue assurance service provider, in 2009 to monitor the inbound international traffic to ensure that the government received the required tax revenues.

GVG was also required to manage fraud on the network to reduce the incidence of traffic bypass (SIM Box) since that also had an adverse impact on government revenues.

The minister, however, pointed out that there was strident opposition to this move, spearheaded by the MNOs, which resulted in several lawsuits.

“They cited security of their network installations and privacy concerns primarily, but their main motivation may have been their unwillingness for the GOG to have full visibility of their actual traffic volumes to determine the real taxes payable on the revenues earned from them,” she stated.

Contract terminated
Ms Owusu-Ekuful noted that following sustained pressure, GVG was compelled to terminate their operations in Ghana a year before their contract expired and the contract was taken over by Subah Infosolutions Limited in 2012.

“The GRA had also hitherto engaged Subah to perform domestic traffic monitoring though it had no previous experience in telecoms revenue assurance. After Subah took over the GVG contract, they continued to monitor both local and inbound international traffic for the NCA and GRA but this was not on real-time basis, as data was only collected from the servers of the MNOs,” she stated.

She said the network operators persisted in denying these companies the right to connect to their physical network nodes to collect the raw data for analysis.

“The question we need to ask is why? Why this continued fear of the regulator getting access to the raw data from the same sources the MNOs derive their data from for independent verification and analysis of the actual revenues due government? Why this insistence that state agencies should only get the mediated CDRS? Why this persistent desire to deny the authorities access to real-time data?” she asked.

Communications Service Tax Act
In response to this concerted effort to frustrate the government, Mrs Owusu-Ekuful said the Communications Service Tax Act, 2008 (Act 754) was passed to compel the MNOs to grant access to their physical network nodes for the collection of real-time electronic data.

She said the act also enjoined the minister of Finance to collaborate with the minister responsible for Communications to establish a monitoring mechanism to verify the actual revenue that accrued to vendors for the purpose of computing taxes due the government and also be given physical access to the physical network nodes of the vendors' network at an equivalent point in the network where the network providers' billing systems were connected.

Despite the unambiguous terms of the act, she said all the MNOs, apart from Glo, still defied the law and had refused to grant access to their physical network nodes for real-time data collection.

“They claimed they preferred the monitoring platform to be owned and managed by the regulator. It is only in Ghana that the network operators feel they can dictate how the regulator regulates them,” she stated.