Ghana is at the throes of another draconian seizure and collapse of indigenous Ghanaian businesses. The content and character of the current agenda is so synonymous to the heady revolutionary days where indigenous businesses were seized and collapsed through the Citizens Vetting Committee (CVC).
The CVC was one of the kangaroo tribunals set up by the Rawlings’ Provisional National Defence Council and chaired by Mr. Kwamena Ahwoi (now Professor) to try some Ghanaians for the main reason they owned businesses, although there were other well calculated justifications to attract popular acceptance of the exercise.
The CVC also had a mandate to investigate the backgrounds of the targeted businessmen/women to establish whether they acquired their wealth and money genuinely or through other clandestine means. Indeed, it would have been a miracle at the time for anyone penciled for hearing by the CVC to be exonerated.
The affected businessmen were first bastardised as anti-revolution and later as people who acquired their wealth and properties by fleecing the national coffers and resources. Many of the “guilty” ones were thrown behind bars for years with some becoming perennially impaired.
Almost everyone who appeared before the CVC was convicted; they had no right of appeal against their conviction and also had their businesses confiscated to the state. They were simply referred to as economic saboteurs who did not deserve the right of fair hearing. Indeed, family members of the affected parties till today dread talking about the obvious holocaust.
Re-enactment of CVC in 2018
The CVC was established to satisfy the Rawlings paranoia against successful men and women who he also thought were against his revolution. Ghana may be experiencing a civil dispensation, yet actions of the current administration against some Ghanaian indigenous companies could be described as a period similar to the CVC legal regime where opponents were ruthlessly dealt with, with no recourse to natural justice.
Before the Bank of Ghana (BoG) struck the banking sector, leaks that made the rounds suggested that the current government was out to play a diabolic game similar to what we experienced during just like it happened in the CVC days.
According to the leaks, the targeted businessmen were perceived to be political opponents; seen as top financiers of opposing political parties and were becoming too powerful with their status.
The BoG as a conduit
Unlike the CVC days, where the setting up of the economic crime tribunal was solely dependent on the whims of a particular individual, the government used the Bank of Ghana as the conduit to get at its targeted people.
It first managed to effect changes within the administrative structure of BoG. Obviously, aware of why it was put in place, the new administration raised the bank’s minimum requirement from GHC120M to GHC400M without taking into consideration the operational scope of the various banks.
Therefore, any bank that could not raise the new minimum threshold was considered an endangered entity for any customer to save with them. And so by extension, these banks, majority of which are Ghanaian owned, would have no business operating within the Ghanaian banking space. It was indeed a rather subtle approach to convince many Ghanaians that these Ghanaian banks cannot be trusted with their deposits.
Ironically, it’s the same banks, some of which had helped Ghanaian businesses to grow over the years. They offered these Ghanaians loans with very low interests; adopted very innovative ways of encouraging savings among market women through their susu schemes and were easily accessible because of their geographical spread which also made it easy for remittances.
The BoG’s action indeed favoured the foreign banks. They were able to raise the new capital requirement because by their scope of operation; the GHC400 million was just a peanut as compared to the local ones which operation is tailored towards the Ghanaian informal sector and other small scale enterprises. The foreign banks are into big support-funding of oil and other big industry businesses and were, therefore, able to raise the minimum capital requirement.
The central bank also relied on the new Bank Specialised Deposit Taking Institution Act 930 to get into the operations of the banks to be able to declare a bank insolvent or in good standing.
Although the act was enacted to bring sanity into the banking sector, the mode of its implementation and the subsequent utterances by top Bank of Ghana chiefs after the closure of some of the Ghanaian banks both on the quiet and public revealed the real intent of the otherwise well intended act.
One of the deputy governors had been in the media further bruising the wounds of customers whose funds had locked up at some of the insolvent banks. The said governor cheekily said in a radio interview that the regulator was not under any form of obligation to pay affected staff and customers who had told stories of hardships since the exercise begun.
It is also a fact that another BoG chief virtually regretted down-stepping the status of one of the indigenous banks roughed in the BoG exercise. At a meeting with management of the said bank, the BoG management member did not mince words about his regret for just reducing the status of the bank, instead of declaring the said bank outright insolvent.
The pain of Ghanaian Banks
What is more intriguing is the fact that, some of the affected local banks had on no occasion sought financial support from the BoG as lender of last resort at any period of a bank’s liquidity challenge. Some of these banks then decided during the period of the banking sanitisation exercise to fall on the central bank for some financial injection, but were denied.
Some industry players, therefore, concluded that banks that were denied financial support at that crucial moment had long been the targets as the leaks preceding the BoG exercise had predicted. Again it’s obvious that owners of these banks are either not known people with affinity to the ruling party or even underground support-financiers of the governing party.
It, therefore, feeds into the conspiracy as was generated in the leaks that businessmen perceived to be political opponents were going to be the main targets. And indeed it has happened. Some even argued that if the BoG action was a genuine way of sanitising the banking system, the best option was to deal with people found culpable and allow the banks to operate as independent entities.
How sanitised is the banking system now?
Today the banks that were declared insolvent had been consolidated into a single entity yet the liquidity challenges that the amalgamated bank face are harsher than when those banks operated as individual entities.
There is indeed acute shortage of liquidity in almost every Consolidated Bank in the country; depositors cannot withdraw their funds; thousands of their employees are rendered jobless, while some of their high-profile employees engaged in menial jobs to survive.
What is even stoking further the government’s conspiracy is the fact that some of the Ghanaian banks that are still standing on their own had deficit portfolios worse than those declared insolvent. Checks reveal that most of these Ghanaian banks that were obviously saved by the BoG, have owners who are dye-in-the wool members or financial backers of the ruling party.
The BoG further exposed its diabolic agenda when it made it public that some of the insolvent banks were established through dubious means, alluding to the fact that they presented fictitious registration papers to the Banking & Supervision division of Bank of Ghana during the time of registration.
These banks may have paid a huge price for their actions; but who takes the blame? Were the bank owners the same people who scrutinised their papers and subsequently gave themselves the opportunity to set up the banks?
It’s one big question that will eventually be answered one day no matter how long this government stays in power.
STORY: DUKE YANKSON