Friday, January 29, 2010

MASLOC chases loan defaulters

Micro-finance and Small Loans Centre (MASLCO) says it is in the final negotiation talks with the Bureau of National Investigation (BNI), Serious Fraud Office (SFO) and the Police to prosecute loan defaulters under the micro-finance and small loans scheme, beginning February, for retrieval of the loan.

A whopping GH¢81,846,875 is owed by defaulting beneficiaries under the scheme since its inception in 2004.

“We will go on rampage and proceed aggressively on loan defaulters, who have been indebted to the MASLOC since inception. This will include seizure of cars, taxis, and outboard motors as well as assets - and also prosecution of individuals to retrieve the monies,” Chief Executive Officer of MASLOC, Bertha Ansah-Djan, disclosed in Accra at a media interaction.

“We have contracted the SFO and BNI, Police and Lawyers to conduct comprehensive investigations for possible prosecution for the retrieval of the loans,” she said.

“MASLOC is facing formidable challenges and this situation is crippling the scheme, denying others access to credit,” she added.

Ms. Ansah-Djan said the target group of the scheme is the productive poor and that the MASLOC sought to empower those in that category financially in the short-term, adding that those engaged in petty trading, farming and sale of farm produce with added value are considered as the beneficiaries.

She blamed the previous administration for failing to follow due diligence in disbursing money to beneficiaries, citing weak institutional checks and monitoring as well as improper documentation of beneficiaries.

She said the administration also failed to use banks to disburse the money to beneficiaries, resulting in the big challenge of recouping the money from defaulters.

“We are now going to put in place measures to involve the banks to disburse the money,” she stressed.

The scheme has already signed a Memorandum of Understanding with some selected rural and community banks which are to be directly engaged in the disbursement of loans to small and medium-scale businesses. This will ensure proper disbursement and due diligence on clients by the banks before loans are disbursed to beneficiaries.

Ms. Ansah-Djan said the new administration will try to manage MASLOC as a business entity that will help alleviate poverty in the society.

B&FT gathered that as at 2008 about 279,000 micro entrepreneurs had benefitted from the micro-finance scheme.

The past MASLOC administration also left behind empty coffers, and serious financial improprieties which had left the Centre redundant the whole of last year.

MASLOC was introduced in 2004 by the previous government in conjunction with the World Bank, with nine new regional offices launched in September 2006, with seed money of US$ 50 million towards the establishment of a Micro Credit Fund to provide capital to Ghana’s micro-finance initiatives.

Under the Scheme individuals, groups and businesses were eligible to apply for loans between GH¢100,000 and GH¢250,000. Groups need have a minimum of five and maximum of 25 members to access up to GH¢250,000. Each member of the group could access GH¢10,000, refundable within one year with 10% interest.

Other categories who could access loans from GH¢20,000 up to GH¢250,000 attract the going Bank of Ghana’s prime interest rate.

Quarterly release of GDP rate in March

Dr. Grace Bediako, Government Statistician, has disclosed that the Ghana Statistical Service (GSS) will from this year release the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rate quarterly to indicate the country’s economic direction.

The practice already exists in countries like the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, China and South Africa.

The first announcement is expected at the end of March this year. It will enable stakeholders including economists, analysts, policymakers and the investing community to evaluate the performance of the economy to make future projections.

It will also make known the direction of the economy in terms of employment creation, number of investments, and growth of agriculture, industries and services.

“The Service will do its best to release the growth rate every three months,” Dr. Bediako explained to B&FT in Accra.

The country’s economy recorded a provisional growth rate of 4.7 percent last year, after it had recorded a remarkable 7.3 percent in 2008.

The 4.7 percent was based on the first quarter assessment by the GSS. It said the growth was driven by agriculture. The sector, which represents about 35 percent of the growth rate, grew beyond its target due to good rainfall patterns.

However, the rest of the sectors grew below their projected targets.

The manufacturing sector could not grow beyond its target because the Tema Oil Refinery, which constitutes one-sixth of the total output, was shut down for most of 2009.

The retail and wholesale trade sector also performed poorly because there was a squeeze in the economy.

From a GDP growth rate of 3.7percent in 2000, GDP shot up to 4.2 percent in 2001, 4.5percent in 2002 and 5.2 percent in 2003.

The country’s economy further grew by 5.6 percent and 5.9 percent respectively in 2004 and 2005. The years of sustained growth peaked at 6.4 percent in 2006, after which an energy crisis slowed the country’s growth rate to 6.3 percent in 2007.

Gold, timber, cocoa, diamond, bauxite, and manganese exports are Ghana’s major sources of foreign exchange.

Experts meet on air safety

Ghana and the United States (US) Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) are working to resolve deficiencies in safety and security oversight in the country’s aviation industry.

The collaboration entails auditing safety measures in Ghana’s aviation industry against international standards and taking steps to boost the areas where standards fall short.

This will help the country’s quest to move from FAA Category II to I, and also position Ghana’s airspace as a preferred safety and security destination in the sub-region.

This came up during the 9th Cooperative Development and Operational Safety and Continuing Airworthiness Programme Steering Committee meeting and the Eleventh Plenary of the Banjul Accord Group, held in Accra on Monday.

The country’s airspace - called the Accra Flight Information Region, comprising the airspaces of Togo, Benin, Ghana and a large portion of the Atlantic Ocean has been considered as one of the safest in the world.

This year, Ghana also successfully implemented the Atlantic Ocean Random Route Area programme - a key international aviation requirement - to enable aircraft that fly over the Atlantic Ocean to fly with minimum wind effect and take advantage of the air currents over the Atlantic Ocean.

In a speech read on his behalf at the meeting, Mr. Mike Hammah, Minister of Transport, said government is committed to ensuring that Ghana is seen as a shining example of first-class aviation safety and security.

“The Ghana Civil Aviation Authority’s (GCAA) efforts to implement the International Civil Aviation Organisation and the Federal Aviation Authority Category 1 action-plan could not have come at a better time,” he stated.

Air Commodore Kwame Mamphey, Director General of the GCAA, indicated that at the present stage of the aviation industry, the West African sub-region needs to have a strong voice in matters relating to aviation safety and security.He said this could not be achieved on a with ease and that the sub-region needs to work at it as a strong regional grouping to ensure, first, that the collective airspace goal of safety and admirable security is achieved.

He explained to B&FT that the meeting will afford the member-states to exchange resources. He said Ghana has done very well to have attained the safety and regulation requirements, which is a very expensive venture.

The 9th Cooperative Development and Operational Safety and Continuing Airworthiness Programme steering committee and eleventh plenary of the Banjul Accord Group meeting had among other objectives to provide among the member states in the sub-region a focal point that deals with all questions relating to air operator certification and technical inspections with a view to harmonizing standards and all related policies and procedures.

It was also to facilitate a coordinated approach with regard to shared technical expertise made available to member states in order to avoid duplication of efforts and to ensure that CAA benefit to the greatest extent from these resources.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

ProCredit pledges more support to SMEs

ProCredit Savings and Loans Company Limited has pledged to deploy more tailor-made products and services to close the financing gap faced by the country’s Small and Medium-scale Enterprises (SMEs).

The SME sector covers about 85% of the economic activities in the country. Last year, ProCredit’s SMEs portfolio was valued at GH¢9 million and hopes to double the amount in 2010.

ProCredit’s loans portfolio grew by more than 18 percent to GH¢26.4 million in 2008. Deposits rose at a faster rate, increasing by 25.1 percent to ¢29.1 million in the same year. The company achieved its goal of being able to fund the entire loan portfolio with customer deposits.

It increased its financing support for the agricultural sector, which continues to be largely neglected by formal financial institutions despite its huge potential to create wealth and drive development.

These were made known in Accra at the opening of the company’s SMEs Clients Business Centre to provide tailor-made business solutions that satisfy the demands of SME’s in the country.

The Centre, which will operate on client-manager relationship basis, will ensure that clients receive the best investment advice to enable them contribute to the country's socio-economic development.

Mr. George Aboagye, Chief Executive Officer of Ghana Investment Promotion Centre (GIPC), and Mr. Raymond Bismarck, Deputy General Manager, ProCredit, inaugurated the facility in Accra.

Mr. Bismarck said the establishment of the Centre consolidated the company’s position as the best in developing innovative products to satisfy demands of customers.

“ProCredit proves once more its innovative approach through the creation of services fully dedicated to SMEs; this gives a more complete meaning to ProCredit's philosophy of better banking for everyone,” he said.

Mr. Bismarck said the company would continue to provide socially responsible products and services with a transparent pricing approach to SMEs, an area that was previously largely ignored by most financial institutions.

Mr. Aboagye called on the company to use the Centre to provide comprehensive, sound financial advice and support to SMEs to propel the sector into nationally renowned and multinational corporation status.

“Most SMEs could transform into highly profitable larger companies if they receive proper education, guidance and carefully crafted business plans”.Mr. Aboagye urged officials of the Centre to encourage stakeholders within the sector to patronise its services to promote expansion.

ProCredit, a member of the ProCredit Group International, began operations in Ghana in 2002 and currently has 23 branches serving 170,000 clients in six regions of the country.

Monday, January 18, 2010

2009 inflation target missed narrowly

Government’s end of year inflationary target has been narrowly missed as headline inflation for December 2009 recorded a figure of 15.97 percent against the target of 14.5 percent.

The December figure however represents a 0.95 percentage point drop when compared to the November figure of 16.92 percent.

The decrease was the lowest recorded in the year and was mainly attributed to the non-food group of the consumer basket, which constitutes 55.09 percent of the consumer price index (CPI).

Analysts are of the view that on average the economy has been resilient, being able to withstand shocks - especially in the heat of the global financial meltdown.

Analysts predict a further fall in year-on-year inflation this year, based on government’s broad fiscal and monetary policy framework, expectations for key commodity prices and a weakening US dollar.

With this drop, hopes are rekindled that interest rates - a major headache for businesses in the country - will continue to fall, with a possible cut in Bank of Ghana’s prime rate in the first quarter of 2010.

The Bank made its only cut in the rate at which it lends to the banks in November 2009, bringing it down by 0.5 percentage point to 18.0 percent.

The Ghana Statistical Service (GSS), which released the latest inflation figures in Accra last week, said the non-food component of the consumer basket was the main driver behind the movements in inflation rate for the whole year.

Dr. Grace Bediako, Government Statistician, briefing the media in Accra last week said the sectors that drove the decrease in the inflation rate were recreation and culture, furnishing, household equipment, clothing and footwear.

The rest were hotels, cafés and restaurants, while bread and cereals, vegetables, fish, and meat in the food and non-alcoholic beverage component also contributed high margins that drove the decrease.

Headline inflation began the year at 19.86 percent in January 2009 and rose all year to its highest level of 20.74 percent in June, after which it embarked on a downward trend.

The movements saw average inflation for 2009 rise to 19.29 percent, the highest in five years, from about 14 percent in 2008.

The factors that accounted for the rising inflation in the later part of 2008 were largely responsible for the increases in early 2009.

The new inflation rate is a major boost to the President Atta Mills-led government which marked its first year in office on January 7 this year. The government aims to stipulate economic activity in the year, after the strict stabilisation policies pursued last year.

A key target is to grow the economy by 6.5 percent this year from 5.7 percent last year, while bringing inflation down further to a single digit by end-December 2010.

IRS targets GH ¢ 2.23b this year

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is projecting revenue collection of over GH¢2.235 billion for this year, 2010.

The Service exceeded its targetted revenue collection of GH¢1,554,542,500 for the 2009, representing an increase of 14.4 percent.

“If the trend continues the revenue gap of 14 percent will close up to manageable levels. Though the global credit crunch threatened low revenues, 2009 was a reasonably good year for the IRS,” explained, Major (rtd) Daniel Sowah Ablorh-Quarcoo, Commissioner of IRS, at a media briefing in Accra.

He emphasised that the projection for 2010 is ambitious, but with the automation exercise set for the year and the 10 percent rent tax to boost revenue mobilisation, the 2010 tax target is attainable.

“The Rent Tax which was introduced last year operated in Tema, Teshie, Nungua and Legon and is expected to be extended to other areas in the Accra Metropolis this year, targetting commercial property and all estates in future.”

Maj. (rtd) Ablorh-Quarcoo disclosed that government is partnering with a private company to undertake the automation exercise, which is expected to be completed within three years.

It will computerise the major business processes of registration, assessment, collection and accounts and will also network Greater Accra on Wide Area Network.

Available checks at the Registrar-Generals’ Department show that as at 2009 there are 226,760 self-employeds registered in the informal sector, but only 53,352 are registered with the IRS and are being assessed to tax.

With the completion of the automation system, it will help IRS expand the tax net to reach more people and will also improve efficiency in tax administration and enhance transparency.

Tax experts have opined that the national revenue agency has failed to achieve success in its revenue mobilisation efforts due to its manual system of operation.

The automated regime will trigger the ability to access information, release staff from desk-work to increase field audit capacity, increase in-house communication, avail information to the public, eliminate duplication and offer transparency.

It will as well improve data availability for efficient revenue forecast, impose standards across the service, intensify and make taxpayer education easy and accessible.

Maj. (rtd) Ablorh-Quarcoo urged taxpayers to comply with tax laws and cooperate with tax authorities for a good relationship between taxpayers and tax administrators.

“Private organisations must endeavour to fulfil their tax obligations, without which the tax burden will be on salaried workers alone,” he stressed.

Opportunities 2010 conference launched

The Opportunities 2010 conference has been launched with a call on Ghanaians to be more creative in identifying opportunities and work even harder to create wealth and grow the economy.

The two-day highly informative conference, themed ‘Identifying Ghana’s Business Opportunities For Sustainable Wealth Creation’, will be held on 24th and 25th February 2010 and is envisaged to equip participants with the information, knowledge and resources needed to take full advantage of the opportunities in ensuing years.

It is also expected to offer a platform and opportunity for businesses to share information and experiences among themselves to succeed.

Professor Stephen Adei, former Rector of the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration who officially performed the launch in Accra, said the conference will build a healthy and sustained collaboration between business, government and civil society and is important for consensus-building in formulating sound economic policy.

“I believe it has now been amply demonstrated that if any country is going to build wealth, it’ll need to empower its citizens to start and grow businesses and attract as much investment from outside as possible.

“An important part of doing this is for entrepreneurs and policymakers to exchange ideas, share their expectations and generally help each other to perform their respective roles in the economy.”

Kofi Owusu-Nhyira, Chief Executive Officer of Forethought, organiser of the event, speaking with B&FT said the conference - which promises to be the country’s biggest high profile knowledge-based gathering - targets participants such as corporate executives, businessmen and women, professionals, industry experts, academicians, entrepreneurs, government officials, investors, think-tanks and the general public.

“The Opportunities 2010 conference is going to be the major forum for vigorous dialogue on business opportunities for this year in the Ghanaian economy.”

The conference will have strategic breakout sessions which will focus on specific industries in the country’s fast-growing economy, and explore all the business opportunities in each particular industry.

This will be facilitated by renowned industry experts who will be aided to assemble the most authoritative research information in the various industries. This is to allow for persons who belong to the same industry to interact while establishing contacts, networking and trading ideas.

The various sector-ministers will also deliver addresses that detail their respective directions in the year under review. The addresses will guide the general discussions - even as to which areas the government will pay specific attention in order to invite private sector partnerships.

Renowned personalities such as Richard Branson of the Virgin Group of Companies, Yaw Osafo Marfo, Mr. Philip Sowah, CEO of Zain Ghana, and Patrick Awuah of Ashesi University will join other heads of state institutions to deliberate on how to provide the necessary information for businesses to compete effectively in this knowledge-based society.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Vodafone Ghana deepens network quality

Vodafone Ghana has introduced a new Internet access facility to provide high-speed access to commercial Internet users and café operators in the country.

Vodafone Ghana has so far invested over US$600 million to improve service quality across its networks and the new Internet facility will allow Vodafone customers to continue getting superior quality services – high-speed mobile broadband, fast Internet connections, exclusive devices, the most reliable network.

Marc Norris, Vodafone’s Head of Fixed Services, said: “Vodafone will constantly improve quality and service, and by this significant improvement in our broadband service we are improving the terms of the offer to our loyal customers. Our aim is to provide high-speed Internet access to all of our customers.

“We will not share the roll-out of these services. Customers can continue to count on Vodafone to deliver the services they want at value-for-money prices. Customers will also continue to be first to get new innovative services,” he stated.

“Internet access services are key to the economy and society in Ghana. The services provided by Vodafone directly and indirectly via independent Internet cafes are key to Vodafone’s Internet strategy.

“Having listened to our customers, we can say that we are poised to deliver not only best service but best prices. We will continuously improve our offerings in this area of the market.”

As of now, only about 880,000 people out of the estimated 24 million Ghanaians have access to the Internet, according to the International Telecommunication Union - and the figure is increasing at snail’s pace at a time other African countries have leapfrogged into cyberspace.

Ghana is the first country in the sub-Saharan Africa region to pioneer the penetration of Internet services to homes, when in 1995 the Network Computer Systems (NCS) was licenced as the first Internet Service Provider in the sub-region.

But now the country is ranked third in terms of countries with the highest penetration rate in West-Africa.

Uche Ofodile, Head, Strategy and Brand of Vodafone, told B&FT that the company is committed to sustaining service quality to its 2.6 million active subscribers in the country, which will ensure communication and improve life among users nationwide.

“Vodafone currently has a mechanism of constantly monitoring network quality, to the admiration of its customers,” she said.

Vodafone Group Plc is a leading mobile communications company. The Group has mobile network ownership interests in 26 countries and partner networks in a further 33 countries - leaving an unmatched network footprint and having more than 200 million proportionate customers worldwide.

General Electric supports Apam Catholic Hospital

A delegation of the African American Forum (AAF) from the General Electric (GE) Company of the United States of America has commended the authorities of the Apam Catholic Hospital in the Central Region for putting the equipment donated to the hospital by the company in good use.

GE in 2008 provided the hospital with a Standby Generator, Overhead Water Tank, X-Ray Machine, Incubator, Body Warming Machine and Internet facilitities. In addition, a ten-member medical team is sent to the hospital annually by GE to give medical services.

Michael Barber, Vice President, Healthy Magination, of GE made this known during a facility inspection as part of five-day tour in some selected African countries and said: “We are very excited to start the year by visiting Africa, which has a huge potential for growth and development.

“We look forward to meeting the local leadership, deepening our understanding of local needs and discussing further how GE can partner with them to help deliver localised infrastructure solutions in energy, water management, healthcare, oil and gas, rail transportation among other sectors and help grow the region together.”

He explained that GE’s diversity initiative aims to strengthen African American employees in the company through professional development and also works to strengthen the bond s between the company and local African American communities.

GE has been growing significantly in Africa. In 2008, GE’s revenue in the region stood at US$3.5billion, an increase of almost 40 percent over 2007 figure.

The company has been in Africa for more than 100 years, and is active in over 35 countries providing employment for over 1,500 people on the continent.

GE has offices in Kenya, Egypt, Algeria, Angola, Nigeria, and South Africa; it also has businesses in Algeria, Angola and Nigeria, as well as a manufacturing plant for GE Security in South Africa.

Mr. Theophilus Aidoo-Mensah, Gomoa West District Chief Executive (DCE) expressed gratitude to GE for its immense contributions to healthcare delivery in the district.

He said government is currently providing the hostel with a laboratory, surgical ward, mothers’ hostel and staff quarters. All these projects are expected to be completed by the middle of 2010.

He assured the hospital that government will continue to partner with stakeholder to improve the infrastructure and equipment facilities of the hospital.

Sunrise Laundry Detergent unveiled

An environmentally-friendly laundry detergent formulated to clean and enhance the looks of clothes by softening the water and improving the cleansing power naturally has been officially launched in Accra.

The product, ‘Sunrise Laundry Detergent’ produced by Keypoint Systems Limited, is designed to give clothes a pleasant smell, a new look and always-fresh appearance.

Adding to the already existing washing powders in the Ghanaian detergent market, Sunrise Laundry Detergent offers its users the most latest technological procedures in its production, a dual-purpose detergent for both washing and at the same time sanitising.

Marian Afia Bediako, the Marketing Manager, launching the product saying: “Sunrise washing powder is a distinctive washing powder totally different from others, and it can be used for sanitising as well as washing, because it removes germs and bacteria when used on hands and surfaces.

“It is not just a washing powder but also a deep cleansing detergent that removes tough stains from all types of materials and surfaces.”

She explained that the product maintains the original colour of clothes and removes all stains, leaving a long-lasting pleasant smell and freshness - and it does not fade clothes.

Mr. Prince Owusu Agyemang, the Accounts Manager, said: “The Sunrise product is based on the latest technology procedures, carefully formulated to give you a happy washing experience.

“This new formula sunrise is zesty, designed to deep-clean your clothes while leaving a very pleasant smell; it has a new look, new formula and great cleaning performance. Sunrise is the number-one washing powder, tried and tested,” he said.

“Sunrise Laundry Detergent comes with large benefits to the user, including institutions such as hospitals and clinics, leaving freshness and a pleasant smell after use. In furtherance of these benefits, it contains enzymes and particles that brighten clothes,” Mr. Agyemang stated.

Sunrise, a division of Keypoint Systems Limited, was established in 2004 with the paramount objective of providing the Ghanaian Consumers a quality and affordable as well as environmentally friendly laundry detergent and related products.