Minister of Communications and Digitalisation Ursula Owusu-Ekuful has said that cryptocurrency is happening, and Ghana can no longer sit on the fence, but needs to find ways of making it benefit the Ghanaian economy.
She was delivering her keynote address on day two of the Ghana Canadian Diaspora Investment Summit in Toronto – Canada, organised by the Ghana Investment Promotion Centre (GIPC) to strategically engage the Ghanaian Diaspora with the view to attracting their long-term investments and partnerships for Ghana’s development. The theme for the summit was ‘Grow in Ghana, grow with Ghana’.
Bank of Ghana has, since June 2018, issued a circular declaring cryptocurrency illegal in Ghana; and therefore, warning all financial institutions not to transact crypto, and also cautioning the public against all crypto platforms.
The central bank has since made it a practice to always go after any crypto platform that emerges in Ghana, and warns the public against doing business with such ‘unlicensed’ and ‘illegal’ platforms.
Meanwhile, the BoG is currently piloting its own central bank digital currency (CDBC) called the eCedi which, unlike cryptocurrency that is not backed by any currency or central bank, is backed by Ghana’s cedi and BoG, and can be trusted to be more stable.
But Ursula Owusu-Ekuful noted that whereas it is good for the Bank of Ghana to be piloting the eCedi, which is backed by the Ghanaian cedi, it is also important to acknowledge that cryptocurrency, which is deemed illegal in Ghana and many other countries, is happening and fast gaining legitimacy, so “we can no longer sit on the fence”.
The minister compared crypto today to VoIP (voice over Internet protocol) like WhatsApp call, Facebook call, Telegram call and others in the past, saying that VoIP used to be illegal, and several steps were taken to clamp down on operators that allowed it then, but today it is the norm. “In the same vein, cryptocurrencies that are now illegal may very well become the norm many years down the line,” she said.
The minister’s call is no different from what the Chairman of Ghana.com, Professor Nii Narku Quaynor, said not long ago that Ghanaian regulators are dragging their feet on cryptocurrency like they did when he (Dr. Quaynor) first brought the Internet to Ghana.
According to him, he virtually had to beg regulators to set out regulations for the Internet so that Ghana could be the Internet access hub for the whole of Africa, but they sat by and allowed foreigners to take over the space and spread across Africa before they finally designed regulations for him.
Dr. Quaynor, who is currently championing blockchain technology in Ghana, therefore called on the Bank of Ghana to stop restricting financial sector operators from transacting in crypto, and rather use regulatory innovation to position Ghana to benefit fully from the global blockchain revolution and its attendant technologies like crypto, DeFi (decentralised finance), NFTs (non-fungible token) and others.
It is worth noting that BoG has recently started and Regulatory and Innovation Sandbox, which allows innovations around blockchain to be tested within that controlled environment.
Ursula Owusu-Ekuful, however, lauded the central bank for creating the enabling environment through legislation for Ghana to now have one of the most dynamic financial technology (Fintech) industries on the continent, with 71 licensed players creating loads of jobs and also driving financial inclusion through innovation.
She noted that the Fintech industry has made payments at all levels very convenient, safe, transparent, and brought accountability to simple stuff like religious (church offerings) and social (funeral) contribution because funds given for such purposes could easily be tracked.
Continental payment cards
According to her, the talent and innovations in the Fintech industry clearly shows that there is no reason why Africans should keep using international payment cards like Visa and Mastercard and keep paying steep fees of up to 3.5 percent of the amount transacted, which end in foreign banks.
“Why can’t we develop our own local and continental cards and reduce the fees for our people and also keep all of that money within the continent to finance our development,” she asked.
“We have done it with mobile money, and I believe we can do it with payment and credit cards,” she said.
The minister believes even that need presents huge investment opportunities for Ghanaians in the diaspora to collaborate with the players in the Ghanaian Fintech industry to create such solutions for the continent.
According to her, COVID-19 gave rise to the adoption of digital technology in Ghana, and that became the silver lining for the country in the midst of the devastating impact of the pandemic.
She noted that Ghanaians were able to transition to digital platforms much easier and quicker because government had, since 2017, started implementing its digital transformation agenda which came in handy when COVID hit hard.
Ursula Owusu mentioned the paperless port system, digital address system, Ghana Card, mobile money interoperability, Ghana.gov, GhanPay, GHQR, e-procurement portal, e-justice system, smart workplace, drones for medical delivery and many others, all geared toward making government run more efficiently with less human intervention, reduced corruption and improved revenue collection.
She said government has since rolled out several digital technology interventions in education, health, agriculture and other areas to sustain the high digital adoption level among citizens and its attendant exponential growth in Internet usage.
According to her, government also gave out free spectrum to Vodafone and MTN to expand their capacities and effectively cater for the congestion that resulted from the boost in data consumption, adding that operators with 2G licenses were also allowed to deploy 3G technologies in unserved and underserved area without any additional licensing fees to allow easy access to high-speed data connectivity across the country.
She touched on the Ghana Cares Obatampa programme, saying it was designed to stabilise, revitalise and to create jobs and prosperity for Ghanaians over a three-year period in the post pandemic era.
Ursula Owusu-Ekuful told summit participants that the Ghana Cares programme is in two phases – a stabilisation phase that ran to the end of July 2020, and a revitalisation phase which is runs from 2021 to 2023.
“The first phase focused on stabilization of the economy, including food security, supporting buisnesses and workers, strengthen the health system, and passage of legislation to facilitate quick economic recovery.
“The second phase will focus on supporting commercial farming, and attracting educated youth into agriculture, building Ghana’s night manufacturing sector, developing engineering machine tools and ICT digital economy, developing Ghana’s housing and construction companies, and renewing and optimising the implementation of government flagships and key programmes…” she stated.
She said government is confident that the phase two programmes will move Ghana into the industrialisation and manufacturing phase, which then presents lots of investment opportunities for Ghanaians in the diaspora to form partnerships with both foreign and local businesses and take advantage of them.
The minister particularly laid out some investment opportunities in the technology sector that she believes Ghanaians in the diaspora can collaborate with locals and take advantage of.
In reference to the AfCFTA Hub, she said Ghanaians in the diaspora can create business hubs and connect with the recently launched AfCFTA Hub in Ghana so they could have easy access to SME producers and suppliers, as well as financiers and regulators in a one-stop shop situation.
According to her, such businesses can gain access to even more opportunities through the hub to the rest of Africa, and even make and receive payments in all currencies on the hub.
Ursula Owusu-Ekuful was also quick to diffuse the notion that the Ghanaian Government favours Chinese companies like Huawei and ZTE when it comes to investment in the tech sector, saying that the Chinese usually offer cost-effective solution, but there are still numerous opportunities that remain untapped in the sectors.
Canadian exports to Ghana have grown by 8.97 percent annual from US$23.8million in 1995 to US$372million currently, while Ghana is doing around US$100million worth of exports to Canada, and the minister said this provides the opportunity for Ghanaians at home and in the diaspora to partner and do more to bridge that gap.