There is very scanty information about the deal, but reliable sources close to the negotiations told ADOMBUSINESS a deal was nearly closed between the embattled owners of Expresso, Sudan Telecoms (Sudatel) and Jospong about two months ago, but it has delayed for a number of reasons.
Pundits have suggested that the delay could be because Jospong was going through challenges in its dealings with GYEEDA, which has eventually resulted in the company being ordered by Ghana government to refund over GHC140million to the state, as moneys wrongfully paid to it by GYEEDA.
But a reliable source debunked that assertion and said the delay is from Sudatel’s side. Sudatel is owned by the Sudanese government so all of its dealings are fraught with politics and administrative bureaucracies; plus it also needs to sort out debt issues before closing the deal with Jospong.
Some top officials of Expresso Ghana confirmed to ADOMBUSINESS that the workers are aware the telco is for sale. They said the Managing Director, El Amir Ahmed El Amir has been shuttling between Ghana and Dubai very frequently lately to participate in negotiations for the sale. The sale is being managed from Dubai where Expresso is headquartered.
Sudatel has been struggling to run its operations in Africa effectively due to international sanctions on Sudan. Moving money around to recapitalize the telco has been a herculean task for Sudatel. Recently it sold its 70% shares in Nigeria’s Intercellular as well. But it still has operations in Senegal, Mauritania and Guinea.
Expresso Ghana itself has been suffering badly for many years, losing subscribers every month and unable to fulfill financial obligations to some business partners. With 147,731 subscriptions as at October 2013, Expresso now has a paltry 0.54% market share.
Meanwhile, there are a number of legal issues hanging around the company’s neck in Ghana. The Founder of Celltel/Kasapa (now Expresso), Kludjeson International, is still claiming to be sole proprietor of the company, in spite of a court ruling in 2005 and subsequent ones that suggest otherwise (the famous Inter-Ideal saga).
Sudatel is said to have cited the unending litigations with Kludjeson as another reason it wants to get out of Ghana.
Kludjeson International has recently given public notice to any potential buyer of Expresso to be weary of dealing with Sudatel.
The industry regulator, National Communication Authority (NCA) says it only got to know Expresso was for sale through a media publication but it has no official notice about the deal and who the buyer is.
The NCA says there are regulatory requirements to be met since the ownership and or shareholding structure would change. It is however standing by for official communication from the parties involved.
Sources close to the deal say the parties involved are fully aware of their regulatory obligations and they would come to that once the deal is closed.
But pundits have been asking whether there are no regulatory obligations to be met prior to closing the deal, particularly regarding the capacity of the buyer to meet customer expectations in terms of service quality.
A highly placed industry person told ADOMBUSINESS the law (Electronic Communication Act, Act 775, 2008) does not allow the regulator to participate in takeovers until they are done. The source thinks the law is not fair to the state because there could have been some financial benefit to the state in such takeovers.
Conflict of interest
Meanwhile, there have also been the question of conflict of interest because one of the members of the Jospong Group, the embattled Subah Infosolutions Limited, is supposed to be doing electronic audit on all telcos; and now Jospong is about to run a telco, if the Expresso deal is closed.
The critics are wondering how Jospong could run a telco and also run a company that audits telcos – whether that would not give Expresso an unfair advantage over other telcos, in terms of Subah exposing classified information from other telcos to Expresso.
Some experts think that could easily be sorted out. But others believe conflict of interest is a critical issue in this matter. Meanwhile, Subah is said to have signed non-disclosure agreements with each telco. “But that is just on paper,” one critic said.
Meanwhile, some of the big personalities involved in the deal, particularly on Jospong’s side of the table are two former top officials of the NCA, Joshua Peprah and Bernard Forson.
Forson was a former Director-General of the NCA and Peprah was the recently out-gone Director of Regulatory Administration of the NCA. Indeed Peprah is also working closely with Subah Infosolutions.
Jospong has recently lost some GYEEDA contracts and is allegedly planning to lay off workers in their droves. The President has also ordered investigations into how GHC75million of the taxpayer’s money was paid to Subah for no work. The order could lead to a refund that would affect Jospong.
When ADOMBUSINESS reached Communications Director for Jospong, Robert Coleman, he said he was not aware of any plans to buy Expresso, so he passed the buck to his boss Dr. Joseph Oppong Siaw, who did not pick his calls and did not also respond to text messages sent to him.
Expresso presence in Africa
Expresso is an African telecommunications services company. It provides telecommunication services in five African markets: Mauritania, Senegal, Guinea, Ghana and Nigeria. The company is a key player in the implementation of the Africa Coast to Europe (ACE) submarine cable. Sudatel owns 75% of the total Expresso shares.
Expresso started Chinguitel in Mauritania in 2006. Sudatel owns 68% shares in Chinguitel. By August 2007, Chinguitel established a CDMA network, providing full coverage across that country.
In November 2007, Expresso Senegal became Expresso’s second ‘green field’ operation. Sudatel’s share is Expresso Sengal is 75%.
In July 2008, Expresso Telecom acquired 100% of Ghana’s Kasapa Telecom Company. Sudatel share in this company is 75%, which it is now selling to Jospong.
In December 2008, Expresso Telecom acquired 70% of Nigeria’s Intercellular but has since sold it off to another operator.
Expresso also acquired 100% ownership of Intercel Guinea SA, which started operations in 2012.