Leading test call vendor SIGOS has been hired by the nation of Ghana to do 400,000 simbox fraud test calls per month, providing assurance for calls that terminate across all telcos in Ghana. This will be more than treble the number of test calls currently conducted on behalf of Ghanian telcos, according to a press release from SIGOS’ business partner, Afriwave.
Test calling to identify simbox fraud is usually performed by vendors on behalf of individual telcos. The scale of the nation-wide program to be implemented by SIGOS is unusual, though CEO Adil Kaya seemingly believes that other countries will follow Ghana’s precedent:
The mandate Afriwave received to fight telecommunications fraud across all national networks represents a milestone. Many countries will follow this efficient approach to reduce and finally eliminate SIM Box Fraud to ensure the benefit for network operators and to avoid damage on (sic) national interest.
Perhaps Kaya is right, but I am not so sure. In Ghana, the fight against simbox fraud is oddly political. As a result, Commsrisk has not just covered stories where telcos have fought Ghana’s government over simbox fraud, but also stories where government agencies were fighting each other! Afriwave won a contract to implement a national interconnect clearing house, and one of the government’s recurring claims was that this project would lead to a reduction in simbox fraud, even though I can see no obvious synergies between having a single clearing house for national traffic and executing a test program for traffic that does not pass through that clearing house.
Nobody in Ghana can doubt that an anti-fraud program could have been implemented separately from the clearing house. Afriwave were awarded their contract by Ghana’s comms regulator, the National Communications Authority (NCA), who have been trying to use legal manoeuvres to shutdown an existing anti-simbox program run by rival vendor Subah on behalf of the Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA), the national tax collecting agency. If Subah can do their work for the GRA without needing a national interconnect clearing house, and telcos already did test calls before anyone said they needed a national interconnect clearing house, it is far from obvious why SIGOS’ services were engaged as part of a project to implement a national interconnect clearing house.
Certainly the Ghanian people have heard all sorts of contradictory messages about how different nations tackle simbox fraud. Whilst Kaya calls this anti-fraud program a ‘milestone’ that others will follow, some government advocates have previously claimed the project awarded to Afriwave was an example of Ghana following ‘global best practice’. Maybe a project can set a new standard for others, or maybe it follows a standard set by others, but it cannot do both at the same time.
Some nations have set a very different precedent for countering simbox fraud – they took away the motive by eliminating the arbitrage opportunity. The real reason for all those test calls is that Ghana’s government wants to make a lot of money from inbound international phone calls. In other words, they are taxing everyone who phones Ghana, and that leads some to evade taxes. Rather than pouring resources into law enforcement, it would be better for Ghana’s economy to encourage foreigners and Ghanian expats to call businesses and individuals in Ghana, rather than making them pay extra taxes to do so. From that perspective, I find SIGOS’ statement to be unhelpful, and not in the interests of the Ghanian people, or any other people whose governments might follow Ghana’s example.
But perhaps we should look on the bright side. VoIP calls that terminate on a smartphone app are already exempt from taxes. So unless SIGOS, Afriwave and Ghana’s government have a way to prevent the rise of OTT bypass, their taxes will dwindle anyway.