Why Is Africa in Love with GVG’s RA Audits?

Following the big wide world of telecoms risk management leads me to the strangest places. So if I am reading TechnoMag, I have no reason to doubt their claim to be “the first all encompassing technology magazine in Zimbabwe”. But I do wonder why an article entitled “Zimbabwe Looks To Tackle Telecom Fraud With Technology” ends up reading like a love letter to Global Voice Group (GVG), the self-described revenue assurance specialists who routinely warn that every telco is corrupt and/or incompetent with the implication being that every government must pay GVG to monitor every call, message, and mobile money transaction. Even if GVG was correct about the criminality/greed/stupidity of every telco employee everywhere, would it not follow that there might be two businesses capable of providing governments with equipment to audit telecoms transactions, and not just the pan-African revenue assurance auditing monopoly that GVG seems to be steadily assembling? And how does a Zimbabwean journalist, with no background or knowledge of telecoms, come to the following conclusion?

…with the African continent having become a notorious hub of fraud against mobile network operators, Zimbabwe is not unique in their current dilemma. As such, there is a movement towards better regulation of the telecom industries in a number of African countries, in which Governments are taking a new approach towards this booming sector.

TechnoMag is seemingly so concerned with fraud that they copied, word-for-word, an article entitled “Zim Looks To Tackle Telecom Fraud With Technology” which was published by “award-winning media organisation” 263Chat a few days earlier. So there would be no point asking TechnoMag what they know, because they know nothing except how to type ctrl-c and ctrl-v on their keyboards. Perhaps the staff of 263Chat have researched telecoms regulation in other African countries, leading them to observe that:

…Ghana’s Minister for Communications, Ursula Owusu-Ekuful lauded the National Communications Authority (NCA) for spearheading the Common Platform project with local partner KelniGVG.

But how could a journalist doing even a basic Google search for KelniGVG fail to notice there was a lot of controversy over whether KelniGVG was a genuine Ghanian enterprise, or just a shell company created so a foreign business could sign a lucrative deal that will pay them USD1.5mn per month for at least five years? Whilst GVG’s website boasts of them working for eight different African governments, will Zimbabweans be told GVG are a ‘local’ outfit, in the same way that Ghanians were misled about the difference between registering a company and actually running a business?

The KelniGVG deal with the Ghanian government was so controversial that it was challenged in court. And fighting the deal took courage, with one of the most outspoken opponents reporting death threats to the police. How can a journalist write a properly-researched article about Ghana’s contract with KelniGVG without mentioning issues like these?

My suspicion is that no journalists wrote these articles. Personal experience confirms that the web is polluted by many charlatans offering to pay money to websites in exchange for publishing advertising disguised as news. Identical copies of this pro-GVG article can be found on multiple websites aimed at Zimbabwean and African audiences. Some of them openly state that the article was copied from another website. Others credit the article to a nameless ‘news correspondent’ or ‘staff reporter’. As such, it is impossible to identify an author. And it is unlikely that anyone would give a honest answer if the original publisher took a bribe to publish this thinly-disguised advert.

This leads me to the saddest conclusion of all. Nobody outside of Africa is writing mainstream news stories about revenue leakage in telecoms, so it is fair to assume that the average African would not know or care about this topic either. There is only one possible reason to influence public opinion in these countries: the governments are wary of criticism when they sign expensive contracts for revenue assurance audits. But why should they worry about justifying expenditure that is guaranteed to stop “extreme losses of revenue”? All they need to do is to point to all the extra revenues these assurance audits and systems have supposedly secured for the governments that have already purchased them. What could possibly be preventing them from doing that?

Eric Priezkalns
Eric Priezkalns
Eric is the Editor of Commsrisk. Look here for more about the history of Commsrisk and the role played by Eric.

Eric is also the Chief Executive of the Risk & Assurance Group (RAG), a global association of professionals working in risk management and business assurance for communications providers.

Previously Eric was Director of Risk Management for Qatar Telecom and he has worked with Cable & Wireless, T‑Mobile, Sky, Worldcom and other telcos. He was lead author of Revenue Assurance: Expert Opinions for Communications Providers, published by CRC Press. He is a qualified chartered accountant, with degrees in information systems, and in mathematics and philosophy.