Mobile money vendors: Who is protecting them?

Unemployment has been with us for years and when in 2009 telecommunications giant, MTN introduced Mobile Money services it was welcomed and hailed by many and the reason was obvious; it was an opportunity to take advantage of the rising unemployment situation, growing number of the unbanked population and massive progress in ICT or telecommunications. The result has been the huge figures recorded by both the central bank and the telecommunications companies as transaction volumes year on year basis for the past nine years as well as the many of our compatriots who have had gainful jobs through the mobile money services.

According to figures available, MTN which pioneered the mobile money services in Ghana has registered over two million subscribers as at October 2010 and was expecting that figure to quadruple in subsequent years since mobile phone users at the time was some 15,000,000. Almost a decade after, mobile money accounts alone are 22 million, nearly more than half of the 11.6 million accounts existing in the traditional banks as at October 2017, according to the Bank of Ghana. 

Now, around the same time the volume of transactions on mobile money grew from about GH¢51.4 billion in 2016 to GH¢109 billion as at September 2017 which represented a 112 percentage growth. In terms of employment, the mobile money service alone has created jobs for 194,000 vendors nationwide, a significant growth from the 136,000 figures of the previous year and that is direct jobs alone. At almost every mobile money vendor, there are indirect jobs created for cleaners, attendants, drivers and nearby food and water sellers.

From the above, it can be said that the emergence of the mobile money system has been positive to the economy. In a country where close to 80 per cent of the population are unbanked, the mobile money service, popularly referred to as MoMo has transformed the banking industry while promoting financial inclusion using proximity and access in a convenient way.

Many Ghanaians tell tales about how MoMo saved lives and situations for them. Regrettably however, many mobile money vendors have left their personal safety and the security of their money and other properties to chance, exposing themselves recently to armed attacks and this development unfortunate because it is a phenomenon if not quickly nipped in the bud could erase all the gains made.   

For some time now, hardly a day passes without news of an armed attack on mobile money vendors and their customers, and in most cases, the victims are shot, wounded and their monies and electronic equipment taken away from them. But there have been instances, vendors and customers get shot and killed in the process. This phenomenon started in Accra and has now spread to almost all major towns and cities across the country. As a result, many vendors and mobile money patrons are living in constant fear. One vendor around Kokomlemle in Accra has virtually caged himself in a tiny kiosk made of metals, having been robbed at gun-point on six different times in eight years. There is virtually no security at most mobile money joints, despite the huge transactions taking place in some cases. Police figures show over 30 cases of attacks on merchants/agents have been reported since the start of the year 2018. This is scary. For example, two people including a vendor were shot at Busia Junction in Accra some weeks ago. Earlier, two mobile money vendors were reportedly shot and killed by armed robbers at Afigya Kwabre and Bomso respectively both in the Ashanti Region while luck run out for a group of armed men who attacked a vendor at Madina in Accra. Sometime in 2017, there were similar incidents at Tatale, Walewale, Tema, Accra, Kumasi and Kasoa involving a significant number of innocent people who died.   

Following such incessant attacks, the mobile money vendors association appealed to the Ghana Police Service for protection as citizens to enable them go about their business in tranquillity – and that call was legitimate because these fear-gripped persons are citizens of the state and they are naturally or constitutionally entitled to such protection. But it is the police’s response and attitude towards that appeal that has surprised many Ghanaians. On February 11, 2018, the Greater Accra Regional Police Commander granted an interview to Citi FM, and was later reported to have remarked that the police cannot protect every mobile money joint. Considering the technical or operational challenges facing the police, that comment was initially thought to be fair until it appeared in the news on the 14th of the same month that “the IGP creates special directorate for embassies’ and missions’ security”. For a police service that can’t protect its citizens, the Ghana Police can afford to protect foreign missions so easily. The service has the men and women to provide security to foreigners and their installations. Ghana is a signatory to many international statutes and conventions and the country is expected to uphold its obligations, but thes same country is expected to diligently uphold its responsibilities towards Ghanaians.

These recommendations, hopefully will be useful in the on-going efforts to arrest the menace.

First, the police must prioritize protection of citizens because if for nothing at all, it is their taxes that are used to pay and accommodate them and used to buy equipment for their use. The slogan should be “Ghanaians first”.

The rising phenomenon has already deprived many families of their bread winners and if the overall impact of the situation on families, companies and the national economy in general is quantified against the impressive statistics enumerated earlier, then everything possible ought to be done to ensure this category of Ghanaians do not continue to be endangered. 

The porous and exposed nature of most mobile money points is part of the problem, but in the words of the Accra Regional Police Commander, DCOP George Alex Mensah “The banking sector is such that there is a law that without the presence of an armed officer you cannot open a bank so at the banks, if by 8am, the police officer is not there, you cannot open. There must be a regulation as to where you can operate a mobile money business.” That’s a very valid point perfectly with him and it is also recommended for the National Communications Authority (NCA), Ghana Chamber of Telecommunications, Bank of Ghana and the Ghana Police Service to collaborate and address the matter, improve and insist on standards to ensure only best practices are implemented in the financial intermediation arena.

For instance, it may be necessary for a regulatory regime spelling out where a mobile money point can be sited. The telecommunication companies through the Telecoms Chamber and the NCA must approve a uniformed design or architecture for all mobile money vending structures to have security features including installation of CCTV devices connected to a central monitoring area at either the NCA or police stations.

Now, while waiting on the police to find a way to offer free security for these vendors, what about an arrangement for paid security services? so for example, the vendors and their owners can liaise with the Telecoms Chamber to have armed guards stationed at various vending outlets and the cost either jointly shared among vendors and the telecoms network operator or assumed fully by the vendor. After all, he or she is engaged in business.

And while at it with the police, what happened to the Community Policing concept? Like many of the good ideas that have been abandoned, the concept was to give true meaning to contemporary policing. The police administration must revive it or ensure its Visibility personnel remain much more visible in the communities since mobile money joints are springing up at all corners in the neighbourhoods.

It is becoming increasingly necessary that the Ghana Police Service recruits more personnel to augment its numbers to face the rising internal security challenges of the state. This will enable the service to deploy personnel to economically prudent facilities like mobile banking sites. In the interim, it will be necessary for the vendors and owners to take their personal security a bit more seriously. They ought to be more vigilant, close early and customers must be advised not to wait till it is getting dark before they go out to transact business.

And lastly, government must speed up the process for the introduction of Mobile Money Interoperability. This will mean one will not necessarily have to go out to a vendor to receive or send money. It can be done in the comfort of one’s home or office on the phone. It would drastically reduce exposure to external physical attacks.

Like it or not, the mobile money system has done so much good. It has become an essential part of the country’s socio-economic system and the least that can be done will be to safeguard it by offering the needed protection for all who matter in the value-chain.

By Emmanuel J.K Arthur
Copyright ©2018 by Creative Imaginations Publicity
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