‘I have a soft spot in my heart for Ghana’
The sole owner of the AMERI Group, His Royal Highness Sheikh Ahmed Bin Dalmook Juma Al Maktoum, who is a member of the ruling Maktoum family of Dubai, UAE, has spoken to Africawatch on the controversial Ghana-AMERI deal that hit the headlines in mid-December 2015. He describes it as “not a bad deal at all” because as a BOOT scheme, the AMERI plant, which is currently up and running, putting 250MW of emergency electricity into the national grid, has cost Ghana not even one cent, except for the electricity produced which will be purchased by the government. Our executive editor, Steve Mallory, went to Dubai to interview His Royal Highness Ahmed Al Maktoum.
Q: Your Highness, thank you very much for taking time to meet me on such short notice. You have been talking about striving for a “better world for the less fortunate.” What do you really mean?
A: I also want to thank you for visiting us in Dubai. You have come at a time when the weather is very nice and I hope you enjoy your stay.
It is an honor and a privilege to be a member of the Al Maktoum family, which is the ruling family of Dubai, and it comes with some responsibilities to humanity. You know that before we discovered oil here, our country was a desert and poor. A desert is a difficult place to live, so we struggled like any other developing country in terms of the economy and infra structural development. But today, with the discovery of oil and the judicious use of the oil money, things have changed drastically. Dubai has become a showcase for the world.
We are most grateful to God for giving us so much wealth, so it behooves us to give some back to society. That is why I am committed to generously support organizations and initiatives that will make the world better for the less fortunate. This is my personal philosophy and also the founding philosophy of the AMERI Group, of which I am the sole owner. Having money is one thing but giving back to society, particularly the less fortunate, gives me more happiness and pleasure.
Q: Did this philosophy inform your decision to invest in a power plant in Ghana?
A: I must say that I have a soft spot in my heart for Ghana. It is such a great country
with nice people. So when the country fell into darkness with severe power outages, I was worried. When you don’t have enough electricity to power your nation, almost ever thing will eventually come to a halt.
Businesses will shut down, unemployment will go up, socio-economic development will stall, and life in general will become miserable. The consequences of power shortage for any country are too dire to talk about Electricity is a critical component of the social and economic growth of any country and it is a necessity of life.
So, as part of my efforts to make the world a better place for the less fortunate, I decide
to invest in the power sector in Ghana to help the country end its energy crisis and keep it moving ahead.
One of my businesses, the African Middle East Resources Investment Group (AMERI), sent a proposal to the government of Ghana to install an emergency power plant on a Build, Own, Operate and Transfer (BOOT) basis and help the nation overcome its power crisis.
At the time the government had already reached out to a number ~f investors and companies who had given several offers that were on the table. Our offer was evaluated among several others that were available to the government, starting from rentals to all kinds of solutions.
Most of the offers that the government received, I understand, required Ghana to invest some money but this was a problem for the government at the time. So we worked with the government for a solution that will work well for them. We offered to bring in the
entire investment to the country, deliver the project on time, operate it for five years, and hand it over free of costs to the government and the people of Ghana.
The transaction was scrutinized at both the executive and the legislature branches. It was widely discussed in public and ultimately agreed upon by all stakeholders.
I want to repeat this in view of the controversy that has arisen over the deal: Our project is free of costs to Ghana. The government has not paid a cent and will not pay a cent for the plant. It will only pay us for the electricity we produce for them. The AMERI project is a genuine deal. It is not a bad deal at all for Ghana. So I don’t understand the hullabaloo that has arisen over it.
Q: But the deal, as you say, has generated a lot of controversy in Ghana …
A: To be honest with you, I don’t really know what all the controversy and noise are about. In February last year, I signed the agreement with the Ghanaian government for AMERI to build the emergency power plant in the country.
As I told you it is a BOOT agreement for five years, so AMERI is just like any other Independent Power Producer (IPP) in the
country. The Ghanaian government, through one of its agencies, the Volta River Authority (VRA), will pay us only for the power AMERI
produces and supplies to the national grid. No more, no less. The government will not pay us anything more than the electricity it buys
from us. So where is the controversy and noise coming from? And why should there be a controversy anyway about such a deal?
AMERI could have asked for a l0-year BOOT as some companies are doing in Africa, but I said “no, we will do a five-year deal,”
because I calculated that within five years we will make enough electricity sales in the country to cover our investment and have some margin of profit.
So after five years, it will be only fair to hand over the ownership of the plant and all its equipment to the government and people of Ghana for free, absolutely free. In five years’ time, if you were to appraise the power plant, I bet it would be worth more and the nation can run the plant for 20 more years.
I want a better life for the less fortunate and not to exploit people’s misery. So if you and other power contracts in the country, you will see that our agreement offers the best value for money.
We are a reputable company that respects our clients. So we bought the best possible equipment for the Ghana project, GE TM2500 gas turbines, from General Electric. They were brand new and it is state of the art technology. And I selected METKA, a firstclass company from Greece, as the EPe contractor for the project. METKA has very good experience with GE TM2500 gas turbines and they will work on the project throughout the five-year period to ensure maximum efficiency so that the required output is met at all times.
As you are aware, we have completed building the AMERI plant and production has started in full force, generating the maximum
250MW to the national grid, and this has helped improve the power situation in the country considerably. We all have to stay focused and not get distracted by tabloid newspaper gossips.
Q: I guess you are referring to the Norwegian tabloid, Verdens Gang (VG) that reported last December that the price of the contract between AMERI and the Ghana government was inflated. The newspaper claimed that the outright purchase of ten gas turbine would have cost Ghana $220 million instead of $510 million in your deal. How do you respond?
A: That Norwegian newspaper’s report was totally false and should be disregarded. It claimed it had a copy of the AMERI contract so either the reporters did not read it orthey simply chose to be mischievous. Or maybe the reporters can’t simply read and understand what they read. It is incredible that they said they had a copy of the AMERI deal and yet reported what they reported unless they have a hidden agenda, which I
suspect they have.
They even reported that Ghana would lease the ten gas turbines from us for five years. Lease what? It’s ridiculous! Our agreement clearly states that it is a Build, Own, Operate and Transfer deal for five years to install ten gas turbines to provide 250MW of emergency
power to the national grid.
You don’t lease anything in a BOOT deal. Or maybe the Norwegian reporters don’t understand what a BOOT deal is. In our contract, there is nothing like an outright purchase, rental or leasing of the generating plants by the Ghana government. Absolutely nothing like that!
And what is more: The Norwegian news- paper made it look as if you just go to the shop, pick ten gas turbines from the shelves for $220 million and you are done – and the next moment they start generating electricity for you. I don’t think they are as naive as some people are suggesting, but they actually crafted their story to mislead some people.
They did it on purpose, for an intended effect. They knew what they were doing.
To build a thermal power plant, apart from the cost of the turbines, there is a cost for the balance of the plant, there is a cost for installation, there is a cost for building substations, there is a cost for operation and maintenance, there is financing cost, there is management cost and others. Under the Ghana agreement, all these costs are being borne by AMERI. So if you add up all the costs, you will see that the profit margin is very limited.
As we sit here today, the Ghana government has not paid AMERI a cent, not even a cent. But the plant has been set up and it is in full operation. It is an investment brought by us to the country and we will recover our investment over a five-year period by making sure that we produce enough electricity to sell to the national grid. We are only going to get paid for the electricity we produce, but if we don’t produce anything, we don’t get paid. It is as simple as that. So what the Norwegian newspaper reported doesn’t make any sense
Q: Do you feel disappointed by the VG report?
A: Yes, I was very disappointed. For instance, they made insinuations to the effect that AMERI is a “mystical company” that doesn’t even have offices at all, because they went to the Emgate Building on Sheikh Zayed Road in Dubai and could not locate us. How could an office be a problem for a company that is involved in million-dollar deals?
If the VG reporters have done serious investigations, they would have realized that I own the entire Emgate Building. Anybody is welcome to visit our offices whenever they want after they had made the necessary appointments, and we will be happy to show them around.
The reporters also suggested that AMERI could be a middle company. That’s ridiculous. I have the financial means and resources to execute any agreement to which I append my signature. And whatever I commit myself to do, I make sure that I deliver on time. I come from the AI Maktoum family which has made Dubai what it is today through hard work and honesty. I take these ideals with me to wherever I go and in whatever I do.
I went ahead with the Ghana deal because it is clean and transparent – and more importantly all the major stakeholders in the country, including the Ministry of Power, the Attorney General’s Department, the Bank of Ghana and Parliament were involved in the transaction. How could we have pulled dollops of wool over the eyes of all these institutions and people in Ghana, respectable people in responsible positions in a proud country like Ghana! How could Parliament just have rubber-stamped the deal even if, for argument sake, the government had been negligent and signed a bad deal? Couldn’t Parliament have rejected it? What VG reported doesn’t make sense at all. But what else can one expect from a tabloid newspaper.
And also bear in mind that I have the integrity of the royal ruling family of Dubai to protect at all times – something I will not compromise for anything.
Q: The newspaper singled out Umar Farooq, the former CEO of the AMERI Group, attacking his credibility and character. You know Farooq, how would you describe him?
A: I have no issues regarding Farooq’s character. He is a good man. He has lived here in Dubai as a legal resident for about 12 years and he has no criminal record here or elsewhere in the world that I know.
Farooq left AMERI in August in order to enjoy the freedom to work on larger transactions than those we do here. He signed the AMERI contract purely as a witness, which has no legal bearing and meaning whatsoever other than the fact that he witnessed the signing of the deal- a deal I stand committed to regarding our obligations to the government of Ghana. Had Farooq been a criminal, it would be very surprising to me that there are multinational companies that still work with him. These are companies in Europe and elsewhere who deal in multi million dollars and big contracts. Would they open themselves up to a criminal who could harm their business by doing business with him?
And this criminal is supposed to have committed crimes in Europe for years and is wanted by the Norwegian and Swiss police, even by Interpol, for a long time. So why haven’t they arrested him when they know his address in Dubai? And after all that, big European companies are still dealing with Farooq? It doesn’t make sense.
Q: In your response to the VG story, you said, “the AMERI Group and its subsidiaries reserve the right to protect its business through every means available to it, including taking any legal action against anyone who tries to malign its business or its goodwill.” Those were tough words.
A: I have taken a stern stand against the malicious contents of VG’s report, and I will take them on. My company’s lawyers have already served them legal notices, which they have not responded to, and we are now in the process of filing a libel suit against the newspaper for slandering us. We have a reputation to keep, a reputation which we guard very jealously, and we will not allow any newspaper from anywhere in the world to destroy that reputation. We will take VG on!
Q: The newspaper allegations created some political heat in Ghana as some people in the opposition, taking their cue from the VG report, claimed that AMERI was created shortly before the deal with Ghana and that your company “came from nowhere to be handed this
lucrative deal on a ‘golden’ platter.” How do you respond?
A: These are very unfortunate comments. However, I understand that general elections are coming in November so the situation in the country is a bit tense. But I want to assure Ghanaians that I am not interested in their politics and will never take sides. I am only interested in the socio-economic development of the people and the nation, and I will continue to invest in the country with the people in mind and not any political party.
In transactions such as our deal with the Ghana government, it is necessary to set up a special purpose vehicle for financing purposes. You have to have an independent vehicle to move the project and to drive it through. In our case, we did set up AMERI as a special purpose vehicle, which was earmarked for the Ghana project. It was set up prior to the agreement, and in that sense it is a new-born company for the special purpose of this particular project. It is a normal practice in the business world.
Our two countries, the UAE and Ghana, have enjoyed friendly relations for a long time. And I want to help Ghana achieve more economic stability to speed up the growth of the nation. It’s a win-win deal for all; Ghana will benefit from our efforts and our company too will benefit. For example, our plant in Ghana is now giving a timely and needed service to the energy sector of a country that needs emergency power to make life better for the people and for its general development.
We will get some profit in the end, so it’s win-win for all.
Q: Do you have any message for the Ghanaian people?
A: Ghana can count me as a partner in their transformational development. Dubai is now a showcase for other countries and what-
ever I can take from Dubai in terms of resources and ideas to help the Ghanaian people, I am more than happy to do that. That
is the goal I live for, and for which my companies operate: to make life better for the less fortunate.
As I said, our two countries have been friends for a long time. We enjoy very cordial relations at the national level. As a member of the ruling Maktoum family, it is my wish and indeed a duty to further deepen the friendship between Ghana and the UAE. That is why I am keen to develop projects that will make life better in Ghana, a country that occupies a special soft spot in my heart. I want to help Ghana to develop.
“Actions speak louder than words,” do the English not say that? The AMERI plant, our first major plant in Ghana, is now in full operation, producing 250MW of electricity, which is going straight into the national grid.
The plant will be commissioned very soon for all to see what we have done. I guess it is the largest fast-track power project in West Africa at the moment that was built in record time – that is what we call the Dubai style.
The government of Ghana wanted to resolve the power crisis in the quickest possible way and we wanted to help. It is very distressing for a nation not to have enough electricity to power industries, businesses and normal life. That was the difficulty Ghana had on its hands, and that is why we chose to help – to make life better for the less fortunate, not to exploit the country.
The AMERI team and the people of Ghana ought to be proud of what we have achieved together and we should not allow any misleading newspaper report to dampen our spirits. Together, we shall build a better tomorrow for Ghana and its people. I believe there is more we can do together, one project at a time, to make Ghana a better place .•