Assessing the NLA’s Progress Under Sammi Awuku: 24 Months On.
Seven months into the second tenure of the sitting President, H.E Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo had made some new appointments and reshuffled a few appointees, but the retorts that will follow the announcement of the then National Organizer, Sammi Awuku, as Director-General of the National Lottery Authority (NLA) could deter even the hard-nosed from taking the job.
It spanned assertions of his inexperience in corporate governance, his incapacity to handle an organization previously managed by military men and technocrats, his lack of experience in lottery and revenue generation, to warnings from a church youth to reject an “indecent and ungodly appointment.”
Perhaps the only empathetic voice in the public space would be that of the appointing Authority, President Akufo-Addo, who believed in the choice he had made and thus urged his appointee with the words, “Sammi, I think you can make a difference. Go out there and show the world what you can do.”
After twenty-four months of managing the NLA, has Sammi Awuku proven his critics right or wrong? Has he justified the confidence reposed in him? Is the NLA any better than it used to be, or worse off than he met it?
Let’s put the NLA in perspective, shall we?
Fortune House, one of the iconic buildings on the high street of Accra, credited with transforming the lives of many Ghanaians, now exemplified an organization with a battered image riddled with deep-seated problems and needed its fortunes turned around. Still, like a man on a mission, Mr. Awuku was determined to rewrite the story of the NLA when he walked onto the premises on 9th August 2021.
He hit the ground running by embarking on a trip to one of the most prosperous lottery bodies in the West African sub-region, the Lotterie Nationale De Cote d’Ivoire (LONACI).
His objective? Carry out a fact-finding mission to understudy what the Ivorian lottery body was doing differently to gain so much profit.
Several trips to Ivory Coast would develop a relationship that would endear NLA to the Ivorians and win their unwavering support.
This support is seen in a delegation led by the Director-General of LONACI, Mr. Dramane Coulibaly, who also doubles as the President of the African Lotteries Association (ALA) attending the relaunch of NLA’s Caritas Lottery Platform and the launch of the NLA Good Causes Foundation in October 2021 and presenting the Foundation with Sixty thousand Dollars ($ 60,000.00). This relationship will also help the NLA get re-accepted into ALA, having been kicked out from the Association a couple of years ago.
At an annual event that celebrates and highlights the importance of horse racing in sports lottery on the African Continent in Morocco, the Grand Prix d’Afrique, Mr. Awuku pitched for NLA to host the next African Lotteries Association Seminar on Responsible Gaming and won the bid.
NLA, therefore, got to host the Seminar on Responsible Gaming as part of its 60th Anniversary Celebration in December 2022, drawing over 20 lottery bodies and about 150 people across Africa, Europe, and North America to Ghana.
The President of the World Lottery Association (WLA), Ms. Rebecca Paul, and her General Secretary, Ms. Lynne Roiter, visited Africa for the first time to attend this event.
For the next four days in Accra, they were thrilled to a series of events that culminated in the Grand Durbar of NLA’s 60th Anniversary Celebration, with H.E President Nana Addo Dankwa Akuffo Addo as the Special Guest of Honour. H.E. President Akufo-Addo repeated history by pressing the knob for the first winning number as Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah did 60 years ago for the first winning number and prize money of Five Thousand Pounds (5,000.00).
Hosting about 150 people in Ghana, most of whom were experiencing the Ghanaian culture, food, music, dance, and hospitality for the first time, not only put NLA on the global lottery map but also contributed to our tourism industry, ultimately generating revenue for our country.
NLA has since attained Level 2 Certification in Responsible Gaming from the World Lottery Association and is working to achieve Level by the end of the year.
While visiting the Ivory Coast on the assumption of office, Mr. Awuku and some Management members also paid working visits to Nigeria to have discussions with the Director-General of the National Lottery Regulatory Commission, Mr. Lanre Gbajabiamila, on how NLA can receive some royalties for Nigeria’s use of its Draw numbers.
These visits would, almost two years on, earn NLA Eighteen Million Ghana Cedis. (GHS 18,000.000.000) in royalties, Thirteen Million Ghana Cedis. (GHS 13,000.000.000) from Ivory Coast. NLA’s 5/90 Game has been exported to Ivory Coast and Nigeria and is now being officially played there via NLA’s online partner, KGL Technology Limited.
Conversations held on the side-lines of a trip to Morocco in March 2023 with the Director Generals of Liberia and Burkina Faso will set the tone for NLA’s 5/90 Game to be exported to both countries for royalties by the end of 2023.
INCREASED REVENUE GENERATION
KGL Technology Limited, one of the leading companies of the KGL Group, online partner, and Third Party Collaborator of the NLA, contributed to Mr. Awuku’s woes on the assumption of office. It was professed as one of the banes of the Authority’s dwindling business; thus, cancelling the contract would restore the Authority’s Fortunes.
In examining the state of affairs, Mr. Awuku, with the support of the Governing Board, decided to renegotiate the contract sum from Twenty-Five Million Ghana Cedis (GHS 25,000,000.00) to Fifty-Five Million Ghana Cedis (GHS 55,000,000.00).
A deal that not only doubled the contract sum but also contributed Two Million Ghana Cedis (GHS 2,000,000.00) to the Authority’s Good Causes Foundation and Three Million Ghana Cedis (GHS 3,000,000.00) as a stabilization Fund to the Lotto Marketing Companies (LMCs) to cushion their business.
In 2023, the KGL Sum Contract moved up to Sixty-Five Million Ghana Cedis (GHS 65,000,000.00) and, together with the royalties from Ivory Coast and Nigeria, is paying NLA a total sum ofNinety Six Million Ghana Cedis (GHS 96,000,000.00).
NLA has also signed on new Third-Party Collaborators, including Afri Lotto Systems Limited, operator of the Afriluck 6/57 Mega Jackpot, Zeta Technologies Ltd., operator of the Mega6 Lotto, Game Park Limited, operator of the Pick 4 and Pick 1 Games, Blue Star Hi-Tech Company Ltd and Fortune Synergy Limited, operator of the Mega Fortune.
Apart from generating revenue for NLA, these wholly owned Ghanaian businesses, operating Games that are not 5/90, have injected some excitement and variety into the lottery space.
NLA’s licensed Private Lotto Operators (PLOs) operating under the frameworks of the National Lotto Act, 2006 (Act 722) and Veterans Administration Act, 2012 (Act 844) pay a current annual renewable license fee of One million, Five Hundred Thousand (GHS 1,500,000.00) Ghana Cedis and Five Hundred Thousand Ghana Cedis (GHS 500,000.00) respectively.
Mr. Awuku has stated on several platforms that the NLA is working in collaboration with the security agencies to clamp down on all unlicensed illegal lottery operators, and no friend or foe will be spared when caught as the NLA will only be fulfilling its obligations of raising revenue for the state.
THE CARITAS LOTTERY PLATFORM & THE GOOD CAUSES FOUNDATION
“This promotion is regulated by the National Lottery Authority on the Caritas Lottery Platform” must be a familiar refrain on most consumer promotions on our airwaves.
The Caritas Lottery Platform, established in 2012 to regulate consumer promotions, suddenly dropped, giving the Gaming Commission the upper hand to regulate the space.
Three months into Office, in October 2021, NLA relaunched the Caritas Lottery Platform and launched the Good Causes Foundation, graciously done by the Chief of Staff, Hon. Akosua Frema Osei-Opare.
NLA also petitioned the Office of the Attorney General to clarify who should regulate the consumer promotion space. In an advice from the Office of the Attorney General and Minister for Justice in August 2022, NLA was named as the sole statutory body, to the exclusion of all others, to regulate all consumer promotional schemes with elements of chance (raffles, draws, points-based selection criteria, etc.).
The Caritas Lottery Platform has since bounced back, giving legitimacy and credibility to promotions by Corporate Ghana and assurance to consumers. Managers of the Platform have gone beyond raising revenue to provide clients with essential feedback from the market regarding what people are thinking about their brands and products.
The Good thing is proceeds from the Caritas Lottery Platform fund the NLA Good Causes Foundation.
The Good Causes Foundation stems from Section 2(3) of the National Lotto Act – stipulates, “NLA conducts, as part of the operation of National Lotto, a lottery to provide care and protection for the physically or mentally afflicted, the needy, the aged, orphans, and destitute children.”
NLA, therefore, operates its Good Causes Foundation under four pillars: Education, Health, Youth and Sports Development, and Arts and Culture.
The Foundation has built recreational centres, sanitary facilities, mechanized boreholes, refurbished schools and hospitals, granted scholarships to brilliant but needy students, and provided educational and medical equipment, amongst many others, for communities, individuals, and institutions nationwide.
NLA says it invests in these projects to fulfil its statutory obligation, give back to the communities in which it operates, and let our patrons know that when patrons do not win, their money supports national development.
Mr Awuku’s critics, however, say the Good Causes Foundation is concentrated in the Eastern Region to help him win the Akuapim-North seat. He refutes that the records of projects undertaken since 2021 and ongoing projects have been made public in several publications by the Authority and can be easily verified.
As the local slang goes, is it a case of “outside gentility, home cry,” where the Authority, albeit fulfilling its mandate in Section 2 (3) of its National Lotto Act, gives to society at the expense of the welfare of Staff?
According to the Coordinator of the Good Causes Foundation, Amma Frimpong, over 70 Staff who have applied to the Foundation, primarily for medical aid and scholarships, have all received support with outstanding requests to be granted in the last quarter of the year.
EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENTS AND STAFF DEVELOPMENT
“I am not here to inherit anybody’s enemies; I am here to generate revenue; let us put our hands to the wheel and work together…” This statement by Mr Awuku on his first day at NLA undoubtedly endeared many of the Staff to him, yet some of his worst critics have been the NLA Staff. In his own words, he is loved and hated in equal measure.
Staff and salary upgrades for Staff who had been on the same grade at NLA for over ten years and more, the Institution of the Cola Scheme, Medical insurance, Team bonding activities, Fuel subsidies, and Training Opportunities both locally and abroad are reasons some Staff appreciate the Director-General.
Yet, some Staff have alleged the award of contracts to family members of the Director-General and the sole source of such agreements. For instance, the building of a Data Centre, Monitoring System, and ERP have emerged.
According to Mr. Samuel Awuku, one of the challenges he noticed NLA grappling with on assumption of office in August 2021 was the absence of a Data Centre and an automated platform.
Some of the challenges identified include:
1. Systemic weakness due to lack of real-time transparency regarding transactional data.
2. Revenue generation and cash flow management due to the volume of transactions that the automated platform permits and the opacity that the current system brings, causing huge risks for large pay-outs due to nefarious internal or external actors who take advantage of the disorganized information flow of the system.
3. Different software systems that the NLA depends on, which are owned by its partners and collaborators, put the NLA at a disadvantage during disputes and resolutions—for instance, a shutdown by technical partners, which happened in the past.
After analyzing various alternatives,’ financial and non-financial benefits and risks, Management decided to invest in an NLA-owned custom-built comprehensive Lotto Monitoring Enterprise Resource Planning Solution that will provide direct and easier access to real-time data and transparency of its operations.
In the long run, the solution will save the institution an estimated Four Hundred and Eighty-Eight Million Ghana Cedis (GHS 488,000,000.00) over the next ten years.
After multiple presentations, the NLA Governing Board approved the solution’s procurement.
Owing to the security implications of procuring an IT solution and NLA being a government agency, it was not prudent to open this bid up, a fact PPA acknowledges, thus granting NLA approval, particularly to a service provider who had understudied and identified the systemic challenges the Authority was faced with.
One would wonder if the Staff crying foul belongs to the camp of those who take advantage of the lapses in the system to steal from the company, some of whom have recently been indicted by the National Signals Bureau.
An audit of the Authority revealed that about Eighteen Million Ghana Cedis (GHS 18,000,000.00) had been lost between 2021 and March 2023 due to these lapses in the system.
The Governing Board directed a complete investigation of all Staff to ensure that others were not involved in the misconduct, inviting the presence of the NSB to the NLA premises, with Staff duly informed of their presence.
Even though the Authority has approval to build the Data Center, the project has been shelved until the Authority is in a great position to do so.
Mr Awuku debunks the assertion that about 90% of contracts awarded are sole-sourced and says, on the contrary, a recent audit pegs the figure to 20%. Other Contractual Agreements attributed to the Director-General’s family have also proven untrue, and can easily be verified from the Public Procurement Authority, Registrar General and the NLA.
Checks revealed that Sammi Awuku has personally decided not to take salaries over the last two years and has been using his own vehicle as a cost-cutting measure.
Some Staff commend him for instilling a sense of discipline, punctuality, and industrial peace in the NLA and reviving its corporate status.
While Mr. Awuku acknowledges the challenges, in his words, the tragedies and triumphs of the past two years, he believes with the guidance of the Governing Board, and the support of the Deputy Director-General, Ms. Anna Horma Miezah, Management and Staff, the NLA has greatly improved its lot and will seek to do more
With the Authority recently modernising its operations with new state-of-the-art draw machines, an ultra-modern draw studio, and a French presenter for its French Community in Ivory Coast, Mr. Awuku believes the NLA can only get better from here and should get ready to partner with investors to improve its operations and generate revenue for the Authority.
So, has Sammi Awuku justified the confidence reposed in him or should the appointing authority not have bothered? As is said in Latin, res ipsa loquitur, meaning “the thing speaks for itself.