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Regional News of Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Source: Scandal

Ripples of the Mer-Bank Sale; Workers Salaries to freeze for 3 years

It is barely a year since Ghana controversially ‘sold’ her majority shares in Merchant Bank to a group of Ghanaians but even before the nation starts experiencing the impact of the takeover, workers of the bank have been served with a bitter pill to swallow.

At a meeting with management a couple of weeks ago, workers had as usual sought to negotiate their annual salary increment but they had the shock of their lives when the new management, Fortiz Equity Fund announced that there was a freeze on salary increment which was supposed to last for at least three years. Fortiz explained that the freeze had been necessitated as a result of the restructuring the bank was going through.

According to some workers at the Bank who spoke to this paper on condition of strict anonymity, some of their incentives like vehicle allowance and fuel allowances have been reduced drastically. “The unfortunate aspect of these reductions are that, Management takes the decisions unilaterally, and we will feel the effect only when we go to the Banks," one of the aggrieved workers told Scandal on Friday. The corporate Affairs Manager of the Bank was not immediately available for comments.

Merchant Bank was a couple of months ago re-branded to Universal Merchant bank with its former colours blue and white changing to black and yellow.

Merchant bank was acquired by Fortis a Private Equity Fund last year after it reportedly paid Ghc90 million for a majority stake in the bank which elicited public uproar.

The amount gave them a controlling stake of 90 per cent in the bank, leaving the minority 10 per cent to the country’s pensions fund manager, Social Security and National Insurance Trust (SSNIT).

The sale of Merchant Bank to FORTIZ last year generated huge controversy with many Civil Society groups kicking against the sale.

While some of the concerns bothered on the capacity of FORTIZ to run Merchant Bank, some were also concerned about whether FORTIZ proposal was the best among those who applied to take over the Merchant Bank.

According to documents widely published last year three institutions formally applied to take over Merchant Bank: UT Bank, SABRE Advisors, and FORTIZ equity fund.

According to the transaction advisors, SABRE was prepared to investGhc200 million in Merchant Bank. But they withdrew their offer after their request for extension to submit a detailed offer was not granted.

UT Bank, on the other hand, wanted to investGhc150 million, but they also withdrew their offer.

There was also a proposal from Fidelity Bank to acquire Merchant Bank for 35 million dollars and merge the two institutions, but their offer could not reach the transaction advisors.

Fidelity wanted to give SSNIT and SIC Life 28 percent stake in the new entity after the merger. They also planned to inject additional 100 million dollars to help recapitalize Merchant Bank.

Industry players also compared the deal from FORTIZ to that of South African Bank, First Rand.

While First Rand was prepared to invest Ghc176.4 million for 75 percent in Merchant Bank, FORTIZ is investing 90 million Ghana cedis. Another, issue that also came up was what would be SSNIT's stake after the acquisition, While, FORTIZ's deal would leave the state pension trust with 8 percent, First Rand's deal would give SSINT 23 percent stake.

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