By Staff Writers
Maseru, Feb 14 (The Night’s Watch) – A high-level campaign is under way within the government to persecute and discredit Vodacom Lesotho and get rid of it using its alleged non-compliance with the telecommunications regulations as an excuse.
The campaign to oust Vodacom which employs about 390 people, is being led by the Ministry of Communications, Science and Technology and the Lesotho Communications Authority (LCA), sources say.
Vodacom’s biggest sin, apparently, is that it allegedly handed over Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s call records to the police.
Law enforcement agencies frequently use cellphone records to investigate criminal suspects.
Call records include the time a call was made or received, the numbers of the parties involved in the call, the call duration, the starting and finishing times of the call, who the owner of the phone and the SIM card is, and an approximate location of the caller during the call.
These records allow law enforcement to build up an accurate picture of your daily routine – where you sleep, who you associate with, who is closest to you, where you go for your morning coffee…
Police have used Thabane’s call records to associate him with the murder of his estranged wife Lipolelo Thabane who was gunned down by unknown assailants outside her house in June 2017, just two days before Thabane was inaugurated for his second term as Prime Minister.
Police have revealed that Thabane’s cell phone was used in a call to a person at the scene of the crime “at the time of the assassination” and asked him to explain who he was talking to and what they were discussing.
Thabane’s third wife, ‘Maesaiah Thabane, was last week formally charged with murdering Lipolelo. ‘Maesaiah is out on bail.
This is one of the reasons why Thabane’s government has unleashed its beast, LCA, on Vodacom, the sources say.
The LCA is a statutory body,
established in June 2000, with the mandate of
regulating the communications sector in Lesotho.
The mandate entails: granting
licences to operators; promoting
fair competition; approving tariffs; empowering and protecting
consumers, among others.
The Night’s Watch can reveal today that the Board of Directors of Sekhametsi Investment Consortium, a local company which has a 20 percent stake in Vodacom, seem rather flustered recently and have written a memo to all shareholders of the consortium alerting them about the deteriorating relationship between Vodacom and LCA.
In their memo, the copy of which The Night’s Watch has obtained, Sekhametsi directors indicated that in August 2019, the LCA issued a non-compliance order against Vodacom, accusing the company of not paying the regulatory fees for the financial year 2018/2019 and imposed a M8.2 million fine on Vodacom.
“It should be noted that this was the first time in 24 years that a penalty was issued to Vodacom Lesotho for noncompliance,” the directors said.
They indicated that the imposition of the penalty, “coupled with the fact that LCA overcharged Vodacom Lesotho by some M8 million in regulatory fees by disallowing the deduction of Mobile Money Revenue from chargeable income”, had a net effect of depriving Vodacom of a net profit of over M14 Million.
“Furthermore, it deprives the Lesotho Revenue Authority (LRA) equivalent of over M2 Million in corporate taxes,” they said.
The directors went further to explain to the shareholders that between August and December 2019, the LCA had been “targeting Vodacom in various press releases over radio and print media”.
They said the net effect of “this unusual step by the LCA, which did not accord Vodacom the right of a hearing”, resulted in Vodacom’s reputational damage and “further deterioration of relations” between the LCA and Vodacom.
The directors also said that in December 2019, LCA issued two enforcement letters against Vodacom regarding alleged breach of Universal Access Fund obligations and lack of independence of Vodacom’s auditors, respectively.
Those were still not enough.
They said the LCA issued an additional letter of enforcement against Vodacom of January 17, this year, alleging that Vodacom had run a customer incentivasation programme outside the approved promotion modalities.
Sekhametsi initially acquired, through the Government of Lesotho Privatisation Programme in the 1990s, a six percent stake in Vodacom Lesotho.
The stake was subsequently increased to 20 percent through purchase of additional shares; six percent in 2005 from a South African based Rock-it and eight percent in 2015 from Vodacom International Holdings.
The remaining shares are held by Vodacom Group. Vodacom Group operates as a subsidiary of Vodafone Group Plc.
Vodacom Group Limited offers a variety of telecommunication and data communication services and products.
The Company operates in three segments: Corporate, South Africa and International. It also offers business managed services to enterprises in over 40 countries across Africa.
Its core services are voice, messaging and data, which are all available on either contract or prepaid.
Vodacom provides services to 39.6 million customers as at 31 March 2009.
Its mobile network covers a total population of approximately 182 million people across five countries: South Africa, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Lesotho and Mozambique.
According to Sekhametsi Directors, “some section of society, especially in political circles, has repeatedly raised concerns about Sekhametsi’s stake in Vodacom”.
They indicated in the memo that it is speculated, in recent social media posts, that there is a hidden agenda to “seek means to revoke and/or encumber Vodacom Lesotho’s license, as retribution to Sekhametsi”.
“Sekhametsi earnestly doubts existence of such a covert agenda, as it contends that there was nothing untoward about its acquisition of interest in Vodacom Lesotho in the first place,” they said.
Public Eye reported today (Friday) that LCA public affairs manager, Tšiu Tšiu on Wednesday said the issues of penalties issued by regulators on non-compliance of operators “is not done in Lesotho only by in many countries”.
Tšiu told Public Eye that: “Basically the Authority is dealing with issues of compliance in all issues mentioned (in the communique) which is its duty to do according to the Communications act of 2012, rules, licence conditions and other laws of Lesotho.”
Public Eye also reported that Tšiu referred it to the amended LCA administrative regulations and licensing classification and fees regulations.
These 2018 regulations, according to Public Eye, state that where a licensee fails to pay the required licensing fees, “the penalties shall be applied by the authority against the licensee”.
They state further that fees for licences and permits “shall be paid on the date determined by the authority”.
“An individual licences shall be due on April1, every year and payable on or before the July 1, each year,” reads the regulations.
Where licensing fees are paid within three months after the date determined by the authority, the regulations state that a licensee shall be charged a penalty of 20 percent of the outstanding amount, 50 percent if the payment is made between three and six months and 75 percent when payment is done after six to 12 months.
After 12 months without payment, the licence automatically expires.
Tšiu also denied to Public Eye that there was a hidden agenda to seek means to revoke Vodacom Lesotho’s license.
“The licence that Vodacom has was issued by LCA having met the criteria for licence renewal in 2015. Ours in relation to our licensees is sector regulation and compliance, nothing more,” he reportedly said. NW