Monday, June 20, 2016

N1.04trn MTN Fine: Senate summons AG, CBN gov, Accountant General

THE Senate has taken a swipe at the executive arm of the government over the alleged manner MTN’s N1.04 trillion fine was reduced to N330 billion. It described the reduction as short changing the country and therefore summoned the Attorney General, Governor of Central Bank, Minister of Communications and Accountant General of the federation, to come and explain their roles in the affair. SENATE CHAMBER The fine which was imposed on the operator by the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, last October, was for alleged operational misconducts.


 The reduction which is the second after the Commission earlier reduced the fine by 25 percent N780 billion also drew the ire of the House of Representatives committee on communications, which regretted that the decision was made without allowing the committee to conclude investigations on the case. FG explains Meanwhile, the Federal Government yesterday explained why it decided to soft pedal on the MTN fine saying it was to give impetus to foreign investors in the country. The Minister of Communications, Mr. Adebayo Shittu, at the venue of an Achiever’s Award ceremony in honour of Senator Lekan Balogun, the Otun Olubadan of Ibadanland, weekend, said there was need to give foreign investors impetus to continue investing in the country and that the reduction was one of those strategies. He, however, said that “as far as we are concerned, the MTN issue is a closed matter. The Federal Executive Council has remitted a substantial part of the penalty to them. 


Nigeria as a country must move on. We must not do anything to drive away foreign investors. Foreign investments are potent means of bringing about development and wealth creation. “Again, we must not forget that before MTN and other telecoms operators came on board, Nigeria had only less than 500,000 telephone lines. Today, because of their involvement, Nigeria now has more than 152 million lines and MTN is the dominant operator in the field. It controls almost 50 per cent of the lines. Though they (MTN) have violated the law and we have put in the necessary penalty, we must put a halt to the limitless crisis so that we don’t discourage foreign investors,” he added. Attorney-General speaks Speaking in a similar vein, the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, said: “The MTN matter has been concluded at the executive level and a position taken by the Federal Executive Council and communicated to the company. “In fact, the NCC has already written to MTN conveying the position of Nigeria on the fine to MTN and that is the true position as far as that matter is concerned.’’ 


Although Malami declined to give reasons the Executive approved a significant reduction in the fine for MTN, a top official of the Presidency conversant with how the deal was arrived at, said the reduction was done to protect the interest of over 500,000 Nigerians working in MTN Nigeria. But the senate insists the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, Minister of Communications, Adebayo Shittu, and governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, Godwin Emefiele, have some more explanations to give. Also  summoned are the Executive Vice Chairman/CEO of National Communications Commission, NCC;  the Accountant-General of the Federation and the Managing Director/CEO of MTN. When they appear before the Committee, all the parties involved are expected to explain the extent of their culpability or otherwise. 

In a letter, titled RE: SETTLEMENT BETWEEN NCC AND MTN OVER FINE, dated June 15, 2016, and addressed separately to all the actors, Chairman, Senate Committee on Communications, Senator Gilbert Nnaji, expressed dismay over the settlement agreement of N330 billion reached with MTN, out of a whopping N1.04 trillion. He said: “As a Committee and representatives of the Nigerian people, we are saddened about this development at a time when the Nigerian economy needs all the available capital infusion to bolster it. “It is our strong opinion that Nigeria has been shortchanged in this whole process on account of the ridiculous settlement payment plan; coupled with the disparity in the exchange rate regime when the fine was imposed ab initio compared with the current prevailing exchange rate when it was agreed to cut the fine to N330 billion.” Senator Nnaji lamented very strongly that “NCC could engage in such a negotiation that is tainted with a lot of questionable conclusions without the knowledge of the Committee. “The committee is worried about this development because it is on record that during our last investigative meeting with all the relevant parties to this matter on Thursday, March 10, 2016, the Committee was informed that the case was still in court and that it was adjourned till March 18. “The committee was not aware of the outcome of the court case neither was it privy to any active negotiation that led to the fine being reduced to N330 billion. ‘’It is our concern that Nigeria has been shortchanged in this whole process on account of the ridiculous settlement payment plan; coupled with the fact that parties involved in the negotiation were either oblivious of the exchange rate value of the Naira to the Dollar when the sanction was meted out originally, compared to current exchange rate regime when the value of the Naira is now on the downward slide.’’


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