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LCA’s Vodacom decision highly irresponsible



LAST Thursday, the Lesotho Communication Authority (LCA) issued a statement they informed the public that it was revoking Vodacom Lesotho’s operating licence. It said the revocation was as a result of Vodacom’s “failure to comply with the directive to pay a penalty of M40 200 000 by 7 October 2020”. You can imagine the panic the notice caused and the unnecessary shock it brought to Lesotho’s shrinking economy. What does a revocation of Vodacom’s licence mean to customers? Should we withdraw our monies from Mpesa? Should we use all our airtime and data before they shut Vodacom down? This was not a well-executed directive and lacked wisdom. It risked triggering an unnecessary run on Mpesa funds, creating a seismic shock to the economy. A competent organisation would have weighed the “cost” of imposing such a hefty fine against a number of unintended consequences which would be brought about by such a decision. Simply claiming they were executing their mandate was a clear sign that the LCA was incompetent. This will force one to dissect the composition of its executive management and all the way to its board of directors! The telecommunications industry in Lesotho is an oligopoly. By recklessly imposing the fine the end user will one way or the other pay for such a fine because you can’t have Vodacom Lesotho filing for bankruptcy in an event that its unable to pay a fine. It is true that the LCA is an independent authority and it should execute its mandate in lieu of such. But corporate governance dictates that in executing its mandate the board should also take into consideration other stakeholders, in the main cabinet and end users are major stakeholders. The LCA should have at least informed cabinet, which in turn would have been required to inform parliament about such a momentous decision. The LCA failed to even inform the minister responsible for communications. This unfortunate decision by the LCA has opened a can of worms. It has now emerged that one board member shouldn’t have been appointed to the board of directors of LCA because he has a criminal record. The Minister of Communications should revisit the appointments of the LCA Board. From a legal perspective, could one not push boundaries and argue that the LCA board is not properly constituted given that one of its members does not meet the defined qualification criteria? Would one not be able to convince a judge that all decisions taken by an allegedly improperly constituted (and therefore illegal) board are invalid and unlawful ab initio? And therefore, the penalty and related decisions are also illegal? I would also like to question the motive for this decision. What motivated the LCA to go for the revocation of Vodacom’s licence? I am asking because a few months ago I saw a Facebook post by the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs who is also the Deputy Leader of the Basotho National Party (BNP) Machesetsa Mofomobe stating that the results are out, the majority of Basotho would prefer MTN to come to Lesotho. Is there a link between Deputy Minister Mofomobe’s statement and the final determination of the LCA on Vodacom? The post was made as it came to light the LCA was probing Vodacom. What puzzled me about the Minister’s assertion was that I was not asked nor do I know of anyone that was asked whether they would like MTN to do business in Lesotho. Even on the particular post the response the Minister got were contrary to his assertion. The timing of the Minister’s bold statement and the fact that we do not know when and on who the survey to ascertain people’s feelings towards MTN prompts me to ask what are the interests of the Minister in pushing MTN to come to Lesotho? Furthermore, were enough attempts made to ensure that Vodacom complies, or is this just a ploy that Vodacom leaves the market to make way for MTN? The fact that the Ministry of Communication has for a while now been under the auspices of Chief Thesele ’Maseribane, the leader of the BNP and Mofomobe’s uncle, is a factor that validates my suspicion regarding the operations of the LCA. I do not think it is a coincidence that Mofomobe’s statement coincided with the action the LCA took against Vodacom. I also do not think it’s a coincidence that the LCA, an organ with a board picked by the Minister of Communications, took action against Vodacom only for Chief ’Maseribane’s nephew to make such presumptuous statements. Some of my friends argue that multinational corporations like Vodacom are arrogant and do not abide by the laws of the land. Hence this should be a lesson to Vodacom or any entity that seeks to undermine our laws. I agree fully. However, I doubt that Vodacom with all that it has invested in the country would risk losing their licence by deliberately flouting the law. Moreover, if in fact the aim is to replace Vodacom with MTN, we ought to consider the latter’s track record in countries like Nigeria. The company in Nigeria has paid billions of dollars in fines for non-compliance. Surely, we cannot risk hundreds of people losing their jobs during a pandemic for a company that has a worse track record than Vodacom’s. I do not see the humanity in this as it would be Basotho losing their livelihoods during a pandemic, especially if we take into account the high prevalence of unemployment in our country. When we take all these aspects taken into consideration, I do not think the revocation of Vodacom’s licence was the right thing to do under the current circumstances. This is not the time for us to stamp our authority. Instead this is a time for us to look for an amicable solution for the benefit of Basotho. Ramahooana matlosa

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