NCAA, Globacom and regulatory impudence
President Barack Obama in his first official visit to Sub-Saharan in 2009, during his renowned speech at Ghanaian parliament, urged Africa to build strong institutions. He said, “Africa does not need strong men. It needs strong institutions.” The need for strong institutions with regulatory prowess to uphold rule of law, ensure efficiency and easy of doing business, cannot be overemphasized. While strong institutions are needed to build nations, businesses, etcetera, unchecked excesses of such institutions, especially government regulatory agencies can be counterproductive and at the end, achieve the opposite.
Recently, there was media report containing what supposed to be confidential correspondences between Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) and Globacom Limited with the title: “Illegal Erection of High Structures and Refusal to Renew Expired Aviation Height Clearance Certificates by Globacom Nigeria Limited.” In the letter, NCAA is alleging that Globacom Limited is indebted to the agency over the latter’s failure to pay N5.9 billion as renewal fees for “height clearance” and other related fees.
In earlier memo, NCAA also accused Globacom Limited of allegedly breaching air safety by erecting telecommunication masts without Aviation Height Clearance approvals and failure to renew already expired ones: “Please be reminded that Section 30(3) of the Civil Aviation Act 2006 empowers the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) by law to prohibit and regulate the installation of any structure, which by virtue of its height or position is considered to endanger the safety of air navigation.”
After reading the story cum correspondences between the two parties, I would have commended NCAA for living up to its responsibility as civil aviation watchdog in ensuring safety of airways, but the motive of the letter to Globacom Limited was not borne out of concern for safety, but exploitative tendencies. It is true that government needs revenues generated via fees, taxes, etc., to fund the budget and other financial obligations but debt recovery not properly manage can create more problems in a strategic sector like telecom industry.
And when debt recovery is confused with safety regulations, it sends conflicting signals. Every corporate entity should as a matter of responsibility pay its debts. I am not saying that Globacom Limited is above the law and cannot be sanctioned by the authorised agency if fund wanting, but this should be done properly, so that no one’s right is trampled upon at the end of the day because where one person’s rights ends is where another begins.
NCAA complained of illegal erection of towers/masts and non-payment of the renewal of height clearance certificates by Globacom Limited. Ironically, from NCAA’s standpoint as expressed in the letters, what made those masts/towers illegal, was because payment for Aviation Height Clearance Certificates had not been made as alleged, not necessarily because Globacom’s masts breached any safety of air navigation. In as much I condemn any act of illegality, NCAA’s position is riddled with contradictions.
So, if Globacom Limited had paid for height clearance certificates for newly erected masts and renewed expired ones, those masts termed “unsafe” and “Illegal” by NCAA would have automatically become “safe” and “legal”. In the foregoing, the only yardstick that made NCAA to mark them as “Illegal” and “unsafe” was as a result of revenues that would have accrued from those telecommunication infrastructure. This is very unfortunate.
Meetings scheduled by both parties, on different occasions, to meet and sort out the issues could not hold. NCAA blamed Globacom Limited for defaulting on the last meeting fixed at its instance. In the letter that was written with tyrannical temperament, NCAA threatened to begin dismantling of masts across the country belonging to Globacom Limited:
“In the circumstance, having exhausted all avenues for a resolution of this matter, we are left without choice but to apply the relevant sanctions, including the dismantling of all your non-compliant masts nationwide. And this shall be without further notice to you.” This is where NCAA went overboard. At this point, it is no regulation but intimidation, which implied gross abuse of power.
As if this hostile letter was not enough, it was leaked to the media just to shame Globacom Limited. This is very unprofessional on the part of NCAA. If there are no investors to operate in a sector, there will be nobody to regulate. As a government regulator, your first goal should be to create conducive environment to attract investors, and for businesses to thrive, not to strangulate already existing ones.
I am not implying that NCAA cannot pressurize telecom operators to pay their fees or sanction defaulting companies but not by threatening to clampdown on their telecom infrastructure. There are many better ways to resolve the dispute without resulting to threatening to “demolished” critical infrastructure like towers. Such hostile choice of words discourages investors.
Even when MTN Nigeria was fined one trillion naira, it was later negotiated to N330 billion, of which they paid in installments. Multichoice Nigeria Limited—owners of DSTV, has been having a running battle with FIRS over alleged tax invasion worth N1.8 trillion. Recently a Tax Appeal Tribunal (TAT) sitting in Lagos ordered that the Company should pay 50% of the contentious amount.
Never had Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) or Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) threatened to clampdown on infrastructure cum properties belonging to these companies, despite the huge amount involved. For emphasis, MTN Nigeria and Multichoice Nigeria Limited are foreign companies with its headquarters in South Africa.
Why will NCAA issue such unprovoked threat against the leading indigenous mobile telecom company in Nigeria, without considering the negative effects on its brand, especially in the eyes of its foreign partners? Why are regulatory agencies always in a hurry to throw away the baby with the bathwater? N5.9 billion is a big money but cannot be compared to N330 billion of MTN fine or N900 billion of Multichoice.
Globacom Limited, presently has a subscriber base of over 51 million. Over the years, it made it possible for Nigerians to make calls via Per Second Billing (PSB) and crashed price of SIM cards. You cannot write about the nation’s telecom sector today without acknowledging Globacom’s giant strides. Despite any perceived shortcoming, Globacom Limited rescued Nigerians from monopolistic stranglehold of legacy mobile operators, and has contributed a lot in developing our entertainment industry.
Telecommunication companies are still hemorrhaging from incessant shutdown of telecom networks in some parts of the north as a result of insecurity. Any further hostile action from regulatory agencies can send the much-celebrated gains in the telecom sector downward spiral of retrogression. Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) should put a brake on its regulatory impudence.
Nwobodo wrote from Lagos.