Senate queries minister, AGF, CBN gov, others over slashed MTN fine
Why govt relaxed penalty, by Shittu
The Senate Committee on Communications has decried the manner it said Nigeria was shortchanged over the reduction of the fine imposed on MTN for operational misconduct by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).
The fine which originally was N1.04 trillion was first reduced to N780 billion before it was finally slashed to N330 billion.
Meanwhile, the Minister of Communications, Adebayo Shittu, yesterday explained that the government reviewed the fine imposed on telecommunications giant, MTN so as not to discourage prospective investors.
Shittu who spoke with reporters in Ibadan at an achiever’s award in honour of the Otun Olubadan of Ibadan, Senator Lekan Balogun, said government decided to relax the penalty against MTN after realising the negative impact the burden could have on the nation, its people and the economy.
But to the Senate Committee, the whole transactions were fraught with suspected criminal tendencies as they were perfected secretly particularly without recourse to due process.
In a letter titled “Re: Settlement between NCC and MTN over fine,” dated June 15, 2016, and addressed separately to actors in the deal, the chairman of the committee, Senator Gilbert Nnaji expressed dismay over the “settlement agreement of N330 billion that was reached with MTN out of a whopping N1.04 trillion” and as such summoned all the parties involved to appear before the panel to explain their extent of culpability or otherwise.
The panel further noted that “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.”
Nnaji lamented that “NCC could engage in such a negotiation that is tainted with a lot of questionable conclusions without the knowledge of the committee, adding that “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.
“Consequently, you are hereby invited to appear before the committee on Thursday, June 23, 2016 at 2.00 p.m. prompt in Room 221, Senate New Building, to shed more light on the issues surrounding the settlement.
“You are requested to furnish the committee with the following information to guide it in its deliberation: Document(s) detailing Presidential Directive to ‘accede that MTN should pay N330 billion to the Nigerian Government’ as contained in paragraph1 of your letter; Document (s) specifying evidence of negotiation such as the Terms of Negotiation; Parties to the Negotiation; Modalities for arriving at N330 billion; Minutes of Negotiation Meeting and other relevant information; Relevant Section(s) of the NCC Act 2003 that empowers NCC to impose fines accompanied with Sections empowering the Commission to reduce fines; Detailed reason(s) for the reduction of the fine from N1.04 trillion to N780 billion to N330 billion; Detailed information on the major role(s) being played by Accountant-General of the Federation in the entire negotiation and settlement process; A copy of the Settlement Agreement; Evidence of participation of the Ministry (of Communications) and its major inputs at the Negotiation Meeting; and Evidence of out-of-court settlement between MTN and the Federal Government.
“The governor of CBN as the custodian of the CBN Recovery Account into which the initial N50 billion was lodged and as a principal player in the whole process is expected to present to the committee, the ‘Current position of the Recovery Account’, the memo revealed.
Others invited include the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, the Executive Vice Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of NCC, the Accountant-General of the Federation as well as Managing Director and CEO of MTN.