N780bn fine: MTN proposes 14-year payment plan

From Fred Itua, Abuja

Shocking details emerged yesterday at the Senate Committee on Communications investigating the N50 billion part payment paid by Mobile Telecommunication Network (MTN), out of its N780 billion fine imposed by the Nigeria Communication Commission (NCC).

The N50 billion payment was consequent on an out-of-court settlement agreed with the Federal Government.

The Senate panel condemned the ‎manner in which the deal was conducted.

The committee also faulted an alleged shutting out of the Ministry of Communications and the NCC from the said deal‎.

At an investigative hearing on the matter yesterday, members of the panel expressed shock that an account, called “Recovery Account” was opened where the N50 billion fine was paid into by the MTN as part of the settlement deal.

The committee was also worried that a proposal initiated by  MTN for the reduction of the fine to N300 billion had been accepted by the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, even without recourse to the Ministry of Communications and the NCC.

During the one-day public hearing, new facts also emerged that an initial  25 per cent reduction of the earlier N1.04 trillion fine  to N780 billion was allegedly on the orders of President Muhammadu Buhari.

A document displayed by the committee regarding the proposal from MTN showed that the telecommunication service provider would pay N300 billion, made up of N150 billion to be paid on instalmental basis.  According to the document, the N50 billion already paid is part of this amount.

The parties had  agreed that the N50 billion paid in good faith and without prejudice by MTN Nigeria on February 24, 2016, in order to commence settlement negotiations, will form part of the monetary components of this settlement.

In five equal and annual installments, between the date of execution of this agreement and  December 31, 2020,  MTN Nigeria is expected to pay a total of N100 billion by electronic funds transfer to the Federal Government Recovery Account at the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN)..

The payment will commence by  December 31, 2016 and will be made by the last day of December each subsequent year.

The proposal stated that  MTN would buy  N80 billion of Nigeria’s foreign bond. The proposal, which the committee said it got from the office of the Attorney General of the Federation, was admitted by MTN. The proposal reads in part: “As a demonstration of its commitment to and confidence in the Nigerian economy, and subject to necessary regulatory approvals, MTN Nigeria commits to purchase of N80 billion of Nigerian sovereign debt issued on international market in 2016 to 2017.”

The proposal also showed that ‎MTN would provide Nigeria with access to the company’s fibre network for the purpose of allowing the federal government to expand its e-initiatives to the tune of N70 billion.

Defending himself on allegation of opening the recovery account, the Accountant General of the Federation, Ahmed Idris, said he acted on the demand of the Attorney General, adding that he was never aware of what money was going to be put in that account.

A representative of the AGF, Mr. Dayo Akpata, tried in vain to convince the committee about the wisdom in opening the account but was rebuffed.

The committee insisted the AGF must appear in person within two weeks to explain the action.

Earlier, committee chairman, Senator Gilbert Nnaji had explained that lawmakers were “shocked to gather from NCC that they neither received the said N50 billion nor was it notified of such payment. There were claims and counter—claims on the pages of newspapers that the Minister of Communications acknowledged the payment; while other sources claimed MTN paid the money into the CBN Recovery Account.

“This is the crux of the meeting; to establish the veracity of this payment and to which account was it paid, if paid. This is one transaction that has generated public suspicion compelling the Committee to invite all relevant stakeholders to this meeting for adequate clarifications to be made on the issue…”

“Issues emanating from the foregoing are: Into which account did MTN paid the N50 billion and which government agency acknowledged the payment? If MTN actually paid, why did it disregard payment into NCC’s coffers as statutorily obliged? If MTN paid into CBN’s Recovery Account, on whose directive did the network do so and what legal right does CBN have to lodge the money in a Recovery Account?

“These and many more are posers that this meeting seeks to unravel for Nigerians to know the true picture of the situation. I want to emphasise that our mission here today is to steady the boat of our nation’s telecoms industry and mainly to ensure that nothing is done by whosoever, either corporate or individual, b expose this government to unnecessary ridicule.”‎

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