Battle between Swaziland’s giant telecoms tagged ‘national crisis’

Mobile network operator MTN Swaziland has won a legal battle against the state-owned Posts and Telecommunications Corporation over rollout of USB modems (dongles) and cellphones.

The two have been embroiled in a row that has been termed as a ‘national crisis’, following a vote of no confidence in the country’s cabinet by Members of Parliament.

MTN Swaziland, whose shareholders are widely reported to include King Mswati III and Prime Minister Barnabas Sibusiso Dlamini, won the battle after allegations that they enriched themselves at the expense of the nation.

“The country finds itself in a mobile telecommunications mess because it is run like a kindergarten instead of serving and safeguarding the nation’s interest,” Chief Logcogco, chairman of the King’s Advisory Council, said.

Swazi’s International Court of Arbitration supported an earlier High Court ruling that the Telecommunication Corporation violated a joint venture agreement with MTN Swaziland in which it holds a 41 percent stake.

The breach caused the country’s executive arm to switch off its services, leaving thousands of Swazis with paralyzed cellphones and USB modems.

MTN Swaziland was also accused of defending its monopoly at the expense of the Swazis, sparking an outcry after an earlier directive by Parliament whose members opposed cutting the connection to the corporation. The MPs last week passed a vote of no confidence over the executive’s choice to go ahead with the termination.

However, more than a week after the parliamentary vote, King Mswati is yet to make a declaration while the Prime Minister stated that he does not acknowledge the motion.

He said that they will just ignore the vote of no confidence and carry on with business as usual, the Times of Swaziland reported.

A concurrent statement by Majahenkhaba Dlamini, the country’s Attorney General, also declared the parliamentary vote “null and void” as the decision to close the corporation’s services had not been taken by the Cabinet, but by a court of law.

The impasse has caused experts, business leaders and civil society activists to call for the Cabinet to resign citing violation of the Constitution and undermining the rule of law.

Louise Redvers, a journalist, says that up to 250 jobs could be lost at the corporation because of the switch-off. It is also expected to pay a settlement to MTN Swaziland of about R30million. ($ 3.5million)

Established in 1998, MTN Swaziland is in a partnership with the Swaziland Posts and Telecommunications Corporation where the corporation holds a 41 percent stake. It is partly owned by King Mswati III, who has a 10 percent share and the private consortium Swaziland Empowerment Limited which has 19 percent.

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