Govt misses SNO deadline

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Contrary to expectations, government failed to publish an invitation for interested parties last week to pre-qualify for negotiations aimed at finding a partner for the second fixed-line telephone operator.

In early February, communications minister Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri said such an invitation would be issued within three weeks, or in the final days of February. But the invitation, a crucial step in putting together the second national operator (SNO) which is to compete with Telkom, failed to materialise.

The delay, however, is expected to be a short one and the invitation is likely to be issued this week. Sources close to the process say the text of the invitation has been ready for some time and has been cleared by government lawyers.

Spokesmen for the ministry and Department of Communications were not available for comment this morning.

If the delay does not extend beyond this week, hopes will be rekindled that the government may stick to its other self-imposed deadline: to find a foreign partner to be the driving force of the SNO by the end of May.

The invitation to pre-qualify, aimed at barring non-starters from the process, is expected to give interested parties a 30-day window in which to get their foot in the door. This is to be followed by two months of closed-door negotiations, during which the government will evaluate the various parties and decide which of them are to receive equity in the SNO and which, if any, will be offered management contracts for the new company.

Tenders for the provision of advisory services such as business and financial analysis during this process closed last week, and advisors are expected to be appointed shortly.

These advisors will work with a SNO panel headed by Pakamile Pongwana, deputy-director general of the communications department, to examine and negotiate with the foreign companies interested in the SNO.

Although details of the invitation that will kick off the selection are not yet known, it is thought to leave a great deal of leeway for negotiation.

Related stories:

SNO shenanigans resume next week
Govt takes second stab at SNO

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