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Vodacom clashes with Lesotho authorities, risks losing licence

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Vodacom has challenged the cancellation of its unified licence in Lesotho, lodging an urgent court application to review the regulator’s decision.

The Lesotho Communications Authority (LCA) yesterday revoked Vodacom’s licence in the mountainous kingdom, citing alleged transgressions.

This means Vodacom Lesotho will have to stop providing voice, messaging, data and converged services to its customers unless the court reviews the decision.

On Thursday, the LCA issued a public notice confirming the cancellation of the unified licence for Vodacom Lesotho.

“Notice is given of the revocation of the Unified Licence of Vodacom Lesotho in accordance with section 47 of the Communications Act…for failure to comply with the directive to pay a penalty of R40.2 million by 7 October 2020. This notice is published in accordance with condition eight of the Unified Licence.”

Vodacom responded with speed, confirming it has lodged an urgent application in the High Court of Lesotho to have the decision reviewed and set aside.

“We had no option but to seek relief in the courts because the LCA’s decisions imposing an excessive fine as well as the revocation of Vodacom’s operating licence are both erroneous as a matter of law and public policy,” says Philip Amoateng, MD of Vodacom Lesotho.

The telco says in accordance with Rule 50 (3) of the LCA’s Administrative Rules of 2016, Vodacom Lesotho has 14 days to apply to have the LCA decision imposing the M134 million fine reviewed by the High Court.

Vodacom says it has since notified the LCA of its intention to challenge the “lawfulness of this decision and was shocked to receive the Notice of Revocation of the Unified Licence, dated 8 October 2020, in flagrant disregard of the rule of law”.

“The LCA has, unfortunately, violated its prescripts and rules, and our efforts to find an amicable solution to the dispute has drawn a complete blank. Given the hostility shown by the LCA towards Vodacom, our options are now limited to seeking redress in the courts to avert further damage to our brand, reputation and the interests of stakeholders, including our customers, shareholders and employees,” says Amoateng.

The threats to cancel Vodacom’s licence in Lesotho aren’t new, as earlier this year the telco was at loggerheads with the previous government of prime minister Tom Thabane.

In February, it was penalised R8.2 million and given 90 days to explain why it should keep its licence in the landlocked kingdom encircled by South Africa.

At the centre of Vodacom’s troubles at the time were allegations that the telco had fallen out of favour with Thabane’s government after sharing his call records in a murder investigation.

According to Lesotho media reports, Thabane and his wife, Maesaiah, are suspects in the murder investigation, with allegations that the first couple had a hand in the 2017 murder of the prime minister’s then estranged wife, Lipolelo Thabane.

The 58-year-old, who had been living apart from her husband since 2012, was killed two days before Thabane was sworn in as prime minister.

As part of the investigation, law enforcement agencies used cellphone records, which Vodacom provided, to investigate the suspects. The police used Thabane’s call records to link him to the murder of his estranged wife.

Citing sources, the media reports claimed it is for this reason that Thabane’s government unleashed the LCA on Vodacom.

The LCA went on to announce Vodacom Lesotho had been slapped with an R8 million penalty, claiming the mobile operator had failed to deliver on its obligations as stipulated in law.

The communications authority claimed Vodacom failed to pay regulatory fees due at the beginning of July 2019. The LCA also said the operator failed to meet Universal Services Fund obligations in the mountain kingdom. Furthermore, it alleges Vodacom failed to appoint an independent auditor as stipulated by the LCA.

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