News Without Fear or Favour

Vodacom-LCA fight gets nastier

  • as LCA boss accuses the telecoms giant of state capture and terrorism
  • as well as offering ‘Maesaiah M2 million to get her fired

Mohalenyane Phakela

THERE is no letting up in the Lesotho Communications Authority (LCA)’s fight with Vodacom Lesotho. If anything, the fight is getting nastier amid revelations that LCA chief executive officer, ‘Mamarame Matela, wrote to Vodacom Lesotho’s parent company, Vodafone Group in London, accusing its subsidiaries in South Africa and Lesotho of funding regime change, money laundering and terrorism in this country.

In her letter, Ms Matela accused Vodacom South Africa chairperson Jabu Moleketi and his Vodacom Lesotho counterpart, Matjato Moteane, of instigating a campaign to get her fired because she had become a thorn in the flesh of Vodacom Lesotho by constantly demanding that it complies with the  country’s licensing regulations.

She alleges that the Vodacom bosses even offered then First Lady ‘Maesaiah Thabane a M2 million bribe to arrange for Communications, Science and Technology Minister Thesele Maseribane to be reshuffled from his post to make way for a new minister who would remove or suspend her.

She alleges this would  have paved the way for the appointment of another person as LCA boss who would ensure that Vodacom Lesotho directors “remain in office to further unlawful activities in Lesotho unabated”.

The reshuffle was supposed to have occurred on 14 March this year during the tenure of the pervious Thomas Thabane-led four parties coalition which comprised of the latter’s All Basotho Convention (ABC), former Deputy Prime Minister Monyane Moleleki’s Alliance of Democrats (AD), then and current Labour and Employment Minister Keketso Rantšo’s Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL) and Chief Maseribane’s Basotho National Party (BNP). It never happened though.

Mr Thabane was forced to step down by his own ABC party in May this year. He was replaced by former Finance Minister and ABC legislator Moeketsi Majoro. By the time Mr Thabane stepped down, his long term relationship with Chief Maseribane had soured.

In her 13 March 2020 letter, Ms Matela does not say whether Ms Thabane accepted the M2 million inducement to get Chief Maseribane reshuffled.

She, however, warned that had the reshuffle gone ahead the next day, she would have been left with no choice but to appeal to the international community as well as report Vodafone to the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) and the United Kingdom’s communications regulator, OfCom.

“We are concerned about the planned regime change funded by Vodacom under the leadership of Mr Moleketi from South Africa and Mr Moteane the local chairman…to reshuffle the current Minister of Communications to ensure my ouster as the CEO of LCA to ensure that the issues raised herein are not resolved for the benefit of Vodacom Lesotho and its shareholders,” Ms Matela states in her letter to the Vodafone Group’s Nick Read. The letter is titled “Request for Ethics, Risk and Compliance Policies governing compliance (sic)with local laws where Vodafone Group has a local presence in various jurisdictions (sic)”.

Ms Matela alleges that Mr Moleketi abandoned a meeting they were holding on 28 February 2020 in Maseru to pay a courtesy call on then premier Thabane without the involvement of the South African High Commission in Lesotho.

“Mr Moleketi left the meeting to attend at the prime minister’s (sic) home where it was alleged that an offer of M2 million was made to the First Lady currently facing murder charges in Lesotho to arrange for the reshuffle of Honourable Thesele Maseribane, the Minister of Communications in Lesotho, to bring in a new minister that would suspend me and place another person who would ensure that Vodacom directors remain in office to further unlawful activities in Lesotho unabated. I informed Shameel of the news. Vodacom denied the allegations.

“I have just received information of an imminent reshuffle tomorrow (14 March 2020) by the prime minister. In the event that the planned reshuffle by Mr Moleketi and Mr Moteane takes place tomorrow and I am subsequently removed or suspended to ensure that the contraventions by Vodacom Lesotho are quashed or swept under the carpet, I shall have every right to appeal to the international community including ICASA and OfCom in England regarding the manner in which your organisation funds regime change, money laundering and terrorism in Lesotho through the instrumentality (sic) of Vodacom Group LTD to avoid dealing with serious compliance issues raised with the Vodafone group.

“I now look forward to your urgent response, failing which I shall escalate the matter further,” Ms Matela states.

Vodacom Lesotho denies all the allegations. It submitted Ms Matela’s letter as part of the documents supporting its High Court application for an order nullifying the revocation of its licence by the LCA.

Vodacom Lesotho also wants the court to revoke the staggering M134 million fine imposed on it for various offences allegedly committed from 2015 to date.

Justice Thamsanqa Nomngcongo issued a temporary interdict last Thursday  barring the LCA from revoking Vodacom Lesotho’s operating licence after the mobile communications petitioned the High Court that same day.

The LCA had revoked the licence on the grounds that Vodacom Lesotho had failed to comply with its directive to pay a M40, 2 million fine by 7 October 2020.

The LCA had initially fined Vodacom M134 million for what Ms Matela said were serious infractions since 2015 including “submitting audited financial statements that were unaccompanied by a certification issued by an independent external auditor”.

Vodacom Lesotho was ordered to immediately pay M40, 2 million which is 30 percent of the entire fine imposed on it. The remaining M93, 8 million (70 percent) of the fine was suspended for five years on condition that Vodacom Lesotho does not commit further offences in contravention of its regulatory obligations within that period.

The fine ought to have been paid by last Wednesday. When it was not paid, the LCA decided to revoke Vodacom’s operating licence the following day.

This prompted Vodacom to file the urgent High Court application for the interim order which was duly granted by Justice Nomngcongo paving the way for the company to continue providing services until its application for a final order against the decision to revoke its licence is heard on 22 October 2020.

The chairman of the board of LCA, the LCA chief executive officer and the LCA are first to third respondents respectively.

In his affidavit, Vodacom Lesotho Managing Director, Phillip Amoateng, petitions the court to nullify the revocation of its licence on the grounds that Ms Matela was biased and had already prejudged Vodacom Lesotho way back in February by virtue of  the “scurrilous allegations” that the firm’s bosses wanted her removed from her post as per her letter to Vodafone Group, the parent company.

“It is a sign of bad faith that the second respondent (Ms Matela) should accuse the applicant of not showing remorse when it made representations. It is apparent that LCA was not acting impartially because a demonstration of remorse only becomes relevant after the finding of non-compliance or guilt.

“It is apparent that the LCA had prejudged the issue and did not approach it with the required impartiality and objectivity. Its decision may have been actuated by malice,” Mr Amoateng states in his affidavit.

He accuses Ms Matela of making “scurrilous and defamatory statements”, accusing Messrs Moleketi and Moteane of offering Ms Thabane a M2 million bribe to facilitate her removal from the LCA to protect Vodacom Lesotho from scrutiny and censure for its alleged infractions.

“The third respondent (Ms Matela) makes many scurrilous and irrelevant allegations. The most serious and defamatory statements that are conclusive about her bias against the applicant is where she accuses the applicant of funding regime change in Lesotho to ensure her removal as CEO.

“…that Mr (Phillip Jabulani) Moleketi is alleged to have offered the former First Lady M2 million for her to arrange the third respondent’s suspension following a reshuffle that could remove Chief Thesele Maseribane as the Minister of Communications. These scurrilous and defamatory allegations all point to the fact that the third respondent had developed a personal bias and animosity against the applicant and its personnel.

“It is apparent that in her bias, the third respondent was unable to arrive at a detached decision and consider only credible and relevant information about the applicant. She alleges to have received news of an imminent reshuffle of cabinet which if it materialised and she was suspended, she would appeal to the international community including ICASA. No such thing happened and even if it had, the applicant would have had nothing to do with it,” Mr Amoateng states in his affidavit in which he attaches a copy of Ms Matela’s letter, containing the allegations.

Ms Matela yesterday told the Lesotho Times that she stood by her statements, saying Vodacom bosses in South Africa and Lesotho had sought “to effect regime change” and the only reason their plans failed was because she alerted the parent company Vodafone as well as ICASA and OfCom who regulate telecommunications in South Africa and the United Kingdom respectively.

Vodacom Lesotho’s Corporate Affairs Executive Head, Tsepo Ntaopane, yesterday dismissed Ms Matela’s allegations as “baseless and utter rubbish”.

He said it was the custom of Vodacom Group bosses to pay courtesy calls on the leaders of the countries in which the conglomerate was invested, in Lesotho’s case   the premier and the communications minister.

Such courtesy calls were not for any underhand and illegal dealings such as bribing leaders, he said. They could be used to gain an insight into the pressing developmental issues in the country and thus enable the group to plan for corporate social initiatives to address those issues, he added.

The LCA’s decision to revoke Vodacom’s licence has sent shockwaves across the world and raised fears into could ignite negative investor sentiments of Lesotho. Probably cognisant of the negative ramifications, Dr Majoro has  since slammed the decision, declaring that “Vodacom is here to stay”.

 

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