House Summons AGF, Ministers over MTN Fine Reduction from N1.4tn to N330bn

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Damilola Oyedele in Abuja

The House of Representatives has summoned the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, for explanation on the reduction of fine imposed on MTN Nigeria.

Also to appear with the minister before the lawmakers are his Communications counterpart, Alhaji Adebayo Shittu and the Executive Vice-Chairman, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Prof. Garba Dambatta. Chairman, House Committee on Communications, Hon. Shaheed Fijabi, issued the order at the committee’s resumed investigation on the alleged SIM infractions by MTN and the fine in Abuja monday.

He said the committee was irked by federal government’s decision to conclude negotiations with MTN by reducing the fine from N1.4 trillion to N330 billion.

MTN Nigeria was slammed with a N1.04 trillion fine for failing to deactivate 200,000 unregistered SIM cards, in line with the regulations by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).
The fine was later reduced to N780 billion.

The House Committee on Telecommunications, opened a hearing into the matter in March 2016, and had opposed the reduction of fine without recourse to the NCC Act which stipulates N200,000 for each unregistered SIM card.
Fijabi said the decision was a disregard to the committee’s resolution that further negotiations with the mobile communications firm be suspended pending conclusion of its investigative hearing on the matter.

He described the action of the government as “undermining the integrity and independence of the National Assembly.

“The two ministers, the Chief Executive Officer of NCC and all other persons involved in the negotiations are to appear before the committee on Monday next week by 10a. m,’’ he said.

Meanwhile, Shittu had explained that the decision of the executive to reduce the fine slammed on the telecommunications firm, MTN Nigeria, to N330 billion, is independent of the outcome of the investigation being conducted by the House Committee on Telecommunications.

Shittu, at a meeting with the committee yesterday, insisted that relevant procedures were followed in the latest reduction to N330 billion by the government.

The minister, who was represented by the Permanent Secretary of the ministry, Mr. Sunny Echono, said claims that the inaction or delay in resolution of the negotiations with MTN was being stalled by the hearing, were incorrect.

“We were told that the decision of the executive is not precluded to that of the committee,” he said.
Shittu added that the effect of the unresolved issue, on the telecommunications sector was taken into consideration.

Echono, had told the committee that the N330 billion settlement reached with MTN had the approval of the highest office of government.

According to Echono, I am in a position to confirm to this committee that government has approved N330 billion as full and final settlement of fine impose on MTN by NCC.

“This was pursuant to series of procedural and other reviews, including the constitution of inter-ministerial committee under the auspices of the AGF,’’ he said.

He said the case was in court and that the court directed that the parties should go into negotiation.
The permanent secretary also said the seeming impasse on the matter, which was credited to the ongoing investigation by the committee, was not correct.

“We were told that the action of the committee was independent of whatever action the executive arm may want to take on it.

“It is the need for finality for the closure of this impasse that has been on for long time and its general impact on the sector that the decision was taken. “I can confirm that the decision has the blessing of the highest level of government,’’ Echono said.

Fijabi said the representation of the minister could not be taken any further, as Shittu needs to appear in person to clarify several contradicting issues.

The committee members recalled that at the recent sectoral debate where the minister featured on May 18, 2016, he had said the negotiations with MTN were being stalled by the hearing.

Hon. Diri Nonye (Bayelsa PDP) pointed out that the minister and the NCC had reversed themselves on the matter after they had told the committee at an earlier hearing that they were not involved in the negotiations.
Shittu and the Executive Vice Chairman of the NCC, Prof. Garba Danbatta had both told the committee that the negotiations had been taken over by the Attorney General of the Federation, Mr. Abubakar Malami.
Danbatta was also represented by the NCC’s Director of Public Relations, Mr. Tony Ojobo.

“And we directed that the negotiations be taken over by the ministry and the NCC. What we are reading now is different, it is you, the ministry and the NCC that have totally blacked out the National Assembly,” Nonye said.
Fijabi, following agreement by the members, summoned Shittu, Malami, Danbatta and all parties involved in the matter, to appear next Monday.

He directed that all documentation relating to the fine and its reduction be submitted.

Fijabi disclosed that the committee had been inundated with petitions querying the unilateral decision of the NCC and the haste of the announcement of the reduction, without awaiting the conclusion of the investigation.
“What are the issues that have changed in the assessment between the time of imposing the fine and now? What is the legal basis for this reduction,” he added.

Earlier, another lawmaker, Hon. Ehiozuwa Agbonayinma, had walked out in anger, following the delay by the Permanent Secretary to show up for the meeting.