The Senate Thursday told the federal government to move the initial N50 billion part payment of the fine imposed on MTN by the Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC) from the Central Bank of Nigeria‘s (CBN) recovery account to NCC treasury single account (TSA). The Senate also mandated its committee on communications to adequately probe the handling of the fine imposed on MTN from N780 billion to N330 billion.
NCC had in October, 2015, imposed a fine of N1.04 trillion on MTN over its decision to keep over five million unregistered subscribers in its network last year in violation of NCC Act. However, after sustained pressure from MTN and external forces, NCC reduced the fine to N780 billion before finally reviewing it downward to N330 billion a fortnight ago.
The committee had at the weekend sent out letters summoning all stakeholders
to the reduction deal to a meeting in the National Assembly yesterday but the meeting did not hold.
Instead, the committee chairman, Senator Gilbert Nnaji, moved a motion, drawing the attention of the Senate to the perceived lopsided arrangements which led to the reduction.
The Senate therefore tasked the committee to investigate whether the reduction was in accordance with the regulation of the NCC rules governing fines and penalties.
Specifically, Senate President Bukola Saraki, officially directed the committee to invite all relevant stakeholders including the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Malam Abubakar Malami; Accountant General of the Federation, Ahmed Idris; Minister of Communications, Adebayo Shittu; Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele; Executive Vice Chairman of ) and Chief Executive Officer of MTN, Rub Shuter and all parties involved in the negotiations to explain the raison d’etre for the reduction.
In his motion, Nnaji who frowned at the manner of the handling of the fine, said NCC as the regulator of the communications industry had been imposing fines on erring telecom operators since inception and proceeds from the redemption of such fines had always been lodged in the commission’s designated account.
He said Sections 19 and 20 of the NCC Act on registration of telephone subscribers regulation 2011 do not empower the commission or another entity or government officials to reduce any fine so imposed.
According to him, the Senate regretted that this fine was unilaterally reduced from N780 billion without the input of the Ministry of Communications and NCC which he said constituted a flagrant breach of the regulation and an attempt to whittle down the authority of the commission.
His words: “The Senate further regrets that through some negotiation process excluding the ministry and the commission but championed by the minister of justice and attorney general of the federation, MTN was requested to pay a some of N50 billion as a gesture of good faith towards the settlement of the fine.
“Mr. President, the Senate recalls that the attendant confusion created by the claim and counter claim over the veracity of the payment of the said N50 billion by MTN and the domiciliation of the money in a CBN recovery account, as if the money in question was a stolen fund, prompted the Committee on Communications to embark on a fact finding meeting of all stakeholders involved on March 10, 2016.
“These included the attorney-general of the federation, accountant general of the federation, minister for communications, governor of Central Bank of Nigeria of Nigeria, Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, and the Managing Director of MTN Nigeria Limited. “The Senate regrets to discover by the admission of the accountant-general of the federation at the meeting that the said N50 billion was actually lodged in a CBN recovery account on the instruction of the accountant general of the federation.
“The Senate further regrets to discover through a document available to the committee that MTN had already made a proposal of final payment of N300 billion as at the time of the meeting in March which led the committee to conclude that there was a secret agreement between MTN, the attorney-general of the federation and the accountant general of the federation to admit the N50 billion as the commencement of the execution of a final agreement of N300 billion.
“The Senate is alarmed to observe that the reduced fine of N780 billion was further slashed to N330 billion through a settlement payment plan that smacks of unpatrotism and insensitivity of the parties that agreed to the new amount inspite of the economic plight currently facing the country.
“The Senate laments that Nigeria has been shortchanged in this whole process of account of the ridiculous settlement payment plan coupled with the disparity in the exchange rate regime when the fine was imposed abinitio compared with the current prevailing exchange rate where the value of naira is taking a downward slide.
“The Senate notes therefore as the representatives of the Nigerian people, we are saddened about this development coming at a time when the Nigerian economy needs all the available capital infusion to bolster it,” Nnaji submitted.