Benin Government breaking national and international laws, says MTN


MTN is accusing the Benin Government of breaking its domestic laws, international law and the conditions of the licence under which the 14-year-old mobile provider operates in that country. MTN group CEO Phuthuma Nhleko says the country's decision to switch off its network there in June, leaving half a million subscribers stranded, presented the multinational with one of its worst headaches in its history.

“We are in discussions with government,” adds Nhleko. “We have said to them they are acting outside the provisions of the licence, they are acting outside local law and they are acting outside international law.

“We do believe, irrespective of what we may think, to turn off two-thirds of the subscribers in the country … is certainly not acting in the best interest of the country. We sincerely hope we will arrive at some speedy resolution,” Nhleko said after presenting the group's financial results yesterday.

Benin's Telecommunications Regulation Authority suspended MTN and Atlantique Telecom's Moov service on 9 July, saying both companies had changed their names without its permission.

The regulator also said MTN and Atlantique needed new licences, with much higher licence fees required. MTN was asked to pay $620 million (R4.34 billion), a 620% increase from the $10 million under the original structure. MTN and Atlantique – owned by Dubai-based Emirates Telecommunications – have so far refused to pay, although two other mobile operators in Benin have. Analysts have said the move amounts to extortion.

Nhleko says MTN could walk away from Benin. However, “we don't believe that is how we should do business. We won't walk away voluntarily, but to the extent to which it becomes untenable and we are left with no choice, [then], yes, we could find ourselves doing that”.