Vodacom Group’s unit in the Democratic Republic of Congo petitioned the nation’s top administrative court to reverse a government order withdrawing its second-generation (2G) license.
A directive signed by Telecommunications Minister Emery Okundji in April threatens to disconnect some of Vodacom Congo’s 11.8-million customers who’ve yet to switch to third- or fourgh-generation mobile technology, or live in remote areas not yet covered by the faster data services. Johannesburg-based Vodacom owns 51% of Congo’s biggest mobile operator.
A first hearing of Vodacom Congo’s complaint against the Telecommunications Ministry took place at the Council of State on Monday, the tribunal’s head clerk, Jules Ekatou, said Tuesday in Congo’s capital, Kinshasa. The court’s judges are deliberating and will give instructions on June 17 on how the case should proceed, he said.
“There are ongoing discussions with all the relevant authorities to resolve this unfortunate situation,” Vodacom spokesperson Byron Kennedy said by phone. He declined to comment further.
Okundji told Vodacom Congo to reapply for a 20-year 2G licence originally given to the company in 1998, arguing a 2015 extension was obtained illegally. His decree stated that Vodacom Congo lost the right to offer 2G services in January 2018 and gave the company until May 29 to pay for the renewal of the permit.
Vodacom Congo rejects the allegations and “followed a legally prescribed process when its 2G licence was extended in 2015 and duly complied with all applicable laws and regulations”, Kennedy said on June 10.
Okundji’s deadline for Vodacom Congo to conclude the renewal of its license passed at the end of May, when the government initiated a new round of negotiations. The company’s decision to take the dispute to the Council of State indicates those discussions have so far failed to produce a mutually acceptable outcome.