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Between NATCOM & SLONE

Manjoroka

Between NATCOM & SLONE

By Sorie Fofana…………………..

When Momoh Konte assumed the position of Chairman of NATCOM in February 2015, he inherited what many people believe, was a totally flawed Contract or Service Agreement for the Monitoring of the International Gateway Systems.

The Contract (Service Agreement) for the Monitoring of the International Gateways Systems was awarded to Slone Telecom Limited in August 2014. This clearly shows that, Momoh Konte neither negotiated nor awarded the said Service Agreement or Contract to Slone Telecom Limited.

However, when Momoh Konte took over the job of Chairman of NATCOM, he ordered a review of what he considered to be a totally flawed contract. Slone Telecom Limited complied fully with the review process authorised by the then new NATCOM czar, Momoh Konte.

Even after the end of the review of the Service Agreement or Contract, Momoh Konte was still not pleased with the processes used by his predecessors to award the Contract or Service Agreement to Slone Telecom Limited.

In a letter to the Managing Director of Slone Telecom Limited dated 11th August, 2014 Momoh Konte insisted that, “Certain terms and conditions of the contract should be the subject matter of a further review”. However, that did not stop Slone Telecom Limited from assuming that they had a legally binding contract with NATCOM.

On 15th February, 2016 NATCOM unilaterally ordered the cancellation of the Service Agreement or Contract with Slone Telecom Limited as a result of “Unseen circumstances”.

Slone Telecom Limited, after receiving the letter of cancellation, immediately instructed their Solicitors in the United Kingdom to write and inform NATCOM that they should comply fully with the terms of the Contract or Service Agreement or face court proceedings in London, with all its consequences. To my knowledge, NATCOM’s overseas lawyers are planning a tough response to the letter from Slone Solicitors in the UK.

The contract makes provision for any arbitration to take place in London. But the contract itself is governed by the laws of Sierra Leone.

Ex Parte Injunction

However, at local level, Slone Telecom Limited on 22nd February, 2016 proceeded to secure an Ex Parte Injunction at the Fast Track Commercial Court in Freetown, restraining NATCOM “From inviting tenders/bids, opening bids, unsealing tenders/bids, offering out, entering into negotiations, entering into Memorandum of Understandings, awarding contracts, executing contracts, alienating, disposing of or howsoever otherwise the rights, licenses, permissions and authorization in regard the design, build, delivery and operation of the International Gateway Monitoring System” for a period of seven days. The hearing of the Inter Parties application is fixed for Monday 29th February, 2016.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday 23rd February, 2016 NATCOM coincidentally announced the cancellation of an ongoing tender notice for the procurement of an International Gateway Monitoring System.

Who Will Monitor The Gateways

On the same day, a meeting was held at State House between the Government, NATCOM and the World Bank. The meeting was held primarily to agree on international tariffs. But an important announcement followed after agreeing on the tariff. The announcement clearly states that Multiple Gateways to be switched on from 1st April, 2016 thus ending SIERRATEL’s monopoly over the International Gateway.

The questions now are: Who will be responsible for the monitoring of the Multiple Gateways when they are switched on? Does NATCOM have the capacity and technical knowhow to monitor Multiple Gateways?

According to a Sierra Leone Gazette dated 25th February, 2015 “The supervision of the International Gateways shall be done by NATCOM or an agent appointed by the Commission in that behalf”.

Time To Negotiate

NATCOM and Slone Telecom Limited have to sit around the negotiating table and iron out their differences. Slone Telecom Limited, it has to be pointed out, has an existing contract with NATCOM for Quality of Service. Both NATCOM and Slone Telecom Limited need each other at all time.

Since the matter is now sub judice, I will refrain from making any further comments on it. But suffice it to say that, the earlier this matter is peacefully resolved the better for both NATCOM and SLONE.

Business entities are normally constrained in taking legal action against a government of a country where they do business.

All along, I have advised that, it is better for NATCOM and Slone Telecom Limited to talk than to fight. Any legal action will be costly and very exhausting, both at home and abroad.

Perhaps, President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma should find a way to resolve this stalemate between Slone Telecom Limited and NATCOM. Afterall, he is the Father of the Nation.

As a former business executive himself, President Koroma knows how best to resolve disputes between and among business people and business entities.

It is a well known fact that, Slone Telecom decided to take legal action against NATCOM as a last resort. I would have thought that, Slone Telecom Limited would have contacted the President to see how best he can resolve the matter before going to court.

It is still not too late. President Koroma, having known about this issue now, should still find time in his quiet moment and invite both the NATCOM Chairman and the Managing Director of Slone Telecom Limited in order to find a middle-of-the-road solution.

As pointed out earlier, Slone Telecom Limited is still desirous of an amicable settlement of this matter without recourse to legal action in both the United Kingdom and here in Sierra Leone.

It is always better to talk than to fight.

May common sense prevail!

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