MTN’s mast contract with Durban municipality under attack

A deal between MTN and the eThekwini municipality to install cellular masts in the greater Durban area is under scrutiny once again after a lobby group received a copy of the contract.

An application to the courts by the Durban Anti Cellmast Alliance to access the contract was successful, and the municipality was forced to provide a copy of its contract with MTN.

The alliance is opposed to the masts due to “health hazards”, and stated that residents were not consulted before they were installed.

Details of the deal

The Sunday Tribune, which has seen the contract, said the municipality has been paid R5,000 per month per cell mast since the contract began in 2015.

There are reportedly 123 masts across the municipality, meaning that the municipality is being paid R615,000 per month by MTN to use the masts.

The alliance’s spokesperson, Nicki Moore, said there is no end date on the contract – nor does it say where the masts can be posted or how many masts may be installed.

She also complained that the structures on which the cellular masts were fitted did not have cameras installed on them – which MTN had agreed to do to assist local law enforcement.

Moore added that the masts also fail to meet Durban’s by-laws, and health and safety regulations.

“According to the Municipal Systems Act, a project of this nature requires a council resolution; a mandate from the council; and a notice of a ‘delegated authority. So why is there no trace of this process, nor any minutes of meetings, consultations, agreements, council resolutions, contracts, tenders, or notifications?” asked Moore.

According to Moore, the agreement also states that MTN must immediately fix any nuisance caused by the masts – or the contract can be terminated.

The deal according to MTN

MTN’s executive for corporate affairs, Jacqui O’Sullivan, confirmed that MTN was paying eThekwini municipality and the previous open-ended lease has been revised into a shorter-term draft agreement, which the municipality will review.

“That draft lease agreement is now part of this ongoing process to resolve the camera pole matter and MTN will be guided by the municipality on the way forward with the lease,” said O’Sullivan.

O’Sullivan highlighted that the matter at hand refers to masts added to camera poles, rather than standalone cell masts.

“Camera poles were developed to fulfil a CCTV function and the masts, that were added to the poles, aim to improve signal and coverage for the communities in those areas,” said O’Sullivan.

O’Sullivan said MTN originally entered into a partnership in tandem with the municipality ahead of the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Years later, the partnership was shown to have been misaligned with another municipal regulation – the Land Use Management Unit.

As a result, MTN has been working with the eThekwini municipality to find a solution that complies with municipal regulations.

In February 2018, the eThekwini Municipality then defined an “ex post-facto” process that mobile operators, including MTN, need to follow.

O’Sullivan said MTN is committed to complying with this process and has been working with the municipality to do so.

Committed to compliance

Out of what O’Sullivan said is “just over 100 installed camera poles,” 57 reportedly require an application for permission and approval in accordance with the aforementioned ex post-facto process.

“Each government approval cannot run concurrently, so once each step is completed, we then apply to the next government body for approvals,” said O’Sullivan.

“We want to do our best to continue offering the people of eThekwini the high-speed and wide-scale coverage we have been able to offer them. However, we will also not stand for anything other than compliance. We will do our best to try and meet both sets of expectations,” O’Sullivan added.

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MTN’s mast contract with Durban municipality under attack