WBS spectrum issues secretly settled: DA

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) has failed to communicate its council decisions on its web site as required by the Icasa Amendment Act 2014.

This is according to Marian Shinn, the Shadow Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services for the Democratic Alliance (DA).

According to Shinn, the Icasa Amendment Act states that council minutes must be published on the web site and in Icasa’s library within 30 days of a meeting.

No minutes have been published since the law was gazetted on April 7 2014.

“This means that settlements made by the Icasa council, inter alia, about companies and state organisations that were indebted to Icasa, are kept out of the public eye,” Shinn said.

MyBroadband asked Icasa about its minutes of council meetings on 25 July 2014, but has not received any comment from the regulator on the issue.

WBS/iBurst spectrum fees dispute

Shinn said that the secrecy surrounding the out-of-court settlement reached recently with Wireless Business Solutions (WBS) is of particular concern.

The settlement came after WBS failed in its court bid to have Icasa’s actions during 2013 to seize WBS’s equipment, because of failure to pay its licence fees, declared unlawful.

“At Friday’s (22 August 2014) joint meeting with Parliament’s portfolio committees on Telecommunications and Postal Service and Communications, ICASA gave a brief update of all the legal issues currently exercising the regulator,” Shinn said. “The WBS issue was not listed.”

This was curious because there has been no further information after WBS lost its case against Icasa with costs in the South Gauteng High Court on 22 April 2014.

WBS said at the time that it did not agree with the judgment and intended appealing, but nothing seemed to come from this.

“When asked at Friday’s meeting for an update on the WBS issue, the chairperson of the Icasa Council, Dr Stephen Mncube, responded vaguely that the issue had been settled through consultation between lawyers representing Icasa and WBS and the settlement was approved by the council,” Shinn said.

According to Shinn, Mncube asked an Icasa lawyer present at the meeting to give details of the payment terms, but the lawyer was unable to provide these.

“It was up to Icasa councillor Joseph Lebooa, who played an active role in exposing WBS’s indebtedness to Icasa in early 2013, to give some of the details,” said Shinn.

The details were as follows:

  • The high court judgment said WBS owed Icasa R113 million (excluding interest) in unpaid spectrum licence fees.
  • The subsequent agreement with Icasa states that WBS will pay R76 million, being the unpaid licence fees for two years.

“It was explained to the committees that this was a complex settlement and Dr Mncube promised to furnish the committees with details of the settlement and payment schedule,” Shinn said.

Shinn said that she would not let the matter rest there, and will ask parliamentary questions of Icasa regarding its deal with WBS and other licensees whose spectrum license fees are in arrears.

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WBS spectrum issues secretly settled: DA