N1.4trn penalty too heavy to bear – MTN

Three days after Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC slammed a N1.4 trillion penalty on MTN Nigeria for failure to disconnect customers with unregistered SIM cards, Parent company MTN group has cried out that the fine was too extreme, even as it continues to engage the regulator on how to resolve the issue.

MTN Group were dismayed that Nigerian Communications Commission refused to listen to its plea to reconsider its stand on the penalty slammed on its Nigerian arm last week.

According to a report, MTN Nigeria spokeswoman, Chineze Gbenga-Oluwatoye, had said in an e-mailed response, that “recommendations were put forward with respect to the non-commensurable nature of the fine but the Nigerian Communications Commission did not accept recommendations that the fine of 200,000 Naira ($1,005) per SIM was too heavy.”

‘‘MTN Nigeria contacted the regulator with concerns that a demand to disconnect SIM cards by a certain deadline would cause “severe disruption” for customers and recommended a staggered process to limit the possible impact,’’ said Oluwatoye.

As a result of the fine, MTN shares plummeted about 20 percent this week in Johannesburg. The biggest four-day drop since 2008, valuing the company at about N284 billion rand ($21 billion).

The phone operator had said on Monday that the Nigerian Communications Commission is seeking the penalties because it missed a deadline to disconnect 5.1 million subscribers and is reviewing its management in the country.

Moody’s Investors Service had on Thursday lowered it’s rating for MTN to negative from stable following the fine.

“Key concerns raised to the NCC highlighted the difficulty of carefully reviewing the data on 18.6 million records within the one week deadline to ensure identification and disconnection of only affected subscribers,” Oluwatoye added.

Meanwhile, Financial analysts have pointedly said that Nigeria government is at risk of scaring off investors it can’t afford to lose if the N1.4 trillion fine slammed on MTN holds through.

With an economy struggling to cope with sliding oil prices, the experts said currency restrictions and no finance ministe, authorities are doing themselves no favors by penalizing one of their biggest foreign investors.

According to fund managers including David McIlroy of Alquity Investment Management Limited, the fine equates to more than 20 percent of Johannesburg-based MTN’s market value.

“It’s the last thing Nigeria needs, given the economic and political struggles it’s contending with at the moment,” McIlroy, chief investment officer at Alquity, which oversees $100 million of frontier market stocks, including MTN shares, said by phone from London.

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