The country’s largest mobile phone operator, Econet Wireless, yesterday bowed down to pressure from its rival State-owned operator NetOne and consented to reconnect the latter pending the judgment by the High Court over their debt dispute.
According to the consent agreement signed by the parties, the hearing date for the case shall be fixed by the court. It was also agreed that with effect from September 1 this year, both parties shall carry out business in terms of the 2004 interconnection agreement, subject to tariffs set by the regulator on the same day.
The two rival firms were locked up in High Court judge Justice Ben Hlatshwayo’s chambers for over two hours before eventually reaching a compromise to salvage the situation.
Among the issues raised and agreed to in the draft consent order was the immediate reconnection of NetOne, which had been switched off yet again by 10am yesterday, a move which was castigated by the court.
Justice Hlatshwayo queried Econet’s disconnecting of NetOne without giving notice to its customers.
“Simply disconnecting the public does not make sense since we heard arguments on Friday.
Members of the public need to be informed, this idea of telling people that ‘the inconvenience caused is sincerely regretted’ does not make sense at all.
“You want us to close the stable when the horse has already bolted. You have pre-empted my decision because I was supposed to hear arguments and make a determination, but already I hear you saying you have disconnected them,” the judge said.
In response, Econet’s lawyer Advocate Firoz Girach read a text message that was sent to Econet subscribers informing them of the impasse between the two operators.
“We have claimed over $19 million from
NetOne and we are not acting like a bull in a china shop. The irony of it is that they are saying they want $19 000 from us and they have already cut us off, but they are using NetOne muscle to intimidate us and we are not complaining,” Girach said.
“They must sign an acknowledgment of debt and not to say there is no agreement as such we are not paying.”
Representing NetOne, Advocate Ray Goba
accused Econet of unilaterally disconnecting his client in contravention of the law.
“The Act is clear in so far as the interconnection is concerned, but is silent in regard to disconnection of telecommunication services. The legislature clearly stated that there should be no disconnection once interconnection is established,” Goba said.
Goba said NetOne could not be forced to set off a debt which was in dispute in a separate legal proceeding.
He accused Econet of using its power in “bullying” NetOne by disconnecting services to force payment of the disputed debt.