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$5.2b fine: MTN’s CEO quits

CEO-MTN-• Why banks can’t fund sanction fee
•Telecoms giant already exposed by $1.7b

THE chicken has come home to roost. What started like one big joke has turned out to be a far cry from ‘business as usual’ as the Group Chief Executive Officer of telecommunications giant, MTN, Sifiso Dabengwa, yesterday resigned his appointment.

This follows the company’s continued poor performance on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) in response to the $5.2 billion fine imposed on MTN Nigeria by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) for failing to disconnect unregistered subscribers as directed by the regulator.

Dabengwa, a 57-year-old electrical engineer, had, prior to joining the MTN Group in 1999, held various job positions. A graduate of the University of Zimbabwe, he holds a Master’s degree in Business Administration (MBA) and EDP from University of the Witwatersrand.

He was an independent non-executive director at the Impala Platinum Holdings Limited between January and December 2004 before rising to the position of chief executive officer of MTN Nigeria, the Nigerian arm of the MTN Group between 2004 and 2006.
Dabengwa held the MTN Group CEO position from March 2011 to November 9, 2015.

The NCC has stuck to its gun insisting that the Nigeria subsidiary, the foremost GSM operator in Africa, must pay the N1.04 trillion fine.

Facts emerging yesterday indicate the company will be facing an uphill task getting Nigerian banks to fund the penalty. This is because, according to Renaissance Capital, a South African-based investment advisory company, MTN is already exposed to the tune of $1.7 billion, coupled with Nigeria’s regulatory obligor limits.

According to analysts at Renaissance Capital, as at first half of 2015, MTN Nigeria had gross debt of $1.7 billion, with 74 per cent of the gross debt in Naira, and the balance 26 per cent in dollar.
However, as at the same date, the company has cash balances of $1.3 billion, implying a net debt figure of approximately $400 million, with 94 per cent of the cash in Naira and the balance six per cent in dollar.

Given the net debt position, therefore, consideration must be given to raising external financing to pay the fine through commercial bank loans, debt instrument and equity raise, which would raise the company’s net debt by 1,606 per cent to $5.6 billion.

Already, MTN Nigeria holds three per cent of first half 2015 system’s loans in Nigerian banks, but with the single obligor limit capped at 20 per cent of equity, the company may have exhausted half of its single obligor borrowing limit.

The Sub-Saharan Africa Banking Analyst and Head of Research, Nigeria, Renaissance Capital, Adesoji Solanke, said: “Given the data we have, we think a fine reduction by less than 70 per cent probably exposes MTN Nigeria to more significant funding risks with little available support from Nigerian banks given single obligor limits, capital and liquidity constraints.
“In our view, the ability of any bank to further lend to MTN Nigeria would be dependent on the bank’s capital and liquidity constraints, scale of its extant lending exposure to the company and internal exposure limits.
‘‘Therefore, we think the amount that MTN Nigeria can additionally raise from the Nigerian banking system is probably smaller (32 per cent of the fine) than what it is already owing, considering that it has already borrowed significantly from the larger well capitalised banks today,” he said.

MTN Nigeria, the Nigerian subsidiary of MTN Group was slammed a $5.2 billion fine for failing to meet a deadline set by the NCC, for the disconnection of 5.1 million unregistered Subscriber Identification Module (SIM) cards.

The number of unregistered SIM cards represents 8.5 per cent of its 59.9 million subscribers in 2014 and fine represents 37.5 per cent and 48.1 per cent of the Group’s 2014 revenue of $13.6 billion and 2015 estimate of $10.6 billion.

Although MTN is still in negotiations over the sanctions, investors have already reacted to the news with its shares listed on the Johannesburg Exchange recording a 16.8 per cent loss.

The crisis, which actually started about two weeks ago, was a fall out of the failure of MTN Nigeria, after several warnings from the NCC to disconnect about 5.1 million subscribers found to have pre-registered Subscribers Identification Module (SIMs) cards and incomplete registration details on the network. This led to the NCC slamming a N1.04 trillion ($5.2 billion) fine on the telecommunications firm for the defective SIMs at the cost of N200, 000 per each.

Meanwhile, an industry source, who is closely monitoring developments around the issue, informed The Guardian that Senior Executives of MTN, who are in Nigeria to meet with the regulator to discuss the fine, will decide on whether to make changes to senior management in Nigeria, which is headed by CEO, Michael Ikpoki.

The source informed that there has been serious bickering between the South African top management team and the Nigerian arm about the handling of registration crisis by MTN Nigeria.

Meanwhile, MTN has appointed Phuthuma Nhleko, as Executive Chairman in a temporary capacity.
The telecommunications firm in a statement made available to journalists said: “MTN wishes to inform the market that MTN’s Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Sifiso Dabengwa has resigned.”

The statement quoted Dabengwa as saying: “Due to the most unfortunate prevailing circumstances occurring at MTN Nigeria, I, in the interest of the company and its shareholders, have tendered my resignation with immediate effect.”

The telecommunications firm, which has up till November 16 to pay the fine or face further sanctions, informed that Nhleko had agreed to act as executive chairman for a maximum period of six months to enable the company identified a successor for Dabengwa.

MTN spokesman, Chris Maroleng, told 702 Talk Radio, South Africa, that while Dabengwa took the step to resign as “an honourable” gesture, this did not mean that he was at fault for the unregistered SIM card debacle in Nigeria.

According to the telecommunications firm, Nhleko is no stranger to the business as he served as non-executive director and chairman of MTN from July 2001 until June 2002 and thereafter as an executive director, group president and CEO until March 2011. He has subsequently chaired the Group in a non-executive capacity for the past two and a half years (May 29, 2013).
“I will assume responsibility as Executive Chairman for the next six months as I proactively deal with the Nigerian regulator and will continue to work with them in addressing the issues around unregistered subscribers as a matter of urgency,” commented Nhleko.

Under the new arrangement, Alan van Biljon will continue to serve as the Lead Independent Director on the MTN board of directors, while Nhleko takes over executive responsibility.
“Together with the MTN board, my second priority will be to find an appropriate chief executive officer to take MTN forward. I will then revert to my non-executive chairman role,” Nhleko stressed.

The telecommunications firm reminded stakeholders it would continue to inform them of any material engagements with the Nigerian authorities via the Stock Exchange News Service of the JSE Limited (SENS).
MTN said: “The engagement with the Nigerian authorities on the Nigerian Communications Commission fine is continuing and shareholders will be advised as soon as there are any material developments on this matter.”
The company also advised investors to “exercise caution when dealing in the company’s securities until a further announcement is made.”

The fall out of the penalty has resulted in the decline in MTN shares to about 16 per cent since the fine was made public two weeks, valuing the company at 289 billion rand ($20.4 billion).
Criticisms

It has not been smooth sailing for MTN in Nigeria. Many of its subscribers complain about poor delivery of services. There is also the problem of network congestion, with many cases of poor network connection and drop calls; although this has improved over the years.

The company has also been severely criticised for overcharging its subscribers and has arguably remained the most expensive network in Nigeria. MTN has been fined in the past by the NCC for flouting regulatory orders, among others.

Rating agency downgrades MTN’s profile
Ratings agency, Standard & Poor’s (S&P) has downgraded MTN from ‘BBB’ and ‘zaAA+’ to ‘BBB-’ and ‘zaAA-’ as a result of its operations in Nigeria and other “high risk” environments.
How much is $5bn?
The $5.2bn (N1.04trn) fine MTN is facing is the same as:
• 22%of Nigeria’s yearly budget
• Double MTN’s yearly group profits ($2.69bn after tax)
• $80 for every single MTN customer in Nigeria
• 1.5x Nigeria’s annual capital expenditure
• 95% of Nigeria’s yearly spend on servicing national debt
. $5.2 billion fine exceeded sales of almost $3.9 billion that the operator reported to have made in Nigeria in 2014, which is about 37 per cent of the total revenue.
. Fine represented half of the about $10.7 billion estimated revenue for 2015 for the telecommunications firm. Many believe that the current challenge presents a make-or-mar situation for the telecoms giant.



7 Comments
  • Think Well

    Good stand for the NCC. Until all the regulators in all sphere of Nigerian Economy are actually regulating by sanctioning violators of regulations, the economy will not grow for development. This is a deterrent to other violators.

    • 4taisolarin

      It is a good thing NCC has done but they need to give MTN a brushing haircut instead of a “moromoro or skin” cut….jobs are also at stake..so the fine has to go slightly Southward. We hope the Nigerian content Commission will be similarly proactive with erring oil companies on the employment of Nigerians in the oil industry

  • ZINNI

    Central Bank of Nigeria,have failed over the years to take a legally or statutory stands against erring banks and other financial institutions ,that led to the current unemployment page in Nigeria and AMCOM a child of necessity to recovering bad loan,which Chike Obi seen as an opportunity to steal with Lamido Sanusi appointed Rogues managers as (MD/CEO),the corruption continues,thanks to NCC for the first time to say no no evil.But i believed this was as a result that MTN was a foreign company,if it were to be a Nigerian company?endless court injunction bribery and bribery and nocturnal meetings at evil Alters,may God bless us .
    Another nemesis that actually caught up with MTN is human beings treated like guinea pigs in course of what should be a gainful employment ,denying them most of their benefit,what MTN refused to pay to staff as benefit will now be paid to NCC vis a vise Nigeria state.

  • Ekpedeme

    This amount is much for a single company is viewed from the ‘trillion’ point of view but the fact that it is based on N200k per number of unregistered subscribers validates same. How can a company of this size be insensitive to a caution on the adverse effect of having subscribers on its network without proper registration (the ‘know your customer’ principle in vogue)? Its a pity. I only hope other networks are not in same shoe but exempted.

  • emmanuel kalu

    NCC is proving that some regulator in Nigeria are actually working for the benefits of the people. NCC has manage to move our telecommunication industry forward, and I am glad that they are holding firm on this fine. MTN was warned repeatedly, they were aware of the rules, agreed to the rule and yet chose to break the rule. This can only lead to one conclusion, they called the bluff of NCC and lost big time. MTN believe they would never be fined this much, they believe that they were providing Nigeria a huge service. NCC has shown the world and investor, obey the rules or you would be punished harshly. what NCC has effectively done with one blow, is straighten the whole industry up. I am pretty sure that other operator in this sector are paying attention and cleaning up their act. once can only wish that NERC, DPR and all the other regulator would take note and start doing their jobs.

  • New Nigerian

    To MTN, I say, welcome to a New Nigeria. A Nigeria that cares about it’s citizens. If Nigeria were to be the USA or any of the G-7, the fine would definitely have been levied and MTN would definitely pay up. Why? because rule of law entails. In the New Nigeria, the fine is levied and MTN would have to pay – why, because New Nigeria is a country based on rule of law. Obviously MTN thought the change election was just a gimmick…now it knows, Nigerians overwhelmingly voted out the PDPlutocrats and their “rule of me” approach to running Nigeria and replaced it with the New Nigeria. MTN was slow in transitioning, now it has to pay for that.

    Having said that, what sort of company would refuse to apply world standard best practice of knowing the subscribers that makes calls on it’s network? especially in the environment of terrorism, kidnapping and armed robbery the scale of which entails in Nigeria. MTN failed as a corporate citizen of Nigeria to live up to the expectations that it should have done the right thing and played it;s path from a national security standpoint without being prodded in the first place, to ensure that it’s network not be available to terrorists. It is noteworthy to mention that MTN worked with PDPlutocrats in the past years in a bogus registration of it’s subscribers – a scam that consumed billions of Naira in Nigeria’s resources – ; so when prompted again this year to simply cut off those not registered – it should have done so…..well, I guess they have to learn the hard way.

  • Dennis

    I agree with the fine but the amount is ridiculous, this is a shakedown of MTN by NCC to cover the budgetary shortfalls of the Nigerian government.

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