By Jariatu Bangura
Members of the Parliamentary Oversight Committee on Information and Communication yesterday brokered peace between the management of Africell and Comium in respect of the exclusive termination of calls on each other’s mobile phone, following a long standing interconnection dispute.
Chairman of the Committee, Hon. Binneh Bangura, said the purpose of the meeting was to mediate an amicable settlement of the US$263,000 debt Comium owes Africell, and to agree on a payment plan.
He noted that subscribers have raised grave concern about the interconnection between the two networks, despite the intervention of the National Telecommunications agency.
A host of lawmakers suggested that Africell should open the connection between the two networks so as to reduce the debt which Comium owes the former, because the latter are currently grappling with an imminent bust.
According to Administrative Manager of Africell, Abdul Aziz Gabisi, an agreement was reached on 22March 2005 for the parties to be interconnected exclusively for the termination of calls, subject to terms and conditions, but that the agreement was terminated after Comium failed to pay what it owed to Africell.
He said that pursuant to clause 7 of the said agreement, monthly statements were exchanged between the two telecom companies, but since March 2010, Comium has reneged to pay huge backlogs due to Africell which, as at 31 October 2013, amounts to US$263,000 (two hundred and sixty-three thousand United States dollars). He said the issue of non-payment by the struggling Comium has protracted since 2010.
Mr. Gabisi informed the Committee that NATCOM had intervened on several occasions, including as recently as 5 August 2013, but Comium had reneged on written as well as verbal payment plans over the years, adding that there was a crisis of confidence and their continued non-payment would aggravate the situation. Thus, he called on the Committee to prevail upon Comium to fully own up to their financial obligations.
In his response, acting Manager of Comium, Joe Amara Bangali, said the ailing telecom giant would commence payment of US$10,000 beginning yesterday (March, 12th) for the interconnection between the two networks to be reopened, and thereafter payment will be made on a monthly basis for six months, following which another meeting will be held to agree on payment of the remaining amount.
However, he noted that some of the figures have to be reconciled as their figure was not quite the same as that stated by Africell.
Meanwhile, Africell’s representative at the meeting agreed to go by the proposed payment plan put forward the Comium, but on condition that it is put in writing and witnessed by Committee members.