E-mails show Icasa ructions over WBS - TechCentral

E-mails show Icasa ructions over WBS

Icasa chairman Stephen Mncube

Icasa chairman Stephen Mncube

A memorandum penned by Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) chairman Stephen Mncube, instructing Icasa councillors to back off on acting against iBurst parent Wireless Business Solutions (WBS), provoked an angry response from two councillors, internal correspondence in TechCentral’s possession shows.

WBS stands accused of using radio frequency spectrum illegally and of not paying spectrum fees to Icasa. It’s reported that WBS could owe tens of millions of rand in unpaid fees. This week, Icasa raided WBS offices, seizing equipment, leading to extensive network problems in Gauteng for iBurst and sister company Broadlink.

TechCentral is in possession of a memorandum sent by Mncube to Icasa’s council, in which he stressed that it was “important that any and all actions against WBS be held in abeyance pending the strategy and further investigation into the matter being finalised by [Icasa attorneys] Bowman Gilfillan”.

Mncube’s memo, which is dated 27 February 2013, said Bowman Gilfillan’s recommendations “will inform the council as to how it is going to approach WBS on the various issues currently at hand”.

“With that in mind, I believe that it is imperative that the council instructs the staff of Icasa that no further actions be taken at this point against WBS pending Bowman Gilfillan’s feedback. In particular, the CEO should be requested to issue this instruction at an operational level with regards to the enforcement of arrear licence fees and illegal links against WBS across the country that no action must be taken until further instructions have been issued by the council/CEO in this regard.”

It’s not immediately clear why Bowman Gilfillan was retained by Icasa to investigate the matter. An Icasa spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.

The memo prompted an angry response from Icasa councillor Joseph Lebooa, who earlier this year claimed he had been hijacked and warned by his attackers to stop conducting investigations into WBS’s alleged unlawful use of spectrum. WBS has strenuously denied involvement in the hijacking and subsequently laid charges against the councillor.

“I disapprove in the strongest possible terms,” Lebooa wrote in an e-mailed response to Mncube’s memo, also dated 27 February. “The sanction on [Icasa] employees not to act on WBS is illegal and unwarranted and constitutes a violation of the laws of the land.”

Among other things, Lebooa demanded to know what warranted the WBS matter being held in abeyance.

“What is so complicated and different about the WBS matter that it needs to be held in abeyance?” he asked. “Is the act not clear about how to treat a case like WBS?”

Another Icasa councillor, Marcia Socikwa, also took strong exception to Mncube’s letter. In an e-mail, she said the chairman’s meeting with “external lawyers” and two other Icasa councillors did not constitute a quorum as required under the Icasa Act and therefore any decisions made in the meeting would be deemed “null and void in a court of law”.

“You will recall that in spite of the advance warning I gave that I will need to leave the meeting because of a long prearranged doctor’s [appointment], you publicly stated that whatever decisions you make will be binding to me,” Socikwa wrote.

“The letter you now want us (me) to respond to does not provide any context or reasons that will afford any reasonable person an opportunity to reflect on the merits of your decision/proposal. No rationale is provided, no logical set of facts are provided [and]instead we are abruptly told that the lawyers will guide us on ‘various issues currently at hand’.”

Socikwa’s e-mail continued: “I do not only feel totally undermined by the tone of the letter but feel totally disempowered to make any comment on the letter and hereby request that an urgent council meeting be held to afford all of us who were not able to be present at [an]unscheduled meeting an opportunity to understand the facts and circumstances which persuade[d]you to delegate our thought processes to external lawyers.”  — (c) 2013 NewsCentral Media

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