The disbanded Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) board’s demand that telecoms operator Airtel pay a Sh2.1 billion licence renewal fee was motivated by the quest to extort bribes, Francis Wangusi, the agency’s director-general, said Wednesday.
CA chairman Ngene Gituku told journalists at a Press briefing that the authority had evidence to support the claim that a board member went to Airtel to solicit bribes in exchange for a favourable decision on the licence fee.
Airtel, which paid a $55 million (Ksh4.7 billion) fee for its initial 15-year licence, has since moved to court to challenge the demand that it must pay Sh2.1 billion renewal fee. The telecoms operator argues that the CA had initially agreed to waive the renewal fee, when approving Safaricom and Airtel’s joint buyout of Eassar’s yuMobile’s assets.
Mr Wangusi Wednesday said that based on the commitment made the authority had made to Airtel and the bribery allegations, Airtel was likely to win the case it has filed against the CA in court – an outcome that would expose the regulator to massive financial loss.
“The CA received a letter addressed to the Director-General complaining that one of the CA directors had solicited bribes from the telecoms operator in exchange for facilitating a review of licence fees payable to the authority,” Mr Gituku said.
“That letter is in our records and the matter is under investigation. We deeply regret that the ex-board member is now blaming corruption at CA in respect of Airtel’s licence fee for his woes with the authorities,” he added.
Mr Wangusi claimed it was the first time in the history of the CA that board members were being accused of corruption, adding that some members of the disbanded board had been soliciting for tenders and falsifying mileage claims.
“There is evidence that they (board members) insisted that Airtel pays the license fee because they did not receive the bribe they had demanded,” he said.
Mr Wangusi said demands to be awarded tenders and falsification of mileage claims had raised serious governance and credibility questions on the disbanded board, making its dissolution inevitable.
The disbanded board members’ demand that Airtel pays the licence renewal fee was in direct contrast to their predecessors’ decision to exempt the telecoms firm from paying the fee. Mr Gituku, who chaired both boards, however insisted that the demand that Airtel pays the fee still stands because it was a board decision.
The CCK board’s decision to exempt Airtel from paying the fees hinged on legal advice, which stated that the authority did not include settling of initial frequency spectrum licence fees in the conditions it set for Airtel when the telecoms operator was acquiring Essar Telecom’s properties.