Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Worrisome oversight functions: ALTON drags NASS to court

The Association of Licensed Telecom Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) has explained why they recently dragged the National Assembly (NASS) to a Federal High Court in Abuja, seeking interpretation over the alleged worrisome oversight functions on telecommunications companies by various NASS committees, reports ITRealms.

Confirming this to ITRealms, ALTON chairman, Engr. Gbenga Adebayo, said the resolution to seek this interpretation was taken at the organisation’s General Meeting held on Friday, 20th October, 2017, including an order restraining NASS from serving any further summons on telecommunication companies pending the determination of the case, which industry observers described as largely “embarrassing harassment.”

ITRealms also gathered that the resolution include that a firm of solicitors with good track record in handling high-profile constitutional law cases be instructed to institute an action in court seeking the court’s interpretation of the provisions of the constitution on the extent of the National Assembly (NASS)’s oversight functions on telecommunications companies.

ALTON chairman expressed dismay that its members have been inundated with incessant summons from different committees of the NASS served on their Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) to appear before several National Assembly (NASS) Committees.

This, he said, have negatively impacted on the ability to focus on business operations.

“The NASS’ insistence on attendance of CEOs at such session is without consideration of these CEOs reasonable schedule conflict or the fact that other senior management staff may be better versed and suited due to the nature of their job roles vis-a-vis the subject matter of investigation,” he lamented.

ALTON also cited an instance, saying that the Ad-Hoc Committee set up by the House of Representatives to investigate the Health Implications of Telecommunications Towers in residential buildings, called for public hearings on Monday 10th and Tuesday 11th April, 2017, at which the industry was supposed to be represented by ALTON, but the Committee, insisted that each operator make its own presentation.
“There were further hearings on Tuesday, 25th April and 8th and 23rd May 2017. However, at those Hearings the Committee insisted that it would only grant audience to the CEOs of the Companies and no other representative, in spite of technical knowledge and seniority of such representatives,” he decried.
In addition, ITRealms reports that ALTON observed that some of the investigative duties of the different committees overlap and require similar information from the attendees.

“For instance, members are summoned by both the standing Committee on Telecoms and its Ad-hoc Committee on Operational activities of Telecoms Equipment and Service Providers both investigating loss of revenue to the Federal Government. The Committee on Telecoms is also investigating loss of jobs which the Committee on Labour also summons members in respect of. The Committee on Telecoms also served summons for investigation by its Adhoc Committee for Value Added Services and Committee investigating locally manufactured skills,” he said.

ALTON further pointed out that apart from the duplication of effort by the Committees, the manner of invitation borders on harassment of our members as the invitations are sometimes scheduled on the same day leading to conflict or scheduled back to back for 3 to 4 days, which will necessitate member CEOs being away from their businesses for such long periods.

ITRealms further gathered that some of the requested information border on information within the purview of specific government agencies, such as the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and Ministry of Communications, which NASS could easily request the agencies to provide, such information as evidence of Tax remittances to government since inception of members operations, which could date as far back as sixteen (16) years; or confidential information which members should not be obliged to provide e.g. list of all employees and current remuneration package of these employees.

Equally, ITRealms gathered that ALTON plea before the Federal High Court include determination of  (a) Extent of the NASS’ oversight functions as it relates to private companies and particularly, Telecommunications Companies being private companies;  (b) Extent of the NASS’ oversight functions with respect to private companies and particularly, Telecommunications companies which are already subject to regulatory oversight by regulators; (c) Specific nature of information which the NASS can lawfully request from private companies including Telecommunications Companies, and whether it includes companies’ confidential information and information within the purview of government agencies.

Others are: (d) “Specific nature of directives that can be made by NASS pursuant to the outcome of their investigative activities;  (e) Declaration on the proprietary of the NASS to issue these summons and insist that our members are represented by their CEOs and not senior management representatives whose job function deal with the subject matter of investigation; and (f) An order restraining the NASS from serving any further summons on Telecommunication Companies pending the determination of the action.”

Chuks Egbune/GEE 

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