By Deng Machol
Juba – South Sudan has shutdown telecom operator Vivacell over a tax dispute, citing failure to comply with the government’s rules and regulations.
The mobile operator Vivacell was among the first companies that invested in the communications industry in South Sudan. All calls and internet services stopped functioning since Tuesday’s mid – night.
The Country Minister for Information and Telecommunication, Michael Makuei said the firm was ordered to cease operations for its failure to conform to the government rule and regulations.
He said Vivacell had failed to pay over $60 million for its license since its inception, hence the drastic action.
“We want them to pay some of $66 million for its license and up to now they are dragging their feet – they are not paying – they are continuing to operate [and] this why we decided to shut down,” Makuei said.
National Communication Authority said each telecom operator has what he calls “International Gateway” through which international calls are connected.
However, the government has now acquired its own system, which the telecom operators have to use for inter-connection purposes.
A week ago, the National Communication Authority (NCA) issued a public notice suspending Vivacell’s license.
In response to shutdown, however, the firm said in a statement, ‘Vivacell regrets this unfortunate event in our operations and the inconvenience it has caused to our valued customers.”
Though the firm assured the public that they are expeditiously working with the relevant authorities to have the matter resolved, with confident that it operations shall continue across the country, it couldn’t work.
“By midnight today [Tuesday] the national traffic and all the traffic of Vivacell would be shut down,” Ladu Wani Kenyi, the director general of the Communications Authority, announced also on the state-owned SSBC.
According to Information Minister, Vivacell was exempted by the government of South Sudan for ten years, which ended last year in September, but the firm have not paid any taxes.
Makuei said despite a series of discussions with the government on the matter, Vivacell refused to comply with this arrangement.
“They have been resisted and as such the government decided to move against Vivacell and today (Tuesday night) we are shutting it down on internal calls until they come, they sit with us and conform and if they don’t conform, we will give out this frequency to any other company,” Makuei said.
Makuei argued that the mobile operators are using foreign licenses, something he said it would affect other mobile telecom operators if they don’t conform with the government.
Vivacell, owned by the Lebanon-based Fattouch Investment Group, entry into South Sudan in 2008 as was facilitated by top officials of the ruling party SPLM. Most of Vivacell’s shareholders are top government officials, launched its Global System for Mobile communication (GSM) network in February 2009. By early 2011, the company said it had achieved network coverage in all of South Sudan’s 10 state capitals, and along main roads from Juba to Yei and Bor.
Vivacell shut down has brought mixed reaction from across the country, multiple of users, who spoke this media, while shifted to other mobile operators, said the closure has greatly affect them, by will make communications difficult with family members in other parts of the country., urging the government to settle any disputes amicably to reverse the decision.
The mobile telecom operator is yet to react to the government’s latest decision.
More so, South Sudan currently has two other mobile phone operators, Kuwait’s Zain and South Africa’s MTN will still be operating, with reportedly less than 4 million subscribers in the country.