The National, Tuesday August 6th, 2013
By MALUM NALU
VODAFONE Fiji has pulled the plug on an agreement signed with bemobile in April to take over the management of the mobile phone company, according to Prime Minister Peter O’Neill.
A disappointed O’Neill said the Fiji National Provident Fund had pulled out of the deal, and he would be writing to his Fijian counterpart, Frank Bainimarama, to express PNG’s disappointment.
It comes as a thorn in the side at a time when Bainimarama and O’Neill are working towards closer economic relations between the two countries.
All is not lost however as O’Neill said the Government would be looking at the Independent Public Business Corporation (IPBC) and Telikom to fill in the void.
It comes as an anti-climax after all the hype and fanfare after State Enterprise Minister Ben Micah signed the agreement worth K88 million with Vodafone Fiji representatives in April.
It was the culmination of months of work, and would have seen bemobile with the capital and strategic partnerships to enable it to compete and thrive in PNG and the Solomon Islands and bring much-needed competition to this sector in PNG, particularly against major player, Digicel.
The loan agreement would have seen Vodafone Fiji manage bemobile’s telecommunication system.
Under the agreement, the IPBC would have share equity of 51%, while FNPF would own 40%.
The other 9% would have been shared between the PNG Sustainable Development Programme (PNGSDP), Steamships and Nasfund under the deal.
Micah, who was at the forefront of the deal, said PNG would have to look at life beyond Vodafone Fiji.
“Several days ago, the Fiji National Provident Fund decided not to extend the grace period, meaning that they have pulled out,” he said.
“This effectively means that the State will have to look at the investment strategy for bemobile going forward, through other options.
“They (FNPF) advised the chairman of bemobile and IPBC some days ago. I was advised and we have since decided not to create any more uncertainty in the business.
“This is why the IPBC board decided to accept withdrawal of the Fiji National Provident Fund.
“Our prime minister will be writing to the prime minister of Fiji to formally advise him that they are not coming in.
“The (PNG) government will have to find 40% funding to fund the way forward for bemobile, but like the prime minister mentioned, IPBC and Telikom will take over and see if they can raise the funds.
“Telecommunications is a big business, so they should be okay.”