ABT Telecoms has responded to a City Press report that it was responsible for a telecommunications shutdown in Mpumalanga provincial government offices, calling it unsubstantiated and slanderous.
The City Press recently reported that 76 Mpumalanga provincial government sites were left without telecoms services despite the provider, ABT Telecoms, receiving R13 million to deliver these services.
The newspaper has also reported that Mpumalanga premier Refilwe Mtsweni-Tsipane’s office was investigating the allegedly irregular R265.3-million tender awarded to ABT Telecoms.
According to the report, the previous telecoms provider, Kwa-Mahlaba Connect’s contract had expired in October, but it continued to render services in November.
After Kwa-Mahlaba Connect switched off their services, numerous government sites, including hospitals, clinics, and police stations, were left without telecoms services.
ABT Telecoms said the allegations in these articles cannot go unchallenged, especially in light of the fact that the matter is sub-judice.
“The City Press articles have extracts out of an Affidavit solely by Kwa-Mahlaba Connect and has not taken extracts from the State’s affidavit, nor ABT Telecoms, thus making the story one-sided,” said ABT Telecoms Thula Nkumane.
He said there is no clarity on why the R265 million tender was alleged to be awarded irregularly, and that “City Press relied on the gossip and conjecture by its faceless source whose version is presented as established fact”.
Nkumane said in the normal course of doing business, ABT Telecoms submits proposals to both the private and public sectors.
“ABT Telecoms conducts its business above board in the spirit of solving societal problems, driving innovation and achieving commercial success.”
“The company does not have any politicians beholden to it, nor does it engage in business with any politically exposed people,” he said.
He added that ABT Telecoms was not responsible for lack of telecommunications services at Mpumalanga Provincial Government offices, as reported.
“The articles do not explain that Kwa-Mahlaba Connect, the former service provider, refused to do a handover to ABT,” said Nkumane.
“They refused to hand over the State’s telephone numbers in the range of 013, 766, 0000 and 9999 to ABT Telecoms to facilitate a seamless continuation of telecommunication services to Government offices and facilities.”
The government and ABT Telecoms instituted legal proceedings against Kwa-Mahlaba Connect to force the latter to hand over telephone numbers to enable ABT to provide telecommunications services.
“Kwa-Mahlaba Connect managed the numbers, which have been gazetted to the provincial government by the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA), through a third-party reseller,” he said.
By withholding the numbers and refusing to hand over fully to ABT Telecoms, he said, Kwa-Mahlaba Connect deprived over 15,000 civil servants in Mpumalanga access to telecommunications services.
“The impact of their unfortunate actions had a spillover effect to millions of Mpumalanga residents who could not access critical public sector and emergency services.”
“In a bid to speed up services delivery in the face of shameless and blatant sabotage by Kwa-Mahlaba Connect, ABT Telecoms purchased a tranche of 087 numbers to provide telecommunications services to civil servants while the porting of the numbers was still a subject of a court process.”
Nkumane said the decision to purchase the 087 range of numbers was indicative of their commitment to ensuring business continuity.
“It was unfortunate that the provincial government was not allowed by regulations from advertising this range of numbers,” he said.
Nkumane added that the court has since ruled in favour of the government and ABT Telecoms and instructed Kwa-Mahlaba Connect to cede the numbers to ABT Telecoms.
“In a bizarre twist of events, it has turned out that Kwa-Mahlaba Connect, which has served as a telecommunications service provider to the province for the last 18 years, is unable to carry out the court order because it does not have the ICASA license required to port the numbers to ABT Telecoms.”
Nkumane also dismissed allegations that ABT Telecoms lacks the capacity and infrastructure to provide telecommunications to the provincial government.
“ABT Telecoms has built telecoms infrastructure for Mpumalanga without a glitch. Over and above this contract, ABT has built telecommunications infrastructure in the Free State and KZN, thus rendering the argument around capacity nonsensical,” said Nkumane.
ABT Telecoms has also built a multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) network that connects government buildings in Mpumalanga.
This MPLS network connects to the LAN that was re-engineered in less than three months and has enabled more than 7,000 civil servants to make voice calls through the 087 number.
“There is no merit to the allegation that ABT Telecoms was disqualified by MTN due to lack of affordability,” he said.
“In light of respecting confidentiality between MTN and ABT, these agreements have not been made public as per the laborious request of our colleagues Kwa-Mahlaba.”
He said ABT Telecoms has three standing agreements with MTN – a reseller agreement, an on-biller agreement, and a teaming agreement specific to the Mpumalanga Provincial Government.
Nkumane further dismissed the allegation that it was paid R13 million for “doing nothing”.
“The Mpumalanga Provincial Government has to date not paid ABT Telecoms one cent,” he said.
“We are in full support of the investigation by the Office of the Premier as we believe that its outcome will further vindicate us, just as the High court has, and lay bare the malicious intentions to ruin ABT’s reputation.