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‘More questions than answers’
Wednesday, 23 May 2012 00:00
Written by Bonnie Tubbs
MTN has once again come under fire from the Democratic Alliance (DA), which has questioned the weight of the firm’s social and ethics committee as it relates to its activities in Iran.
This follows MTN Group CEO Sifiso Dabengwa’s denial of the party’s request for information relating to the company’s social and ethics committee, and solicitation of documents in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) that the DA said may shed light on allegations emerging from a lawsuit
filed against MTN by Istanbul-based operator Turkcell.
Turkcell’s $4.2 billion lawsuit against MTN, filed in a US federal court in March, alleges bribery and corruption on the part of Africa’s largest mobile player in its acquisition of a GSM licence in Iran in 2004. Further emerging from the lawsuit are suggestions that MTN may have undertaken to facilitate the installation of “eavesdropping technology” on its devices in Iran, which the DA said would be tantamount to human rights violations. MTN holds a 49% stake in Iran’s second cellphone operator, Irancell.
Last month, the DA took various steps to uncover MTN’s Iran deal and alleged illicit activity in the country, including formal requests to both the Directorate of Priority Crime Investigation (Hawks) and the South African Human Rights Commission to investigate the matter.
DA shadow minister of defence and military veterans, David Maynier, wrote to Dabengwa, requesting information relating to the operator’s designated ethics committee, including names of chairpersons and recommendations made by the committee on issues relating to Iran, every year between 2003 and 2012.
Maynier also requested documents from MTN in terms of the PAIA act. He asked for copies of all records in MTN’s possession that relate to possible human rights violations in Iran, as well as copies of all records in the MTN Group’s social and ethics committee relating to Iran.
In response to the DA’s petition, MTN executive of corporate affairs, Rich Mkhondo, said that the operator is under no legal obligation to provide the DA with the information sought. “Nor does MTN see any other reason for it to provide the information.”
MTN strongly denied Maynier’s suggestion that the operator may have facilitated the surveillance of the political opposition in Iran, and was thus responsible for the violation of human rights in that country. Mkhondo says Dabengwa “made it clear allegations that MTN is complicit in human rights abuses in Iran, or anywhere else, is both wrong and offensive to the values of our company and our employees”.
In its defence, the company said it is “committed to sound corporate governance and ethical business practices”, pointing to the fact that a social and ethics committee was established last year “to assist in ensuring that these principles permeate MTN’s operations worldwide”.
But Maynier says MTN’s response “raises more questions than it answers” on the operator’s business practices in Iran.
“The fact is the MTN Group has not produced any evidence that the company took action to deal with alleged human rights violations in Iran. In fact, the response reveals that the company’s social and ethics committee, which was supposed to deal with ethical dilemmas relating to possible human rights violations, was only established two years after the crackdown on the political opposition in Iran.”
Maynier points out that this also means the committee was established six years after MTN began operating in Iran.
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