Comium to renegotiate deal with government

5 Aug 2008

Beleaguered Liberian GSM mobile operator Comium Liberia, owned by Comium Africa Limited and LibanCell, has revealed it is prepared to renegotiate the terms of its contract with the government, but says it does not want the previous deal it concluded with the former administration of then Liberian President Charles Taylor cancelled – as is being advised by the current administration. The Monrovia-based Daily Observer newspaper writes that Comium Liberia is now prepared to renegotiate the tax incentives it received when it launched commercial services in 2004. Comium Liberia’s general manager Monnie Captan says the situation in the country was ‘quite precarious’ when it launched commercially and that ‘investors were not attracted to the country’. Mr Captan explained that as a result of the high-risk trading environment at the time, the state offered sizeable incentives to companies entering the country. However, in a review of this process, the Liberian government is now claiming its incentives were too generous and, in an escalating dispute, has reportedly threatened to revoke Comium’s concession and even to shut it down.

In September last year, the country’s telecoms regulator the Liberia Telecommunications Authority (LTA) refuted press rumours saying it planned to close down Comium after a number of statements by government officials – Minister of Post and Telecommunications, Jackson E Doe and National Investment Chairman, Richard E Tolbert – claimed that the cellco was operating in breach of Liberia’s investment and concession laws and could have its licence annulled. The two men reportedly told a legislative hearing that Comium was illegally benefiting from ‘duty free privileges and tax holdings on spare parts’ in violation of the investment incentive contract which it signed with the government in March 2004. Mr. Captan says that Comium is keen to resolve this dispute once and for all, and is prepared to renegotiate with the government for an acceptable compromise. However, he added that Comium opposed the unilateral cancellation of its contractual agreement with the state.