Supreme Court backs WAT in dispute with LTA

6 Aug 2009

The long-running legal battle between Liberia’s national regulator the Liberia Telecommunications Authority (LTA) and would-be start-up West African Telecom (WAT) may have finally ended, after the Supreme Court in Monrovia ruled against the watchdog’s decision to revoke WAT’s licence. According to the Liberian Observer newspaper, on 23 July the Supreme Court handed down its ruling in which it adjudged that the LTA Act of 2007 Enforcement Order No. 001, ‘did not amend, modify, suspend or revoke a licence which had been granted to the petitioner, WAT’. The court further ruled that the regulator’s actions against WAT were ‘inconsistent with due process of law, thereby denying the entity its full rights as provided for by statutes’. The Supreme Court record read: ‘We hold that this provision, consistent with due process of law, mandates that the aggrieved party will be afforded the opportunity to be heard at a hearing, and that following the hearing and a decision order, or other exercise of the Authority, the aggrieved party may take advantage of the provision of the law. In the absence of the hearing, the petitioner was justified in filing a petition for the Writ of Prohibition.’

According to TeleGeography’s GlobalComms database, Paris-based telco West Africa Telecom (WAT) was awarded a licence to use 21MHz of spectrum in the 3.2GHz band in April 2005, when the previous government was in power, but did little with the concession for a number of years. In early 2007 the company finally announced plans to launch a fixed wireless-based telephony network, offering voice, fax and internet access, from August 2007. Its launch however, was queried by LTA, which claimed its operating licence was invalid and in November 2007 WAT was closed down for operating without ‘legal frequency’. LTA argued that WAT had no legal permission to operate services, and rather than cooperate, had instead ‘continuously, consistently, surreptitiously and cynically been acting in defiance to the repeated instructions and orders of the LTA’. WAT claims it has invested about USD8 million in Liberia.