Is SPTC international arbitration ‘null and void’?

9 Oct 2012

The international arbitration relating to the Swaziland Posts and Telecommunications Corporation (SPTC) and its seemingly unlawful attempts to breach a long-standing joint venture with MTN Swaziland and launch mobile and fixed-wireless services under the ‘ONE’ and ‘FixedFone’ brands has been dismissed by local lawyers as ‘null and void’. According to the Times of Swaziland, citing separate interviews with three different legal experts, the decision, which was made in March this year at the International Court of Arbitration in Geneva, Switzerland, should not technically be recognised in Swaziland, and is therefore not legally binding. Reasons provided by the lawyers include the fact that the arbitration award has not yet been registered with the High Court, and the fact that Swaziland is not currently party to the New York Arbitration Convention, which governs the recognition and enforcement of international arbitral awards. One of the unnamed legal experts commented: ‘In its present state, the award is dormant. Not following it is not a breach of the rule of law’.

According to TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database, after finding its repeated attempts at launching a rival mobile network under the ‘ONE’ brand blocked by MTN in 2010/11, the SPTC promptly changed tack and launched fixed-wireless services under the ‘FixedFone’ brand in August 2011, offering limited mobility within each one of twelve designated zones: Big-Bend, Hlathikulu, Lavumisa, Luve, Mankayane, Manzini, Mbabane, Nhlangano, Pigg’s Peak, Simunye, Siphofaneni and Siteki. However, despite the considerable physical bulk of the FixedFone handsets, it was reported that customers were driving them around in their cars and using them in different geographical regions to make use of the service’s cut-price calling tariffs; SPTC dismissed these occurrences as ‘anomalies’, claiming that the process of locking the FixedFones to their designated zones was ongoing.