THE Namibia Media Trust (NMT) has asked government to block plans by the information ministry to give a private company exclusive rights to facilitate, monitor, perhaps spy on and control international telecommunications in Namibia.
NMT, an advocacy and policy organisation which promotes media freedom, free expression and access to information, is led by the former editor of The Namibian Gwen Lister as executive chairperson.
The organisation reacted on Friday after The Namibian published two articles this month on how information minister Tjekero Tweya is putting pressure on the Communications Regulatory Authority of Namibian to give a French company the deal.
If Tweya gets his way, the deal will facilitate international telecommunications via a single international gateway, which will facilitate all voice and data traffic to and from the country.
“NMT calls on government to abandon this single telecoms gateway proposal in its entirety, as it will entail higher costs for consumers, and enable undue surveillance. It seems to hold no tangible benefits for the country,” NMT said. The organisation stressed that a single gateway would serve the primary purpose of enabling spying and monitoring of the communications of citizens, and in the wrong hands, could lead to potentially draconian moves such as internet shutdowns.
According to the advocacy group, the proposed single gateway is unconstitutional, and in conflict with the Communications Act.
“The consumer will have to foot the bill through higher prices. Making more money off international calls than is currently the case implies higher prices for incoming and outgoing calls,” the organisation added. NMT also questioned how the French-linked company is being pushed by Tweya, saying this is proof that the deal “is opaque and even questionable as far as a lack of tendering processes is concerned”.
Exclusive Gateway Networks (Pty) Limited proposed in May 2016 to facilitate incoming and outgoing telecommunications, such as voice calls, text messages and internet data.
Tweya is pushing for the company registered on 18 August 2015 and 51%-owned by another Namibian firm called UniGateway Solutions, while French and Ireland firm GEM Telco Limited holds the remaining 49%.
Namibian lawyer Brian Kauta, Michael Saarbach, Namibia Statistics Agency statistician general Alex Shimuafeni, former Namibia Wildlife Resorts (NWR) managing director Tobie Aupindi, and Phulgentius Kahambundu, who worked in the justice ministry, own UniGateway Solutions.
François-Régis Tézé, a businessman with links to French military business deals, leads GEM Telco Limited, which owns Exclusive Gateway Networks (Pty). TriStone Africa (Namibia) carries Tézé’s 30% shares in UniGateway.
Exclusive Gateway Networks’ co-owner Saarbach told The Namibian last week that Tézé is a licensed long-term adviser on defence equipment for the French government. He said the introduction of a single gateway would generate N$750 million per year for the state and local telecom operators.
Saarbach denied claims that telecommunications users will be spied on or overcharged if they get the contract to facilitate communications.