MTN SA police contract declared unlawful as Vodacom wins case

MTN
MTN

The High Court in Pretoria has declared the South African Police Services’ R20-million-a-month ($1.08 million) contract for cellular services with MTN unlawful, Rapport reports.

The court heard an application from Vodacom to have the contract reviewed and set aside in November 2022. The challenge came after MTN convinced the police it should be its preferred provider of cell phones, modems, and uncapped data packages during a tender bidding process.

Before the police awarded the contract to MTN, Vodacom had been its sole cellular services provider for two decades. In his ruling on Friday, 17 March 2023, Judge Edwin Molahleni found that the SAPS had ignored advice from its legal department that the comparisons between the data provided by Vodacom and MTN were invalid.

That resulted in irrelevant considerations in determining the preferred provider, he said. Molahleni ruled that MTN’s contract had been unlawfully awarded and had to be reviewed.

Vodacom had argued that the SAPS committee that considered the bids had erred by confusing two network performance metrics — availability and coverage.

It pointed out that the committee had been informed of this mistake by a senior police official. Vodacom said its network availability of the South African population stood at 99.9% as of June 2021.

It also admitted that this had declined to 86% at one point during load-shedding. MTN reported network coverage of 99.1% of the population but did not provide specific figures on its availability during load-shedding.

The committee mistakenly interpreted Vodacom’s submission to mean that its availability had permanently declined to 86%, while also confusing availability and coverage. Whereas network availability refers to the uptime of the network, coverage refers to the actual proportion of the population within the coverage area.

In its responding arguments, MTN said Vodacom’s claim of 99.9% population coverage was not backed up by any third parties. However, Vodacom had never made this claim and was referring to its availability figure.

But the police had also taken issue with this, arguing it never asked for availability figures but wanted statistics on coverage. Regardless, the court was seemingly not satisfied with MTN or the police’s arguments.

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