Telecom Engineers’ Union fires salvo at SLT-Mobitel sale

Tuesday, 5 December 2023 00:58 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


  • Writes to SOE Restructuring Unit DG listing host of concerns regarding published Request for Qualification
  • Alleges RFQ could be targeted at particular investor than  strategic investor
  • Calls for urgent meeting along with relevant stakeholders

The Telecomm-unication Engineers’ Union (TEU) has raised concerns over the proposed sale of SLT-Mobitel highlighting a host of issues relating to the Government’s first step – the notice of Request for Qualification (RFQ) published last month. TEU is the most prestigious professional trade union in Sri Lanka Telecom PLC consisting around 550 qualified, experienced, and passionate professional engineers representing 95% of the management of the Company.

The TEU letter to the SOE Restructuring Unit Director General Suresh Shah listing the key concerns has been signed by President Eng. Manjula Samarasinghe and Secretary Eng. Hasaranga Vidanapathirana.

The latest representation in writing is despite TEU together with other fellow professional trade unions having been in communication with the SOERU since the inception of the divestiture process in late 2022 and having held several meetings to guarantee that the potential investor of SLT would be the ideal strategic partner who would propel the entity to new heights and ultimately benefit the entire country.

Having raised serious doubts whether the recently released RFQ to divest Sri Lanka Telecom PLC will actually pave the way for the country to achieve its short- and long-term goals, TEU said it (RFQ) contained ambiguities and catered simply to “any investor,” diluting the level of knowledge, competence, and ability expected of a potential investor.

TEU recalled in their discussions Shah was specifically conveyed the desirable characteristics of such a strategic partner. However, TEU said it appears that neither the Committee nor the project and evaluation committees appointed by the Cabinet have given much thought to the recommendations put forth by TEU. Instead, they may have been swayed by political pressure or unseen forces to alter the RFQ document, which was purportedly prepared by the renowned International Finance Corporation (IFC) on a global scale, in order to suit their own whims and fancy.

TEU in its letter listed following grey areas in RFQ albeit they are not exclusive to:

Conscious effort to disseminate/advertise this RFQ in a manner appealing to potential international strategic partners which could lead to a healthy competition at international level. (E.g., NTT, Vodafone, SingTel, AT&T, Telenor, PCCW, Orange, Sprint, Rakuten, N2N, BT Group, TIM, Telefonica, Telstra, Spark, Verizon, Deutsche Telecom, Telus, Comcast, T-Mobile, Dish Network, Bell Canada, Rogers, TIM, Liberty Global, Swisscom, Telia, KT, SK Telecom, LG Uplus, HKT, NTT DocoMo, Soft Bank, KDDI, etc.).

Whether the embassies and the diplomatic relations are used to reach the potential investors in the international market.

Whether the prospective investors experience in the telco industry is appropriately addressed in RFQ.

Whether criteria specified in the RFQ could essentially attract such a potential strategic investor or the RFQ is for the mere purpose of catering to an earmarked investor.

Serious doubts whether the evaluation is properly done.

Little confidence whether committee members appointed would look at above matters and their level of expertise as the committees are not disclosed.

Whether transparent, and unambiguous clarifications must be issued regularly to all stakeholders.

Given these circumstances, a minimum of ten (10) weeks with all impacts (e.g. year-end vacation) are suggested for the RFQ, as four (04) weeks is insufficient.

The general perception of investors over regulators/licencing authorities of Sri Lanka related to any industry is not conducive to invest in Sri Lanka. What are the initiatives taken or recommendations proposed by SOERU and IFC to commit an unbiased regulatory framework for potential investors.

Whether permitting investors with a minimum net worth of $ 200 million will be a realistic value that satisfies SLT valuation and Government expectations.

TEU in the letter had separately attached its concerns over the terms of RFQ as well.

Shah has been requested to have a holistic view of the concerns raised as it directly impacts the growth and the wellbeing of the SLT-Mobitel.

Noting that some of the trade unions of SLT have resorted to various trade union actions all over the country, TEU said: “Such actions will only tarnish the image of the company and will distant potential investors eventually be bringing a negative impact on the Government’s effort on reformation. We would like to start discussing employee rights, benefits, and welfare also under this subject of divestiture since it is going to be a critical factor in the whole process.”

TEU has sought a meeting with Shah and team heads of Project and Evaluation Committees together with Accountants Association of Sri Lanka Telecom and Sri Lanka Telecom Legal Officers’ Association as the major stakeholders, to discuss the concerns further. 

The Finance Ministry has issued Request for Qualification (RFQ) from interested parties to acquire a 50.23% stake in Sri Lanka Telecom (SLT). The deadline for responses is 18 December 2023.