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Gov’t dismisses reports on clearing Umniah sale

2010-01-07 - 01:54 GMT
Jordan Jordan

Gov’t dismisses reports on clearing Umniah sale

The government on Monday dismissed press reports alleging that it had cleared the sale of Umniah Mobile Communications to the Bahrain Telecommunications Company (Batelco) from financial irregularities.

“The case has been referred to the prosecutor general for further investigation,” Government Spokesperson Nasser Judeh told reporters on Monday.

Judeh said a government panel formed to investigate the case discovered that the sales procedure was legal, but the panel could not complete its probe because the Lower House referred the entire file to the prosecutor general while it was examining the mobile operator’s licensing procedures.

He added that the committee’s findings were transferred to the prosecutor general, “but the results were not made public”.

The controversial issue surfaced last year when lawmakers learnt that the Bahrain-based Batelco had purchased a 96 per cent stake in Umniah for $415 million.

Several MPs raised concerns about the sale and signed a petition calling to halt the deal until questions are answered.

MPs charged that the government was “conned” because it sold the operating licence to Umniah for JD4 million in addition to granting the company tax exemptions and several concessions in order to help it stand on its feet.

In their petition, the signatories said the government must give an explanation for the “huge difference” between the operating licence fee and the $415 million price tag.

In March this year, Deputy Lower House Speaker Nayef Fayez referred the controversial sale to the prosecutor general for investigation following allegations from lawmakers of possible financial irregularities.

The company was officially launched in 2005, with expectations to increase the market penetration from 30 to 50 per cent, according to its former director, Michael Dagher.

Umniah, established with a JD250 million investment provided by Dagher and his Kuwaiti partners, Al Ghanem Group, received its operating network license from TRC in August 2004.

Parliamentary elections

Also during his weekly press briefing yesterday, Judeh said the November 20 parliamentary elections would be conducted in accordance with the current Elections Law, ruling out demands by the Islamic Action Front (IAF) to adopt a new draft law.

The Muslim Brotherhood and its political arm the IAF, this week called on the government to adopt a new temporary elections law to govern the upcoming parliamentary polls.

The group said it still had not decided whether to take part in the upcoming polls or not, noting that it was awaiting government response on its list of “guarantees” introduced after the conclusion of the municipal elections.

President of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Shura (consultative) Council Hamza Mansour said the Muslim Brotherhood and the IAF want to eliminate the one-person, one-vote system, which the group has repeatedly charged was tailored to diminish its electoral powers.

The government spok-esperson reiterated yesterday that all parties in the Kingdom are governed by law and the Constitution.

“The only guarantees for fair elections are the law and the Constitution,” he told reporters yesterday.

“The government has fulfilled all its pledges, as part of its transparency and commitment to a fair and free election,” he added.

Meanwhile, Mansour yesterday called on the government to relaunch contacts with the group and the IAF.

“Since the conclusion of the municipal elections, there has been no channel of communications with the government, except an exchange of statements through the press,” he said.

28 August 2007


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