Ivory Coast has withdrawn the licences of four mobile telecommunications operators, saying they owe taxes and fees, and plans to merge them into one company controlled by a new majority shareholder, it said on Wednesday.
The companies, Libya's Green, the local units of Lebanon-based Comium and Abu Dhabi-based Warid Telecom along with Ivorian operator Cafe Mobile, had been given a May 5 deadline to pay around 90 billion CFA francs ($155 million) they owe to the state.
According to a government decision announced by Communications Minister Bruno Kone, the four companies will be brought into a temporary entity that will also include the state. An independent consultancy will then value their stakes in a new company that will be majority owned by an operator yet to be chosen.
"We decided to fuse the defaulting companies to make a single entity that we will restructure and seek a financial and technical partner ... to take at least 51 percent of the new company," Kone told journalists.
Speaking after a cabinet meeting in the commercial capital Abidjan, Kone said the plan aimed to reimburse the state for the lost tax revenues while preserving the jobs of the companies' employees.
"We want to move quickly and I can tell you that we already have offers. But we will discuss it and arrive at a deal beneficial to the state and the future operator," he said.
Two officials from operators included in the plan said India's Bharti Airtel Limited and Nigeria's Globacom Limited were among those that had shown interest in taking a stake in the new company.
Ivory Coast, French-speaking West Africa's largest economy, has a population of 23 million and an equal number of mobile phone subscribers.
Together, Green and Comium had less than 1.5 million customers, according the most recent data from Ivory Coast's telecommunications regulator. Cafe Mobile suspended services last year and Warid Telecom, though holder of an operating license, never launched services.
Ivory Coast's remaining operators are led by France's Orange followed by South Africa's MTN, Etisalat's Moov.For all the latest tech news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.
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