Icasa to hold postmortem on ill-fated Vodacom 'mistake'
THE Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) would hold a full postmortem after the regulator admitted in Parliament it made a "mistake" in trying to block Vodacom's R80bn listing, Icasa chairman Paris Mashile said yesterday.
Mashile has distanced himself from a U-turn that saw a handful of councillors decide belatedly that their approval was necessary for Telkom to sell 15% of Vodacom to the UK's Vodafone for R20,95bn and list its other 35%.
Icasa was roasted on Thursday by the parliamentary portfolio committee on communications for that shock decision, which had threatened to destabilise the stock market, the rand and foreign investors' faith in the country.
Parliamentarians grilled the councillors about their bizarre decision to apply for an urgent interdict to halt the listing, then took the inquisition behind closed doors.
During the public session, Mashile said the decision was taken improperly. "We are filled with remorse and regret," he said.
"We fell off our horse."
Since the authority had flouted its own procedures, its councillors might be liable for the legal fees incurred as Telkom, Vodacom and Vodafone fielded advocates for the emergency Sunday court case.
Yesterday Mashile said: "I don't want to jump the gun and say anything. It would be irresponsible of me to say how things will turn out."
Mashile was out of the country when the monumentally flawed decision was made. Icasa CEO Karabo Motlane was also absent from the meeting, although he was in the building at the time.
Icasa's unexpected U-turn saw it side with the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), which vehemently opposed the sale of Vodacom shares to a foreign entity.
Siding with Cosatu led to speculation that the supposedly "independent" authority had caved in to political pressure.
Mashile said that was untrue as he had not been placed under any pressure from Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi.
"Vavi never pressured me on anything even though we discussed this matter. I explained to him why we had decided that it didn't need our approval, and he more or less accepted my explanation."
Icasa's original decision that the deal did not need its approval had been correct, and was taken after examining the laws and the facts, Mashile said.
He "clearly" would not have allowed their change of heart if he had been present, he said.
"I felt that it was a big mistake."
Mashile said he did not know whether the parliamentary committee would call for heads to roll over the debacle.
After the meeting on Thursday, committee chairman Ismail Vadi told the online news service ITWeb: "Parliament expressed a clear view that it is very concerned over the legal costs implication and the fact that Icasa needs to clean up its procedures."
Uproar erupted when Icasa tried to halt the deal, and Icasa was barely able to explain its actions even then.
The only councillor commenting on its shock decision was Marcia Socikwa, who answered questions by SMS as the industry struggled to figure out if the regulatory body had the power to halt the listing.
Judge John Murphy threw out the bid for an interdict and awarded costs against the applicants.
Murphy ruled that their action could destabilise the JSE, devalue the rand, severely damage the government's reputation and deter foreign investors.
Vodacom spokeswoman Dot Field said yesterday she could not comment on the extent of legal fees or who would pay them.
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