Government shares in Airtel Tanzania rise to 49pc

Saturday January 12 2019

President John Magufuli shake hands with

President John Magufuli shake hands with chairman of Bharti Airtel International, Mr Sunil Mittal. 

By John Namkwahe @johnteck3 jnamkwahe@tz.nationmedia.com

Dar es Salaam. Tanzania government’s shares in Airtel Tanzania have increased to 49 per cent from 40 per cent following an agreement with India’s Bharti Airtel putting to rest a dispute that delayed the telecom firm’s wish to list on the Dar stock market.

Following the changes in shareholding structure, Bharti Airtel would decline to 51 per cent.

A statement from the State House said the chairman of Bharti Airtel International, Mr Sunil Mittal, met and held talks with President John Magufuli at State House in Dar es Salaam yesterday where he revealed the India-based telecoms group’s decision to reduce shareholding in the telecoms firm.

Bharti Airtel International acquired the 60 per cent shares when it bought Zain Africa BV in November 2010.

The India-based telecoms conglomerate and the government have been engaged in negotiations over the issue of government shareholding since March 2018. The negotiations started after the government claimed full ownership of Airtel Tanzania Limited in November 2017.

The government built its case using records going back to November 3, 1998, when the Cellnet Company- which later became Celtel- was launched under TTCL’s full ownership.

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Cellnet operated until May 7, 2001 when it was rebranded to Celtel Tanzania, again under the ownership of TTCL which owned the entire operating infrastructure installed at a cost of $5 million.

The company was later sold and rebranded to Zain and thereafter as Airtel Tanzania. But the government claims that the TTCL management, its board of directors, as well as the Treasury Registrar, irregularly, handed control of the mobile firm to private investors. The government claimed that TTCL invested about $82 million in the firm whose majority ownership ended up in private firms.

The government also claimed it was not receiving dividends from Airtel despite having 40 per cent ownership.

Yesterday, the statement said, Mr Mittal agreed to start the process of paying dividends to the government.

Speaking when receiving an airbus aircraft yesterday President Magufuli said he was happy with the new developments.

“I am happy that Bharti Airtel has agreed to increase government shareholding to 49 per cent. But I am also content by the fact that we would soon start receiving dividends. That was the promise the chairman of Bharti Airtel (Mr Mittal) has made during our talks earlier today,” President Magufuli noted.

Tanzania’s negotiation team in the talks was led by the minister for Constitutional and Legal Affairs Prof Palamagamba Kabudi.