NEWS AND ANALYSIS - COUNTDOWN TO INDEPENDENCE
The head of the United Nationsmission in Kosovo (UNMIK) has annulled the tender process for Kosovo'ssecond mobile phone company, which was won by a local consortiumaffiliated with Slovenian company Mobitel, because of "serious flaws" inthe process. However, UNMIK has not been able so far to provide details onwhat these alleged flaws were.According to a press release from UNMIK, its head Soeren Jessen-Petersenissued an executive decision to cancel the tender process on Wednesday.Petersen took this decision after it became evident that the selectionprocedure, which was won by the Mobikos consortium, "had been seriouslyflawed".However, UNMIK was unable to respond to an STA request today that itprovide further details on the "serious flaws" found by an independentaudit team in August. According to UNMIK press officers, Mechthild Hennekeand Jeff Bieley, the audit report, which UNMIK has referred to throughoutin calling for the tender to be annulled, is a classified document.UNMIK said today that the decision to annul the tender process was "in thebest interests of Kosovo and its economic development, in particular itsability to attract investment".The announcement of the annulment came within an hour of Mobitel'srevelation that the Mobikos consortium signed Thursday the EUR 6.5mconcession contract with the Kosovar Telecommunication RegulatoryAuthority (TRA).In response to UNMIK's announcement, Mobitel, Slovenia's largest mobileservices company and a subsidiary of the state-owned telco Telekom, saidit was surprised with the decision taken by Jessen-Petersen. Mobitel saidit would "examine thoroughly" the current situation, adding it would betaking legal action if that proved necessary."Such a development is mostly to the detriment of mobiletelecommunications users in Kosovo," the Mobitel press release said,adding that competition was the only way to improve mobile phone servicesin Kosovo.In its press release, UNMIK suggests that the TRA and its chairman AntonBerisha in particular were to blame for the chaotic situation: "UNMIKregrets that the chairman of the TRA went ahead with the signing...withoutprior notice to UNMIK or to the government.""The action of the chairman was in disregard of an instruction to take nofurther action on this tender that had been given to him [by UNMIK] inJune," the press release says, adding that Berisha's move was"inexplicable".Berisha recently told a Slovenian paper that UNMIK no longer insisted thatthe tender for a second mobile telephony provider in the province had to beannulled or that the irregularities found in the selection procedure couldnot be fixed.In the 1 October Delo interview, Berisha criticised UNMIK for itsauthoritarian handling of matters in the province. "We'll not acceptdialogue in terms, we are the UNMIK and we declare the tender invalid. Ifthis happens, and the UNMIK gets to decide about everything, there's nopoint in holding a general election in Kosovo at all."He said the person he found most responsible for the complicationssurrounding the tender was Charles Brayshaw, the former acting UNMIK head,whose term in office ended at end of September."The issue is no longer about the mobile telephony tender, Mobitel, orwhose analysis is more reliable. Honestly, I don't accept the logic thatthe international community, with all due respect for what it has done forKosovo, can decide just about everything on our soil," Berisha says.The Kosovo Agency for Telecommunications selected Mobitel and its Kosovopartner Mobikos as the second mobile provider in the province last June,but Kosovo Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi requested an opinion on thematter from UNMIK.Interestingly, this was supposed to be the first tender process managedfully by local authorities since the arrival of UNMIK in 1999.An independent audit team, headed by the international auditing firm HELM,reviewed the tender process and, according to UNMIK, found serious flaws.Details of the findings have been very sketchy; back in August an UNMIKpress release said that "instances of serious non-compliance within thepre-qualification evaluation, compliance errors, and inconsistenciesthroughout the tender process" had been found.Apart from Mobitel's local partner, five other companies entered bids forthe second mobile services license in Kosovo, among them Swedish Tele 2,the consortium IPKO, linked to the US Western Wireless International,Albacell (Norwegian Telenor and Siemens), and Kostel (Orange Group).Among the losing companies, Western Wireless International has been theloudest in calling for the annulment of the selection process, claimingthat the whole procedure was rigged.Local media have reported that US and British diplomatic missions inKosovo, as well as a US lobby firm, have also lobbied UNMIK for theannulment of the tender.
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