It is today 11 November, Armistice Day for those who know history. Back in 1918, on this day, at 11 AM the First World War sort of ended. The fighting stopped on the West Front (it took another week before the message got to German East Africa). After this it took quite a few months to get the details sorted into a formal treaty. The turd brigade as we call politicians, they float in what they talk, made such a mess with the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 (ending the war legally) that it directly led to the Second World War and the slaughter of the Jews and many others, not only them, twenty years later. Yes, this is what happens when you desire revenge instead of being gracious in victory, you create resentment which will bite you in the ass in the future. It is a dangerous concept and a common one, sadly so.
We can learn from this. Many of my readers and every client knows I am not in favour of litigation (that is court battles) unless you have to, really have to so that you either get justice or prove a point. A good settlement is where both parties are most unhappy, yes, then not one was done in from behind like the Philistines did with the Israelites quite a few times in the Bible. Many historians will tell you, if the Treaty of Versailles was done decently, Adolf Hitler would have died in obscurity. Closer to home, Jannie Smuts, then Premier of the Union of South Africa, shook his head in utter disgust when he saw the terms and predicted it will lead to another war. And it did and 70 million souls died, East Europe became communist for decades and the Cold War broke out. A human disaster of epic portions, and all because the turd brigade demanded vengeance and threw aside their declared “Christian” values (many were not Christians, perhaps that is why, whatever).
Now large international companies also do not follow the principles of graciousness. They use litigation as a weapon. They sincerely believe, and they have a point, that if they sue they will break the opposition which cannot afford expensive lawyers and lawyers are terribly expensive, why, I don’t know. They are not that bright and law not that difficult, ask me, who is pretty average and yet boast two law degrees, law school and admittance to the bar for a few years. They also get bad advice, in my opinion, and we wrote about it before in my boring legal books. A good lawyer will tell you, always, try to settle this and the greedy lawyers (99%) will say: “We have an image problem, you must be seen to fight this. F them, we will win, I am telling you, 90% chance and we will fight to the last. Justice must be done; you are the victim here!” Let me tell you, in law, you have a 50/50 chance in court, you either win or you lose and the ONLY one winning is the lawyers, litigation, is big money. You can easily pay R20 000 plus a day in court and that is not the preparations etc. and I am extremely conservative now. I even heard of contracts being charged R800 000 for, which is ludicrous but it happens. A court battle can break you.
In my view, what I have seen, a corporate image equals the arrogance which comes with having a team of yes men around you and that includes company lawyers. What the MD forgets is that he will one day explain to his Board or the investors (worse by far) why he listened to such crap and now the company is in big trouble. Let us take this MTN problem in Nigeria which we read about and it is becoming clearer what took place (a disgrace and example of bad management). I say again, I do not act for MTN and I am in no way linked to them. I do not even use their products unless inside Nigeria where they are the best. SO this is just an opinion (not worth much unless paid for it) but let me explain. In law, there are only two instances where you can be forced to testify, yes, even against your husband or wife (usually, never, for obvious reasons) and the first one is where child abuse is involved and the second one, high treason. Now what took place in Nigeria, according to some mates I have left there, is that they introduced a RICA type of system to register sim card users. Why, it is all about counter terrorism. In all Third World countries, cell phones or mobiles are used mostly on pre-paid as most don’t have the credit standing for contracts. This is wonderful news for a telecoms company. Their most expensive product just so happens to be, yes, pre-paid. And hence the most abused is the, yes, poorest people who cannot get contracts. So you see, no graciousness here, just money and the god of mammon rules. The poor is the most abused.
All spy agencies, domestic ones, working on counter terrorism, intercepts mobiles (sometimes legally, with a court order). In the case of the US (No Such Agency), they intercept everything and I mean everything, entire countries. It cost them dearly in the last few years. In the first place they cannot use the information, it is not intelligence, because it is too wide a net. Most such messages are not even analysed and their reputation took a serious knock, it is costing them billions as former friends and allies walk away from them. Because the mobiles are abused to commit crimes, and all terrorism is a crime, a police problem, it stands to logic that the authorities, much abused, trying to protect you, must know who those sim cards belong to. Hence, a RICA process where you have to say who you are, where you live when you get a sim card. Right? Logical, understandable and entire normal procedure, you must be a liberal in disguise not to get this and this is what happened. It is said, in Nigeria. MTN had more than five million such clients unregistered. And Nigeria has terrorism problems which you probably don’t get – look in history – the Biafra War or Nigerian Civil War and then look today at the Muslim terrorist group Boko Haram, yes, the ones which abducted the maids and yes, chased the Nigerian Army so far that they are still running.
As with most African countries (except South Africa, weirdly so, since 1994) the domestic intelligence lads are rather good. The local spies, the guys looking for the far right whiners, the enemies of the party and lastly (never succeeding) to catch spies. In Nigeria, they have an excellent domestic agency, Israeli trained and quite good and powerful. I worked with them and I met a few and walked away impressed. They do know what they are doing, take my word, much more than the “National Disgrace” (NIA) we had here. And this is where MTN, in its arrogance, failed with a capital F. They did not register those five million plus users leaving the authorities blind. Yes, you can intercept a mobile, yes you know the handset used, you know the location but WHO? Can see the problem here? Then they said to MTN, cut the phones, cut the connection, let them come in and register and MTN failed to do so and then by law, strictly, they got fined 1500 USD for everyone they failed to cut and register. In law, MTN has zero chance of getting out of this and whoever is a victim of such terrorism, may and probably will sue them for damages too. It is a mess of epic proportions.
I can tell you, if the above is correct, and I don’t know, then MTN has no excuse whatsoever and it comes back to what? Arrogance in thinking you can break a country’s rules as you please and mammon, obviously, we don’t want to lose the pre-paid calls and internet usage, so we take a chance and let the money flow in, we make hundreds of millions of dollars profit, from the poorest among us, and hey, who cares? We are going to get away with this! Well, you did not and now three things are going to happen. First you are going to lose more than just one CEO, heads are going to roll (don’t feel bad for them, they will walk out very rich men) and rightly so. Secondly, you are going to comply with the law anyway as you should have done and thirdly you are going to pay a massive fine, less than this but it is going to be message, and it will affect your share price. This is what I meant in a previous blog, get the Vaseline lads, this will hurt and you only have yourself to blame. For the rest of the companies? Wake up and learn very quickly what compliance means.
Koos Kotze is a former member of the South African Police Force. He served between 1985 and 1991 primarily as a sergeant in the Pretoria Flying Squad. After leaving the Police Force he obtained the law degrees B Iuris & LLB at the University of the Free State (Bloemfontein, South Africa) and was a practicing commercial law attorney for eight years. He also wrote several books on business, law, counter terrorism and security issues. He is a widower and lives in Bloemfontein, South Africa.