“We attracted the attention of NASSIT at the time when the company was not yet closed. So if they needed to correct that mistake, they would have done so from that time,” Abdul Kargbo, ex-president of Comium staff, said in a press conference last week in Freetown. Mr. Kargbo said they decided to call on the attention of President Ernest Bai Koroma and some of his newly appointed ministers because they believed in him and his appointees.
About 207 workers lost their jobs when Comium went bankrupt. Kargbo said only few workers were paid benefits by the company after it collapsed.
“They will pay you when you tend to be recalcitrant and such payment was done secretly. It was being done like a secret society,” he said.
“We do not want to resort to any violent activity that is why we are calling on appropriate authorities to look into our concerns,” he added, dismissing claims that the mobile company operator still had some valuable assets in the country. He said they’d done thorough investigation to prove otherwise.
The ex-workers said 10 of their colleagues have died while others were languishing in suffering waiting for their pay. They said they had held several meetings with some oversight and regulatory bodies, like the National Telecommunication Commission (NATCOM), the Ministry of Information and Communication, and the Ministry of Labour, with the view to ensuring that their benefits and other allowances were paid. They said they were assured by some government officials and erstwhile directors of Comium that their benefits would be prioritized in any arrangement that would be entered into by NATCOM, on behalf of the company.
But, the aggrieved former workers told members of the press, NATCOM had not informed them of anything regarding the said arrangement.
“NATCOM is the most disappointing institution …if we are fighting for something that rightfully belongs to us, I think it makes no harm,” said Melvina Turay, a former worker. “How could a company operate and was later declared bankrupt and it did not have collateral to show? It could be Comium today it could be others in the future.” She advised the country’s regulatory bodies to take these things into consideration on the approval of any company intending to do business in the country, noting that some might end up being deceptive, like Comium.
Abdul Kuyatteh, Director of Communications at NATCOM, told Politico in an interview that they hadn’t any other means to salvage the situation, adding that they’d done all what they could to resolve the matter.
“The issue about Comium is so complicating. They even owe NATCOM and many other people,” he said.
Elizabeth Kailey-Brima, former Point of Sales Supervisor for Comium, expressed hope that they would get their benefits if the government treated the issue more seriously.
“Comium operates in other countries so I belief if the government steps in the directors will be able to pay our terminal benefits,” she said.
The redundant workers alleged that some officials of Comium had been paying regular visits to NASSIT before the former sealed off its operation. This, they said, they expected NASSIT to have taken legal action against them for.
“They visit NASSIT and which reason of their visit we don’t know. They were never reprimanded,” Kargbo said.
NASSIT said they had forwarded the matter to the Parliamentary Committee on Social Security and was waiting for the outcome. An official at the Trust told Politico that Comium made payment of contributions of employees, which ran up to 2013.
“We don’t know who and who was paid for,” said Baikonto Koroma, a Public Affairs official at NASSIT. He said they were still following the matter, adding that Comium was still on the list of indebtedness.
Comium is owned by a Lebanese business man and is operating in four West African countries: Gambia, Liberia, Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone. The mobile phone operator started operation in Sierra Leone in March 2005. It was offering both pre-paid and post-paid GSM voice and other GPRS data services to its subscribers.
In January 2014, NATCOM suspended Comium’s operating license and the utilization of the resources allocated to it as a result of its failure to settle its indebtedness to creditors, Banks, suppliers and staff and other telecoms operators.