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MTN out of the fire,
into the frying pan

As MTN prepares for a new year boom, it has received a timely Christmas present from Nigeria, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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MTN has turned an $8-billion demand from the Nigeria government into a $52-million fine, but still faces a $2-billion demand for back-taxes. But, as it prepares for a boom in new year’s day messaging, it has sent a confident signal that it will also be able to overturn that claim.

The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has alleged improper repatriation by MTN Nigeria of US$8.1-billion between 2007 and 2015, meaning that MTN was accused of taking money out of the country illegally through dividend payments to shareholders – with the biggest being the MTN Group itself.

“MTN Nigeria has held various engagements in order to find an equitable resolution to the matter. In particular, a series of meetings were held in Lagos with CBN officials during November 2018,” MTN said in a statement on Christmas eve. “At these meetings, MTN Nigeria provided additional material documentation which satisfactorily clarified its remittances. The CBN upon review of the additional documentation concluded that MTN Nigeria is no longer required to reverse the historical dividend payments made to MTN Nigeria shareholders.”

However, the CBN would not budge from its position that proceeds of $1-billion from preference shares from a private placement by MTN Nigeria in 2008 were irregular. The claim is that they were based on certificates of capital importation (CCIs) that only had the CBN’s approval-in-principle, but not final regulatory approval.

However, compared to the intended $8-billion fine, the CBN gave MTN Nigeria a slap on the wrist. MTN has to make a notional reversal of the 2008 placement at a cost of $52.6-million. MTN Nigeria and the CBN have agreed that the former will pay the amount without admission of liability, thereby bringing to a final resolution all incidental disputes arising from the matter.

MTN may not have to incur even that cost, as it plans to extract payment of the amount from the commercial banks that advised it on the transaction.

“MTN Nigeria relied on certain commercial banks to ensure all approvals had been obtained prior to the CCIs being issued and to ensure the CCIs were properly utilised in the private placement,” the company said in the Christmas Eve statement. “MTN Nigeria will be engaging with the banks in relation to the issues dealt with in the resolution agreement.”

MTN Group warned shareholders that it is still trying to settle a claim by Nigeria’s Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), for back taxes amounting to $2-billion. It has taken out an injunction against the AGF and the matter will come before the Federal High Court of Nigeria Lagos Judicial Division on 7 February 2019.

MTN is so confident of its case, it hasn’t made provision for the fine. This suggests that it has a strong argument to present in court.

“MTN Nigeria continues to maintain that its tax matters are up to date and no additional payment, as claimed by the AGF, is due, and consequently no provisions or contingent liabilities are being raised in the accounts of MTN Nigeria for the AGF back taxes claim,” it said in its statement.

Meanwhile, along with Vodacom, Cell C and Telkom Mobile, MTN is preparing for another festive season boost on New Year’s Day, traditionally the biggest day of the year for personal messages. SMS is declining in use at all the mobile networks, and the bulk of the messaging is expected to occur on WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. The former will boost data revenues for the operators, while a free version of Facebook Messenger tends to make it a less profitable channel.

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The myths of microwaves

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We all know microwaves make cooking a breeze and it helps save those minutes, we rarely have enough of these days. However, some people do have those lingering doubts about whether microwaving food destroys nutrients or that it emits harmful radiation. However, the truth is a lot more comforting and positive.

“The microwave makes life so much easier,” says Tracy Gordon, Head of Product – Home Appliances at Samsung South Africa. “It’s human-centred technology at its most helpful. The Samsung Hotblast for example, has revolutionary functions, which are tailor-made to create fast, tasty and healthy meals in minutes.”

A recent article by Harvard Health Publishingclaims stated that “microwave ovens cook food using waves of energy that are remarkably selective, primarily affecting water and other molecules that are electrically asymmetrical. Microwaves cause these molecules to vibrate and quickly build up thermal (heat) energy.” The article debunks two common myths about microwaving food.

Myth 1: Microwaving kills nutrients

Whether in a microwave or a regular oven, some nutrients, including vitamin C, do break down when exposed to heat. However, the fact is, cooking with a microwave might be better when it comes to preserving nutrients because it takes a shorter time to cook. Additionally, as far as vegetables go, cooking them in water robs them of some of their nutritional value because the nutrients seep out into the cooking water,” states the report by Harvard Health Publishing. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), food cooked in a microwave oven is as safe and has the same nutrient value, as food cooked in a conventional oven.

Myth 2: Microwaving food can give you cancer

The American Cancer Society (ACS) says that microwaves do not make food radioactive. Microwaves heat food but they do not change the chemical or molecular structure of it. In fact, there is absolutely no evidence that microwaves pose a health risk to people when used appropriately, the organisation added.

With those myths well busted, it’s comforting to know one can make full use of the convenient kitchen appliance. And when the time comes to use a microwave to heat up a tasty meal in no time, one can trust the Samsung Hotblast to do the job. The HotBlast has multiple air holes blowing out powerful hot air, which reduces cooking time. Samsung claims the Slim Fry technology ensures that food is perfectly crisp on the outside and delicious and juicy on the inside. Additionally, this versatile microwave has a wider grill, making it easier to brown food fast and evenly. The turntable is wider, measuring 345mm, making it possible to prepare bigger portions of food. And with its Eco Mode power, it significantly reduces energy consumption with its low standby power. Its intelligent features and stylish design makes it very useful and as we now know – a safe, healthy way to enjoy a meal.

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New BMW 3-series ushers in autonomous future

The new BMW 3-series is not meant to be an autonomous car, but it is so close, ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK discovers.

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It was not meant to be a test-drive of an autonomous vehicle. But the Driving Assist button on the steering wheel of the new BMW 330i was just too tempting. And there I found myself, on Sir Lowry’s Pass near Cape Town, “driving” with my arms folded while the vehicle negotiated curves on its own.

Every 10 seconds or so, yellow or red lights flashed to alert me to put my hands back on the wheel. The yellow lights meant the car wanted me to put my hands on the wheel, just to show that I was in control. The red lights meant that I had to take over control from the artificial intelligence built into the vehicle.

With co-driver Ernest Page, we negotiated a major highway, the bends of Sir Lowry’s pass, and the passes of Hell’s Heights (Hel se Hoogte) above the Cape Winelands.

As the above video of the experience reveals, it can be nerve-racking for someone who hasn’t experienced autonomous driving, or hasn’t been dreaming of testing it for many years. For this driver, it was exhilarating. Not because the car performed so magnificently, but because it tells us just how close true autonomous driving really is.

There was one nervous moment when the autonomous – or rather, Driving Assist – mode disengaged on Hell’s Heights, but fear not. A powerful sense of responsibility prevailed, and my hands hovered over the steering wheel as it took the curve. Assist disengaged, and the car began to veer towards the other side of the road. I quickly took over, and also sobered up from the giddiness of thinking I was already in the future.

In reality, Driving Assist is part of level 2 of driving autonomy, as defined by the Society of Automotive Engineers. A presentation on the evening of the test drive, by Edward Makwana, manager of group product communications at BMW Group in South Africa, summed up the five stages as the driver having Feet Off, Hands Off, Eyes Off, Mind off, and finally, only being a Passenger.

However, the extent to which the hands-off mode of Driving Assist mimics self-driving, and easily shows the way to eyes-off and mind-off, is astonishing.

Click here to read about the components that make the Driving Assist work.

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