Smile owners, lenders agree on refinancing plan

Wednesday April 07 2021
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Smile Uganda, which is a subsidiary of Smile Telecoms Holdings has operations within Kampala and other cities. PHOTO/COURTESY

By Dorothy Nakaweesi

Smile Telecoms Holdings shareholders have agreed on a refinancing plan that will see majority owner, Al Nahla Group, commit $51m in fresh capital. 

The South African-based telecom, which has operations in Uganda, Tanzania, DR Congo and Nigeria had been threatened by a disagreement between two majority shareholders -  Saudi Arabia’s Al Nahla Group and South Africa’s Public Investment Corporation - after they failed to agree on  a put option, thus exposing the company to liquidation. 

The failure to agree on the put option, which gives the majority shareholder the right to sell a specified amount of an underlying security, had last week forced Uganda Communications  Commission to put Smile Uganda operations under watch with the view of protecting stakeholders and clients in the event of any eventuality. 

However, in a statement emailed to Daily Monitor, Ms Nicolene van Zyl, the Smile Telecoms Holdings group head of corporate communications and marketing, said the restructuring plan, which had been announced in January, had been approved and agreed on with the lenders.

“The fresh injection of $51m in funding for operations will further enhance Smile’s position in its respective markets and energise Smile’s operations and support efforts towards achieving better performance,” she said, noting that repayment of debt would be rescheduled until post-March 2022.

However, the statement did not indicate if the two shareholders had agreed on the demand by Al Nahla for Public Investment Corporation to agree on the option to sell its stake to other shareholders for $45m.

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The proposal which had been a point of contention, had been put as a condition for Al Nahla to inject the $51m even as Public Investment Corporation had said that whereas it supported the restructuring plan, it was still engaging shareholders in Smile to find ways of preserving value for its clients.

The dispute had threatened close to $250m in loans due to Smile Telecoms held in both equity and commercial bank loans. 

Bloomberg reported last week that in 2015 Smile had raised $365m in capital, of which $50m was equity funding from Public Investment Corporation, while $315m was a multitranche facility sourced from African Export-Import Bank, Development Bank of Southern Africa, Diamond Bank PLC, Ecobank Nigeria, Industrial Development Corporation and Standard Chartered Bank.

editorial@ug.nationmedia.com 

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