By Sorie Fofana……………………….
Since mobile operators or telecom operators got the go ahead to effect a slight increment in their tariffs, the Government of Sierra Leone and NATCOM have been unfairly criticized for not “doing enough to prevent telecom operators” from increasing tariffs.
Under the Telecommunications Act, 2006 Part III, it is clearly stated that, “In the performance of its functions under this Act, the Commission (NATCOM) shall not be subject to the direction or control of any person or authority”.
Before the increment was agreed, a well attended public consultative dialogue was held at the Bintumani Hotel. It was attended by telecom operators, consumers, Parliament and civil society organizations.
As a result of the challenges faced by telecom operators, it was resolved (by majority of the attendees) that, a slight increment on tariffs (for voice) be implemented subject to an improved service within one hundred and twenty days.
It is a fact that, things are really difficult in the country today due to several factors not least the austerity measures put in place by the government since the beginning of the year.
But, we have to be mindful of the fact that, these telecom operators are also operating under very difficult circumstances.
Their operating costs keep going up as a result of an increase in electricity tariffs, fuel prices, the decline of the value of the national currency (the Leone) and the fluctuation in the exchange rate of the US dollars.
Coupled with all these challenges is the fact that, telecom operators are subjected to all forms of taxation by NRA (National Revenue Authority). It is an indisputable fact that, the telecom operators are the largest tax payers and the biggest employers in Sierra Leone.
The two biggest telecom operators (Airtel and Africell) have at least eight thousand employees put together. Their contributions to NASSIT alone are phenomenal.
One of the telecom operators, Smart Mobile is collapsing like a pack of cards. The company has resorted to paying half monthly salaries to a good number of their workers because they don’t have the money to meet their monthly wage bill.
Up until yesterday (10th April, 2017), Smart Mobile was not able to pay its workers in full. The truth of the matter is that, the company is not doing well at all.
The Chairman of NATCOM, Momoh Konte did the right thing, by convening a private public dialogue forum to give consumers the opportunity to have a say in the increment in mobile tariffs.
The mobile operators took the opportunity to explain to consumers the challenges they face in their operations.
The former Information and Communications Minister, Hon. Alhaji Ibrahim Kargbo begged consumers to show understanding by allowing mobile operators to effect a slight increment in their tariffs.
It is very clear that, the government cannot allow any of the two major telecom operators to collapse in this country. That is why, the government decided not to even dictate the pace of the public dialogue forum that was held at the Bintumani Hotel last month.
As far as some of us are concerned, the government cannot afford to kill the goose that lays the golden egg.
NATCOM continues to perform its core function of protecting the interest of both mobile operators and consumers.
When the idea to increase mobile tariffs first came up in July 2016, NATCOM was the first to discourage the operators from going ahead with such an idea. But, with the current trend, NATCOM could not afford to stand in the way of the operators otherwise, they risk pushing one of the operators under the bus.
We still believe that, it is unfair to blame the government and NATCOM for the increment in mobile tariffs. The government’s role is to protect jobs and investments.
It is equally the government’s responsibility to protect citizens from unfair treatments in the hands of foreign investors.
We need to re-emphasize that, NATCOM does not need any Parliamentary approval to effect a reduction or an increment in mobile tariffs. The Telecommunications Act is very clear on this!
Let us learn to argue out our points without having to insult or unfairly impugn the character of others, no matter how much disagreement we have in opinion.
That is how people behave in civilized societies where some of us have lived and even worked.
Stop the unfair criticisms of both the Government and NATCOM!