By Sorie Fofana……………………………..
NATCOM (National Telecommunications Commission) was established by an Act of Parliament “to license and regulate the activities of telecommunications operators so as to promote efficiency and fair competition, and the expansion of investment in the telecommunications sector; the protection of the users or consumers of telecommunications networks and services and the progressive development of the telecommunications industry and technology in Sierra Leone”.
Since NATCOM was established in 2006, there have been about four Chairmen of the Commission.
The late Kanji Daramy was the first Chairman of the Commission. He was succeeded by Ambassador Siray Timbo. Ambassador Timbo was succeeded by Tom Obaleh Kargbo. After Tom Obaleh was relieved of his duty by President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma, the young and dynamic international businessman, Momoh Konte was appointed as NATCOM Chairman in 2015.
Momoh Konte’s style of leadership at NATCOM has been described as open, inclusive, transparent and accountable.
Since he was appointed in 2015 as Chairman of NATCOM, Momoh Konte has refused to allow telecoms operators to increase or normalize their tariffs in line with the increase in their operational cost.
Since 2010 to date, there has been no increment in the cost of tariffs sold by telecoms operators in Sierra Leone.
The telecommunications industry is a very dynamic industry. In fact, it is the fastest growing industry in Sierra Leone today.
Separately and collectively, telecommunications companies pay the highest taxes in Sierra Leone. In fact, they are the largest tax payers and the biggest employers in Sierra Leone.
Besides GST (Goods and Services Tax) of 15%, telecoms operators pay a raft of specialized taxes to both the central government and to local authority administrators in the Provinces.
GSM operators pay 30% of Corporation Tax and an additional 10% of Withholding Tax on the Corporation Tax. They also pay 3% of Royalty to the Government of Sierra Leone. Many people believe that, GSM operators in Sierra Leone are heavily and unfairly taxed by the government.
Telecoms operations are capital intensive. Fuel prices have gone up by 20% since 2010.
Minimum wage has increased from Le250,000 to Le500,000 since 2010.
Telecoms appliances or equipment are sold in United States Dollars. From 2010 to 2017, the exchange rate of the US dollars to the local currency (the Leones) has increased by 75%.
And yet still, GSM operators are not allowed by NATCOM to normalize their tariffs. How do we expect them to continue to modernize and expand their services across the country?
Everyday, GSM operators (Airtel and Africell) continue to receive requests for their services to be extended to unserved areas in the country. How do we expect them to expand their services when NATCOM has refused to give them the go ahead to normalize their tariffs?
Last year, a consultative meeting between NATCOM, consumers and telecoms operators was held at Bintumani Hotel, Aberdeen. All the subscriber representatives and civil society organizations agreed that, there was justification for the normalization of tariffs by GSM operators but they pleaded for it to be deferred.
NATCOM pleaded with the GSM operators to exercise patience and continue to provide uninterrupted services until an amicable solution was found. The GSM operators reluctantly agreed to the plea made by NATCOM on behalf of subscribers.
As things stand now, we cannot afford to have one of the two major GSM operators to close down their operations just because we do not want them to normalize their tariffs. How do we expect GSM operators to continue to be in business when we do not want them to normalize their tariffs?
As the biggest employers, can we expect the two major GSM operators in the country to reduce their workforce or even refuse to expand and improve on their coverage across the country just because we do not want them to normalize their tariffs?
As an international businessman himself, Momoh Konte has to show some modicum of unstanding with GSM operators in the country by allowing them to normalize their tariffs.
Momoh Konte will not like to be remembered as the Chairman, under whose tenure one of the major GSM operators decided to close down their operations in Sierra Leone.
Momoh Konte should tell his men at NATCOM to stop bullying GSM operators by refusing to allow them to normalize their tariffs.
If we want GSM operators to continue to employ more of our brothers and sisters, to continue to pay more taxes and expand and improve on their services, we should allow them to normalize (not increase) their tariffs to meet the demand of their heavy operational cost. That is what common sense dictates!
Momoh Konte is simply a man of the people!