By Sorie Fofana.
The Telecommunications Act, 2006 (as amended) gives NATCOM (National Telecommunications Commission) the sole authority to protect the interests of both consumers and operators of telecommunications services in Sierra Leone.
Sometime in June last year, NATCOM imposed a hefty fine of Le250m (Two Hundred and Fifty Million Leones) on Transnational (SL) Limited for what the Commission referred to as “violation of regulatory directives and currency manipulation”.
Transnational (SL) Limited refused to pay the fine claiming that they do not fall under “the jurisdiction of NATCOM as a Regulatory Authority”.
Transnational (SL) Limited further argued that, by virtue of their operations, they are purely “a collection agency of subscription fees”. They are neither broadcasters or transmitters nor re-broadcasters or re-transmitters and that they do not provide communications services through telecommunications network etc. from within Sierra Leone.
NATCOM, on the other hand, have argued that, since Transnational (SL) Limited pays their annual regulatory fees to them (NATCOM), it follows, therefore that, they are bound to comply with the Telecommunications Act (No. 9 of 2006) as amended.
High Court Ruling
After Transnational (SL) Limited refused to comply with the order of the Commission (NATCOM) to pay the Le250m (Two Hundred and Fifty Million Leones) fine since last year, NATCOM went to the High Court to force Transnational to comply with their order.
NATCOM was represented by Jenkins-Johnston and Co. whilst Transnational (SL) Limited was represented by Wright and Co.
On Friday June 28, 2017 Justice Babatunde Edwards made the following orders:
- The defence for Defendants is hereby struck off
- Judgment entered for the Plaintiff for the recovery of the sum of Le250,000,000 (Two hundred and fifty million Leones)
- Interest of 24% on the paid sum
- Cost of Le35,000,000 to be paid by the Defendant.
Transnational (SL) Limited have said that they will appeal the judgment in a higher court of law in Sierra Leone.
Transnational (SL) Limited have told the Global Times that, between 2013 and 2017 they have paid close to Le12 Billion (Twelve Billon Leones) to NRA as GST (Goods and Services Tax).
About a year ago, the company registered a loss of about Le900m (Nine hundred million Leones) in foreign exchange fluctuations alone.
Transnational (SL) Limited faces a lot of challenges including but not limited to a massive decrease in their customer base as a result of the importation of illegal decoders into the country through fraudulent means.
Most of these unregistered decoders are smuggled into the country by some crooked Nigerian businessmen thus evading the payment of taxes especially GST to the National Revenue Authority.
The Chairman of NATCOM, Momoh Konte is an international businessman. He knows, more than anyone else, the challenges that business people face in this country today. He has businesses operating in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea, Ivory Coast and Senegal.
We want Transnational (SL) Limited to continue to operate in Sierra Leone. Their services are very much required in this country especially in this day and age of on-the-spot-news reporting through BBC, CNN, Skye News, Aljazeera, Fox News, SABC etc.
The company continues to pay taxes and employs a lot of Sierra Leoneans.
We call on NATCOM to exercise some form of flexibility in the imposition of fines for some minor breaches of the Telecommunications Act, 2006 as amended.
We implore both parties (NATCOM) and Transnational (SL) Limited to sit together and resolve this issue amicably. It is pointless to continue to pursue this matter in court. Let both parties sit down and agree on a mutually acceptable solution that will not harm either party.
Dr. Adonis Abboud’s company, Transnational (SL) Limited is a bread earner for a lot of families in Sierra Leone. And this is the only viable business that Dr. Abboud does for a living.
Once again, we call on both NATCOM and Transnational (SL) Limited to resolve this matter, once and for all, without recourse to any further legal action.
Conflicts are better settled through mediation. There is no point to go to court for a matter that can be resolved through dialogue.
May common sense prevail!