By Foday Moriba Conteh
During the Media/CSO Engagement 2022 organized by the Ministry of Information and Communications at the Kenema City Council Hall, the Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) in the country have called for the immediate intervention of their regulatory stakeholders as their ability to further invest in Sierra Leone is dependent on resolving their prevailing challenges.
A joint Press Statement was read by Head of Legal and Regulatory at Orange Sierra Leone, Denetta Younge and Human Resource Director at Africell Sierra Leone, Abdul Fatoma.
Delivery a statement, the MNOs said that their sector has been one of the key drivers towards the development of ICT in this country and their contribution over the years towards the implementation of the President’s manifesto remains enormous and their apparent commitment can be seen in being the biggest taxpayers and one of the largest employer and CSR contributor in this Country.
They maintained that over the years, they have expanded their networks to reach remote areas with telecom services resulting to the construction of over 1000 sites and achieving a population coverage exceeding 90%, adding that they have launched 4G and 4G+ technologies for enhanced data speed and today our internet prices remain one of the cheapest in the sub-region.
“We have created job opportunities for over 100,000 Sierra Leoneans with direct and indirect employment and remain a strong pillar for CSR and sponsorships in the country. We have launched Foundations, Data, learning and e-learning centers, and have provided support for every facet of society in the media, entertainment, sports, entrepreneurship, and many other industries in this country. We have also renovated hospitals, health centers and supported disability and vulnerable members of our society, we have also built many schools, equipped classrooms, supported artist, football clubs and premierships, the national football team and provided learning courses nationwide to both primary, secondary, and tertiary institutions,” they revealed.
They disclosed that for them to continue on the same trajectory, their sector must be able to continue investing in infrastructure, making devices available and affordable and most importantly promoting a mutually beneficial relationship amongst all sector players and their valued consumers.
They pointed out that whilst they understand the global economic challenges that affect the fabric of every nation today; their sector is at an even worse position with the resultant effect being an exponential hike considering the cost of providing services whilst trying to cope with the devaluation of the currency.
Such has a fundamentally negative impact on businesses and remain an impediment to investment aspirations, stating that whilst all other businesses have the freehand to increase their costs reflective of inflation and the devaluation of the Leone against the USD and other international currencies, their tariffs remain stagnated.
The MNOs said that since their last tariff adjustment in 2017, the combined increase on some of their key cost variables stands at an alarming rate of 698% negative.
The Mobile Network Operators underscored the following that the present day value of the UD Dollar is at Le. 18,000 (Old Leones) to $1. This records an increase of 148% since the last GSM tariff change in 2017 when the exchange rate was Le. 7,258 (Old Leones) to $1.
50% of their cost goes to CAPEX which is in dollars. How do they continue investing and sustaining their business when 50% of their CAPX alone has increased by 148% whilst their selling price remain the same?
They also noted that fuel price is at Le. 25,000 (Old Leones) against Le. 6,000 per litre 5 years ago when their sector tariff was last reviewed. This records a colossal increase of 317% for a product that account for about high proportion of our total Opex, adding that even electricity tariff which is a similar utility service and a cost driver for their business has witnessed a significant increase of 78% from Le. 1,890 (old Leones) to Le. 3,364 (New Leones) as at July, 2022.
The MNOs also elaborated that previously, the cost of 1 Mbps data from Zoodlabs was $ 8. Today, it is $13 per GB recording 63% increase and continue to increase when the Leones value of the USD increases. To make matters worse, Zoodlab’s price is not only fixed in dollars, they are charged at the commercial bank rate, furthering that whilst the cost of Cement per bag and steel per ton were Le 65,000 and Le 6,000,000 (Old Leones) in the past, they presently stand at Le. 145,000 and Le. 11,500,000 respectively accounting for 92% increase.
“Although we have struggled to absorb these increases over the years, the prevailing challenges are stifling our businesses and the situation is no longer sustainable. If our sector is left unattended to address the challenges we face today, the effect will be such that jobs will be lost, QoS will be impacted, our contribution towards CSR will be grossly reduced, rural sites that are heavily subsidized will be shut down,” they maintained.
They emphasized on the critical nature and the urgency to salvage their cry for a tariff review as that will foster and strengthen the sustainability of the telecommunication sector to increase their contribution to the development of ICT, whilst at the same time impacting the population of Sierra Leone and improving daily lives.
The MNOs therefore called for the immediate intervention of their regulatory stakeholders as their ability to further invest in Sierra Leone is dependent on resolving the prevailing challenges.
They ended up maintaining their sector remains committed towards providing the best telecoms services in Sierra Leone and assured every Sierra Leonean that together, we will fight and overcome the effects of the global economic challenges to become stronger and better.