By Amin Kef Sesay
Sierra Leone’s telecommunications regulator, the National Telecommunications Commission (NATCOM) was established by an Act of Parliament and charged with responsibilities including regulating the Telecoms industry, especially Mobile Network Operators (MNO’s).
Besides, the institution also has the mandate to generate the much needed resources for Government in order to contribute in capacitating the latter to deliver on its social contract with the people especially on its priority areas such as the Free Quality Education program, universal health care, sustainable energy, food sufficiency and providing critical infrastructure.
Over the past week, NATCOM has gone under intense and unfair criticism by some section of the Media and Civil Society. They are claiming that the Commission has not done enough to save the masses from rogue Mobile Network Operators.
However, from an in-depth and critical research conducted it came out glaringly that contrary to what critics have been propagating that the Commission’s actions have led to an increase in tariff by the Mobile Network Operators there has been no increase in tariff. The MNO’s are still charging customers the same fee for both voice call and data.
Another thing that the research outcome demystified was that it is not true that there will no longer be promotions since as a matter of fact the promotions are ongoing. It must be highlighted at this juncture that the Telecoms industry is highly competitive and one of the ways of wooing more subscribers is to have promotions ongoing.
During the tenure of the erstwhile political administration, in 2016 NATCOM introduced a price ceiling/cap at Le. 650 per minute of voice call which was supported by the 2016 Finance Act. It is against such a backdrop that there was the need for a floor price which has been instituted by the current officials of NATCOM.
It must be noted that recently other countries have introduced floor prices in order to shift from intense competition to Quality of Service, innovation and increase coverage/connectivity.
To promote the national interest it was prudent to introduce the floor price by the current regulator simply because the floor price protects New Entrants in the sector and less giant MNO as they cannot sustain price war for too long.
It is on record that Five (5) MNOs before this time now have gone out of business because of lack of floor price and these are Datatel, Comium, Millicom, Tigo and SMART.
The research undertaken by this medium revealed that huge amounts of money could be lost in taxes from the Telecoms Sector due to the absence of floor price. It must be against such a background that NATCOM acted swiftly and timely by introducing a floor price and do what is right for the sector, consumers, Government and the regulator.
It was revealed that before the introduction of the floor price, taxes to the National Revenue Authority (NRA) dropped by more than 73% from 15 Billion Leones a month to a little under 4 Billion Leones.
It may interest us as a nation to note that other countries have introduced a systematic increase in tariff to achieve their development goals.
Though it was understood that other countries have systematically increased their tariffs, NATCOM has refused to do so but rather introduce a floor price which is in the nation’s best interest.
Indeed, all those recent good initiatives by NATCOM could be attributed to the Board and Management especially the Director General, Daniel B. Kaitibie.