Mahmud Tim Kargbo: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 14 March 2020:
Can NATCOM – Sierra Leone’s mobile telephone regulator, seriously call on Africell mobile phone service provider to do more to tackle the current growing problem of “bill shock” that followed immediately NATCOM slammed a 90% tax on all mobile companies’ promotions?
Many consumers using Africell are currently experiencing unexpected high mobile phone bills, which in many cases are exploiting victims.
Mobile companies operating in Sierra Leone, with the exemption of the newly established Q-cell, are well known for their bill shocks mostly in all their services to the public.
By the look of things, current NATCOM administration is well comfortable with their exploitative actions against nationals because they are doing nothing positive to put an end to mobile companies fraud against their consumers.
Sierra Leone Government’s action to effect a NONE PROGRESSIVE TAX on all mobile companies’ promotions is hanging Africell’s customers out to dry with shocking phone bills.
Government is saying that mobile phone companies are subverting taxes and there is need for floor price fixing to prevent market dumping activities.
However, many are saying Sierra Leone has the highest mobile tariffs in the sub-region and is among the highest in the world. And that, with the present tough economic situation, there’s no need to even effect a very unfriendly Financial Act originated tax against mobile companies to discourage competition in the market and tolerate Africel to respond by shifting the burden of the very oppressive tax to their consumers.
The hard but uncomfortable truth is that a 90% tax on all mobile companies’ promotions by the regulating body NATCOM, indirectly means government is asking mobile companies to drop down 90% of their promotions to consumers and maintain only 10%.
Most Sierra Leoneans believe NATCOM”s action to effect 90% tax on all mobile companies promotions is meant to protect Africell and Orange who are currently losing consumers to newly established Q-cell, due to years of cheating activities against their consumers.
Before the highly controversial 90% tax on all promotions was effected, Africell and Orange complained to NATCOM that Q-cell is dumping low calls and data prices on the market. An accusation Q-cell effectively dismissed by saying they have an obligation to treat their consumers well with fair prices and quality service. And that’s exactly what they are doing.
A tax expert said to me – “If NATCOM is saying mobile companies are evading taxes with their promotional calls, then there is an opportunity for NATCOM to be innovative by creating tools for NATCOM to keep day-to-day track of mobile companies’ operations on promotional and none promotional calls and data. NATCOM can also take steps to effectively stop these mobile companies (Africell and Orange) from stealing money from consumers”.
NATCOM is well aware of the issue of Africell and Orange stealing from their consumers. Currently the mobile industry regulator has no incentive to introduce measures to tackle the problem. But it cares about floor price fixing to discourage competition in the market and encourage these mobile companies to keep on stealing from their consumers and freely get away with it.
With NATCOM now seen by the public to be protecting Africell and Orange to monopolise the market with their controversial floor price fixing tactics, many are asking whether we are really operating in a free market economy where prices are determined by the forces of demand and supply.
So far the Ministry of Information and Communication is leading the way, and there is now a floor price limit on how much you can be charged for on and offnet calls – but no solution to the problem of Africell and Orange stealing from their consumers.
Citizens would like mobile companies to reduce their charges in line with other companies operating within the sub-region. Minister of Information and Communication – Mohamed Rahman Swaray, said in a press conference that within 90 days they will put their house in order. But will this lead to the reduction of high mobile tariffs by these companies against their consumers?
However, two years on, when the government asked mobile companies to reduce their tariffs, they refused and the problem persists. Victims of bill shock have described NATCOM as “toothless”.
Nobody actually wants to be stung by sky high and unfair charges on their mobile phone tariffs. This is why NATCOM needs to come forward with strong measures against Africell and Orange.
Africell and Orange as providers should have effective and transparent complaint systems; and if consumers are not satisfied, there should be redress mechanisms set up by NATCOM to ensure fair outcomes for consumers.