Sierra Leone News: NATCOM Regulation: Telecom Operators Cancel Bonuses &Promotions
By Stephen V. Lansana
Telecom operators, Orange, Africell, Sierratel and Qcell have cancelled all bonuses and promotions on their voice calls after the regulator, Sierra Leone Telecommunication Commission (NATCOM) said they will be taxed as normal calls.
This comes after the telecoms regulator, NATCOM, introduced a number of measures including ordering Orange and Africell to lower their tariff from Le 650 to Le 590 per minute, and Qcell and Sierratel to increase their tariff (voice and data) from Le 200.00 per minute to a floor rate of Le 590.00 per minute in a bid to harmonize such tariff across network.
In a letter dated 3rd March 2020, which was addressed to telecom operators titled: “PRICE FOR NATIONAL MOBILE VOICE CALLS”, NATCOM said “We refer to the letter dated January 31, 2020, with the above caption indicating that the effective date for implementation of the floor price of Le 590 per minute [applicable to all voice calls including promotions, bonuses, and bundles] was February 7, 2020.”
“The Commission has considered all your various disparate responses in the discussions held together. In view of this, all Mobile Network Operations are requested to implement the floor price of Le 590 Per minute for all on-net and off-net voice calls effective 6th March, 2020. This is also in line with Section 36 (b) (22) of the Finance Act, 2020 and all GST computations will be made based on this Act,” NATCOM said in the statement.
According to Section 36 (b) (22) of the Finance Act, 2020, “Limitation: telecommunications services without consideration — Description: Any free or promotional call or data use that exceeds 10 percent of the total billable and unbillable calls and data use, as provided for in the second schedule to the Goods and Services Tax Act, 2009, shall be charged at the existing fair market price of Le650 per minute, or the applicable rate from time to time, for both voice and date use.”
Native Consortium, a civil society organisation, in a letter to NACOM said, “ … we write to conscientiously register our profound consternation and disappointment of your correspondence dated the 3rd March, 2020.”
Executive Director of Native Consortium, Edmond Abu (JR) said that It is evident from this correspondence that, NATCOM surreptitiously requested Qcell S.L. Ltd. and Sierratel S.L. Ltd. to increase tariff (voice and data) tariffs from Le 200.00 per minute to a floor rate of Le 590.00 per minute.
“Let us hasten to bring the following for your edification: That, your institution is not poise with any regulatory powers to fix a floor price. This penchant and infinity is reserved purely for the forces of demand and supply. It is crystal clear that such conduct is not only tantamount to a complete breach of anti-competition laws, but can also be seen as a mere exploitation of the average consumer in Sierra Leone,” Abu said.
He said that consequent on the above, they will seek redress in a court of law if NATCOM fails to rescind it directive to telecom operators.
Most of the promotions run by telecom operators are pro-poor — they directly target poor people.