The Native Consortium & Research Center has in an open letter to the President of Sierra Leone, Dr Julius Maada Bio, Advanced 7 Solid Reasons the call from Mobile Companies & Their Media Backers for any Tariff Increment, should be halted.
See full letter below:
His Excellency, The President
Republic of Sierra Leone
The citizens’ request to stop any attempt by Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) for tariff increment on 7 solid reasons. MNOs have chosen to take consumers hostage by deliberately shutting down transmission towers in some areas of the country where the network has become much slower than before.*
Your Excellency, the Native Consortium that is one of the de facto leaders in Consumer Protection and economic justice in Africa, wishes to thank you for your timely intervention to our cry to reverse the surreptitious moves by state machinery to pass financial instrument by the hung Parliament to increase our data tariff by 300% and we are hoping such bill will never see the light of day. May God richly bless you, Sir. But there is another conspiracy underway, this time powered by MNOs to use media houses for an increment in their tariff.
Your Excellency sir, like
you stated in the last state opening of Parliament that “Justice delayed is justice denied”, it is very frustrating that our own Judiciary under Chief Justice Desmond B Edwards has delayed the case we brought before the court 5 years ago over tariff increment, and Justice Adrian Fischer has chosen to withdraw the file for judgement. It’s over 1 years 3 months the case between Citizens Vs ORANGE, AFRICELL, NATCOM has been delayed in breach of section 120(16) of the 1991constitution but we have seen Justice Fisher moving the wheels of Justice faster, like two months, in another political matter like the APC intra-party contempt case which he adjudicated in 2 months. We formally ask you to please ask the Chief Justice to remind the Justice Fisher that he has bastardized the Constitution enough. Let him give us whatever judgement so we can use that at the ECOWAS court. This will further help the mobile companies to ask for tariff increment or will rather put citizen in a better position on tariff. Either way, the judgement will help the MNOs or your long-suffering citizens.
Your Excellency, we no longer have trust in our justice system. We are now in the ECOWAS court over tariff increment and the breach of contract that happened in April to August 2017, 5 years ago.
Your Excellency, permit the Consortium to advance 7 solid reasons why you should halt any attempt by Mobile companies to increase the tariff:
1. There is an existing (prima facie) case brought by citizens against Mobile Operators over tariff increment for which citizens strongly believe there is a breach of contract.
Mr. President, we are of the firm belief that because the mobile companies know that the case would not go in their favor that is why they have resorted to using the media to flag tariff increment by taking advantage over the weakness of the judiciary. So they must respect the court until the Judge issues the final judgment.
2. The Mobile Companies are complaining that they are making a loss.
We kindly ask the MNOs to use their media (vuvuzela machine) to justify the so-called loss they are running by disclosing their audited financial statements to the public for the last 5 years.
Mr President the last time I checked and you can cross check that with the NATCOM Boss, ORANGE SL made the highest profit under COVID-19 than any ORANGE subsidiary in Africa and the outgoing ORANGE SL CEO was given an award as the best CEO in the ORANGE Africa group. AFRICELL SL has been doing even much better In terms of profitability than their counterpart in Gambia whiles AFRICELL subsidiary Uganda have been closed down, and AFRICELL is the oldest Telecoms company in Sierra Leone. Mr President if the MNOs show any loss the Consortium will lead the campaign for their tariff increment. Mr. President we have adduced their financial statement at the ECOWAS court so we can’t publish to the Citizens. But if their paid up media continues to support this conspiracy, we shall publish it to the public and we hope they won’t push us to that.
3. Does the depreciation of the Leones affect MNOs? The answer is a resounding NO!
Mr. President amongst the reasons advanced by the MNOs, this is the most ridiculous and laughable one. It’s like Bike (Okada) Riders complaining about the arrest of seat belt. The MNOs should explain to their media and the public how does depreciation of the Leones affect them?
4. Does fuel increment affect MNOs?
Mr President this is another area where the MNOs are shooting themselves in the foot. Mr President, when the World Bank disclosed to us that Sierra Leone charges one of the highest tarffs in Telecommunication cost in 2015 till date, the Native Consortium wasted no time to conduct a study and it came out that amongst all the cost drivers, cost of running towers was the key cost driver in running a telecommunication company. They spend about 80 liters of diesel a day to run their towers by then Makeni city was the only city with sustainable electricity and half of the capital. Mr. President, fast forward to 2022 and you will agree with me that our electricity supply is far better in most of the rural areas where at least the Country can boast of 12 hours. Westend area, Bo, Makeni, Freetown, Port Loko and some parts of the country are enjoying sustainable power supply and the mobile companies are using this power supply and each time it go down they use solar electricity. All the MNOs use this parallel system. So the overhead cost of 80 liters of fuel a day is no more as they saving cost saving cost compared to 10 years ago.
5. The MNOs have not been paying the correct taxes because the NATCOM and NRA don’t have the infrastructure to tax them.
Mr. President until now the MNOs have not be paying correct taxes because the NRA doesn’t have the infrastructure to tax the actual revenue they generate. It is what they feel like declaring. Mr. President, the mobile money services for instance, there is virtually 0% tax on the transaction even though the MNOs levy charges on cash out and cash in transactions with very little Dealers margin. Government is losing billions of revenue. This is where a very serious Finance Ministry is supposed to drill for revenue generation not to increase our data charges. The volume of ORANGE Money and AFRIMONEY transactions has even tripled regular banking transactions. The NATCOM is supposed to conduct a thorough benchmarking and levy a surcharge like how other countries are doing on Mobile money transactions,
6. Have the MNOs made any material increment in their staff salary or other operating costs that they should be asking for tariff increment?*
Mr President, it is often said “when the best is not available, the available becomes the best”. Most of our compatriots have not been well-paid but they don’t have a choice. We have seen workers going on strike at AFRICELL for instance over conditions of service. Some cannot speak for fear of being victimized because of joblessness in the Country. The staff salary is not commensurate to the millions of dollar profit they are making especially when you compare what other MNOs are paying in other countries. Therefore, it is groundless and we await the MNOs to really tell the public how they are running at a loss. Mr. President, it will shock you that know that 75% of MNOs staff are being outsourced because they want to evade paying end of service benefits. An employee worked for AFRICELL for 8 years – she was paid Le 4 Million old Leones as end of service benefit. They don’t even pay adequate NASSIT, but NASSIT is poised to take institution like Native Consortoum and other smaller entities for owing NASSIT contribution. Mr President, you can do your own covert investigation by interviewing these staff off the camera to prove what we saying because they are Sierra Leoneans. They deserve better and nobody is speaking up for them.
7. The MNOs have been very lawless by flagrantly flouting the Bintumani tariff agreement of 23 March 2017 with impunity. A ceiling was set that MNOs should not charge above Le 650 (old Leones) per minute on or off net calls.
AFRICELL tariff after August 2017 till to date have pegged at Le 675 per minute offnet, while ORANGE tariff is Le 695 per minute offnet.
Mr President, this is the central point of our court action. We are very convince and persuaded that our case before the court is not only winnable but will restore dignity and no more will MNOs cheat us by the backdoor.
Your Excellency, let me conclude by resting my head on this last point. The former Government under the leadership of the late Momoh Conteh (of blessed memory) was very magnanimous and fair to the public to call a public Dialogue Forum, and I will continue to commend him even to his grave. We shall do the same for you even when you leave office for all your good works. Mr President the MNOs demanded an increment in tariff in 2017, The late man accorded the Consortium the previledge as the Lead CSO on consumer protection to make a case for Sierra Leone as to why the tariff should not be increased from Le 410 to Le 650. Mr President, after tense public dialogue, an agreement was reached but with conditions and for the first time I will exhibit to you and the court of public opinion Bintumani (tariff) agreement to you and the court of public opinion so public will understand why the Consortium and 299 concernrd citizens went to court , and why we are blaming the Judiciary who is supposed to protect consumers. Instead, they have exposed us to the mercy of the Mobile Operators.
We only hope that what the Minister information and Communication stated in the Media and CSO Dialogue forum with MDAs in Kenema over the weekend that discussion are ongoing. This Open letter will edify his discussions. We are ready and open to make presentations with evidence anyday anywhere.
Mr President, we know you are inundated with so many issues but telecommunication cost is as essential like bread and butter to citizens and your intervention is highly needed. Once more, I thank you for your attention and hope to hear from your office at your earliest convenience.
+1 609 540 5757
Cc: Chief Justice of the Republic of Sierra Leone
The Minister of Information & Communication
Speaker of Parliament
Chairman Parliamentary Oversight Committee on Information & Communication
CEOs ORANGE, AFRICEL QCELL
The British High Commission