Sierra Leone: GSM Operators Breach Telecom Act - Top-Up Increase Illegal

Telecoms

Public Affairs Manager at the National Telecommunications Commission (NATCOM) has told Concord Times that GSM operators in Sierra Leone were grossly violating the NATCOM Act by inflating the price for recharge cards without the approval of the Commission.

Abdul Kuyateh said Section 53 (2) of the Telecommunications Act of 2006, as amended, gives NATCOM the sole authority to sanction any increase in the price of recharge cards by GSM operators, noting that "as for now the approved price for top-up cards remains at Le1,800 for 50 units, Le3,600 for 100 units and so on".

According to Kuyateh, GSM operators were in the usual habit of violating the NATCOM Act by taking decisions without first informing the Commission, which he said serves as the regulatory body for all mobile phone companies operating in the country. "What they most often do is that they only communicate directly to their dealers and agents to increase prices. As far as this recent increase is concern, it has not been approved by NATCOM," Kuyateh told Concord Times, stressing that the commission has the sole mandate to communicate any increase in top-up prices or any relevant information that has to do with tele or mobile phone communication through the ministry of Information and Communication.

The NATCOM Public Affairs Manager disclosed that the board will soon meet to discuss the issue; a development he said was very serious. He maintained that the commission has the responsibility of seeking the welfare of customers and consumers, noting that the NATCOM board needed to be notified by GSM operators about any proposed price increase in recharge cards. He said the commission will then look into the motive for the increase and it takes a period of 30 days before giving consent in the best interest of both the public and the operators.

"GSM operators have a lot of work to do; they need to extend their coverage nationwide and provide more quality service to the nation rather than taking liberty in causing confusion in the market," said Kuyateh. "The price for top-up cards remains the same as far as NATCOM is concern as this increment has not been sanctioned by the commission. It is unacceptable and we are urging GSM operators to stop taking the law into their own hands, as NATCOM has the power to withdraw their licenses."

Meanwhile, reacting to Kuyateh's comments, public relations officer of Airtel mobile company, June Rose-Johnson, said NATCOM should be in a position to let the public know about the increase in recharge cards, as they (Airtel) were working in line with the Telecommunications Act.

Moreover, Ishmael Tucker - a recharge card agent for all the GSM operators in the country around the PZ area - said he was surprised to discover an increase in the price of recharge cards when he went to purchase his stock on Monday morning. He said the increase may not be unconnected with the increase in foreign exchange rates.