CSO Leads Campaign to Save ‘3 Days Free Calls’

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The Coalition of Youth and Students against Poverty and Discrimination (CYSAPD), a local civil society organization, has called on the National Legislature to intervene in what they termed as the ongoing campaign to bring more hardship on the Liberian masses if the ‘3-days free calls’ promotion is cancelled.
On Thursday, July 21, members of CYSAPD displayed a banner on the grounds of the Capitol Building to petition their lawmakers to put a halt to what they described as a plot led by Lonestar Cell MTN’s Chairman, Benoni Urey, to end the ‘3 days free calls’ promotion currently offered by telecommunications companies in the country.

Urey sent a letter to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf calling on her to put an end to the promotion, which, according to him, is causing government to lose millions of dollars in taxes. The letter, which seeks to place an excise tax of US$0.01 (1 US cent) per minute on all calls—emanating from the President’s office—and is currently before the lawmakers for their consideration.

President Sirleaf said in her letter that the proposed tax on phone calls is to help raise US$30 million to fill gaps in the 2016-17 national budget. In her letter suggesting a tax on phone calls, she also called for steeper taxes on tobacco and alcoholic beverages.

“Our attention has been drawn to the Liberian government’s proposed increment in taxes on mobile phone calls in the wake of increasing waves of unbearable economic constraints being faced by a vast majority of ordinary citizens,” CYSAPD Executive Director (E.D.), Ishmael T. Koffeh, said.

Mr. Koffeh said the campaign to cancel the three days of free calls is a clear indication that some Liberians are not seeking the interest of the masses, and can do anything to put their selfish interests above those of the common people—many of whom live in abject poverty, and ignorance.

Mr. Koffeh said he brought his members to the Capitol to tell the lawmakers, who are the direct representatives of the masses, not to heed “this wicked action of the people who say they love the country and its people.”

“With growing disenchantment over this piece of legislation that is before our lawmakers to add 1 cent tax per minute to all calls, we are calling on lawmakers not to pass the new bill,” he said, adding “This is a diabolical and calculated attempt to end the ‘3 days free calls’ promotion in Liberia and to suffer the Liberian people.”

The group said the imposition of excessive taxes on mobile phone calls needs to be reviewed, as it is not in the interest of Liberia’s suffering masses, adding that the plan to halt the promotion has the propensity to leave thousands of Liberians without the ability to call friends and family because of the high cost of phone calls that would follow.

“We believe that any laws passed by the Honorable House of Representatives should be done only in the interest of the Liberian people, and we want to make (it) unequivocally clear that this proposed bill has no benefits (for) the Liberian people except to disenfranchise the citizens and their fundamental right to communicate.”

The group says that even with the current discounts and promotions being offered, many Liberians still cannot afford to get even the US$1 on a regular basis. “If many of our people cannot afford this already discounted promotion, what do you think will happen if there is no more ‘3 days free calls,’ and government raises the price to call by adding a heavy tax burden?” the E.D. said, and threatened continuous mass protest against the proposal.

He called on the Legislature to reject the bill “because it is a recipe for chaos.”

Meanwhile, a new Facebook page called “Save 3 Days Free Calls” has gone viral in just a week, generating thousands of followers and comments as Liberians continue to express their dissatisfaction over the proposed bill, which they said is devious and has no substance or benefit to the average Liberian, who is working to make ends meet and to put food on the table.

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