Government to “Kill” 3-Day Free Calls

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Over 700 Liberians under the umbrella of the National Association of Telecom Consumers of Liberia (NATELCO) have urged the Liberian Senate not to concur with the House of Representatives in the passage of the “One cent tax per every call,” which would increase hardship in the nose-diving economy and automatically abort the celebrated three-day free calls promotion.

About a month ago, the pressure group petitioned the House of Representatives and the Senate not to endorse the “One cent tax per every call,” but unfortunately the House of Representatives narrowly passed the “tax increment on every call” and sent it to the Senate for concurrence.

Mr. T. Bannie Browne, the director of programs and communications of NATELCOM, told journalists yesterday that the association is disappointed and frustrated over the action of the House to totally disregard their petition, which respresented the concerns and position of over two million customers.

“As such, we believe the imposition of additional tax on telecommunication will result in an increase in prices for consumers, which will have adverse impact on the adoption of mobile services and industry investment as well as counter-productive to the longer term national digital strategy objectives set by the Government of Liberia,” Mr. Browne said.

Furthermore, “taxation on calls per minute will hit lower income consumers who are already struggling due to the adverse economic situation, and increase price pressure on consumers thereby making access to information and communication technology not affordable. Moreover, this will result in a double taxation for consumers who are already paying 15 percent GST on the cost of scratch cards.”

Browne added: “This proposed tax increment will have a serious effect on the lives of the over 2.5 million subscribers, majority of whom cannot afford to buy a US$1 recharge card and depend on the 3 days free calls promotional service to keep in touch with their friends, family and loved ones.”

Furthermore, Mr. Browne said the government should not focus on “killing the three-day free calls” but rather on implementing the Universal Access Programs which call for the decentralization of telecommunications facilities around the country and adopting the objectives of Ecowas’ protocol on telecommunications which also calls for affordable and accessible telecommunications services within every community or town with at least 500 people.

He said: “NATELCO has embarked on a nationwide campaign, distributing flyers to teleconsumers across the country, indicating our total disagreement to the 1 cent increment and will be inviting them and stakeholders for a planned national convention. We are therefore calling upon the Senate to prevent the adoption of the additional 1 cent tax on voice calls. This is the call to which they were elected, to represent the interest of their people. As such, it is incumbent upon all lawmakers to ensure the enactment of legislation that will improve the lives of the masses and not one that will impose hardship and suffering on the people.”

Urey’s Letter Vs Revenue Generation

It may be recalled that the Chairman of Lonestar Cell MTN and presidential hopeful, Benoni Urey, wrote President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf to intervene for mobile telecommunication companies operating in the country to abort free call promotions because, according to him, the three-day free calls are causing the government to lose revenue.

“I would want to draw your attention to the uncontrolled competitive price war being waged in the telecom industry by service providers. The long running and unending promotions as well as freebies like the free calls to the USA; US$1 for 3 days or US$1 for 5 days and data services are negatively impacting revenue generation of the Government of Liberia,” he said.

He mentioned that as a result of the free promotions, the government is losing U$22m in revenue.

Mr. Urey observed that if this practice does not stop it will limit the ability of Lonestar MTN to further invest in the country’s economy especially in the rural parts of the country which is craving for network availability.

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