Liberian Telecoms industry insiders express doubt
Telecommunications industry insiders who asked not to be named have expressed doubts over the government of Liberia’s ability to sustain and maintain Libtelco as a GSM company.
The reservations come as the government issues a license granting Libtelco, the nation’s fiber optic cable internet operator, the right to function as a GSM service provider amid a rift between the government and Liberia’s two GSM companies, LoneStar Cell MTN and Orange Liberia.
The decision to grant a license to Libtelco also came shortly after the industry regulator, Liberia Telecommunication Authority (LTA), added surcharges to previous charges that led to tripling of the tariff of voice calls and doubling of tariff on mobile data.
The LTA’s decision leading GSM companies to impose additional charges on calls and data has created hard feelings in consumers and are entirely blaming the Liberian Government for being insensitive to the citizens’ welfare amid the fast approaching senatorial mid-term elections.
“I think it is a great misstep on the part of the government to have allowed this. In this contemporary age, most governments around the world open up space for private investors to take charge of providing these services. You, as a government, can only regulate, monitor, and collect taxes,” one of the interviewees who did not want to be named told the Daily Observer yesterday.
“We have a very small market and things are not favorable when it comes to business. If the government thinks that these companies are earning millions, and they, too, can step in to do the same, I think it is an ill-advised action,” said the insider.
According to the insider, it would not be a bad idea provided the government has the capacity to sustain the business.
“I doubt they can sustain it. Running a GSM company costs a lot and it goes beyond just investing money to get a few things done. I think they are doing so in order to push the private GSM companies harder and that could lead to the departure of the two companies. It will be a great mistake because we truly need them to have a fair, balanced, and good market,” he noted.
The insider further said that the government should have focused its attention on ensuring that people across the country have access to existing GSM networks in areas where access is limited; instead, the government is creating a condition it may not be able to sustain.
“People are still climbing up in trees to answer to or make calls in certain parts of our country, even though geographically, our land size is far smaller than many countries around the world,” he emphasized.
According to the anonymous insider, the Liberia Telecommunications Authority (LTA) should focus less on revenue generation and more on the stability and growth of the sector, which would, no doubt, see the revenue flow greater than ever.
Another industry insider, who also preferred anonymity, said the government is making things difficult for the telecom sector.
“This is why electricity and water, two major social service providers are not succeeding in Liberia. There is no competition and, as such, the government is complacent about the way they offer services. Private companies should be in charge of these businesses, not you as a government,” the insider said, adding that private companies do better all over the world than government when it comes to providing basic social services.
“Government should regulate, have a strong, uncompromising monitoring system, and collect taxes to be directed to other priority areas instead of getting involved as a competitor. That kills the market because the balance will be lacking,” the critic said.
He said Liberia has many other challenges, including the health sector that government could direct its funding to, but now it is about to misdirect funds to a business that it might not be able to sustain.
“These companies make a lot of sacrifices, but all that is discussed by our friends in the government cycle is that these companies are making millions of dollars. Yes, they make profits, but they equally invest a lot more money they make into the business to provide quality services,” he added.
He further said that if Libtelco should begin a business as a GSM company, all laws binding on both Lonestar Cell MTN and Orange will also have to be applied to Libtelco.
“If there are surcharges imposed and the other two companies are asked to follow, Libtelco, too, has to bear the burden because it is by law. This is why the matter went to court. The government’s attempt to do the contrary will only cost them a lot more through litigations,” he said.