The announcement that most Liberians have looked forward to with dread has finally been made ending weeks of speculation about a price hike in telecommunications service charges. The Liberia Telecommunications Authority (LTA) has announced that, going forward henceforth, the promotional three days of unlimited calls which most Liberians commonly call the “three day free calls” promotion, there will be no more three days of free calls and users will now have to pay a little over two US cents per minute for a local call. This change is reflected in the new promotional offer at US$1.00 for 45 minutes, meaning consumers will no longer enjoy what they have become accustomed to over the last five years.
The LTA claims this increase is necessary in order to offset losses incurred by a drop in revenue as the result of the introduction of the “three days free calls” promotional offer by the two players in the market namely, the Lone Star MTN and Orange both of who are accused by the LTA of engaging in price wars that results in loss of revenue to the LTA. What ever the case or justification may be, the ordinary Liberian is certainly not happy about the new price change.
At this point, it remains unclear if the LTA is going to have a change of heart on the matter since most Liberians appear to be opposed to the new measures but, these developments have raised to the fore questions about The LTA and what amounts to a virtual surrender to private business interests of a key income generating entity which has grave national security implications. To be fair this happened under the watch of President Ellen Sirleaf and it stands out as one example of her numerous zany and failed economic strategies and approaches to national development.
Looking back, it becomes clearer by day that the decision taken by the Sirleaf government to privatize the Liberia Telecommunications Corporation, a once viable public corporation was based on the myth or often propagated lie that public enterprises or state-owned enterprises could not be managed efficiently and effectively and thus privatization provided the needed solution. However, the success stories of state owned enterprises in China and their contribution to national GDP makes mincemeat of such stale arguments.
But this failed experiment by the Sirleaf government, more than anything else, strongly suggests that the pursuit of such economic policies was done with dastardly intentions and that was to undo everything gain that President Tolbert had achieved using state owned enterprises as a key driver of economic development. Prior to the civil war for example, the Liberia Telecommunications Corporation generated significant income through the provision of fax and other telecommunications services. Today service providers are left to their own devices and the results have been disastrous.
Under normal or ideal conditions, for example, users/customers would not face any difficulty calling a subscriber on another network because such calls will be routed through the national carrier which, in this case is the LTA and for the service provided the LTA receives a fee. But this is not the case and subscribers to any one of the two service providers are virtually stuck or restricted to making calls only to the network to which they are connected. As a result of much public outcry against this unwholesome practice, service providers were practically forced to allot 15 minutes airtime to call other networks. This was when the “three days free call” promotional policy was in effect.
And now, announcements of its cancellation have triggered huge public concern about this development which in the public’s eye is demonstrative of the insensitivity of this government in the face of drastically fallen real income and ever rising costs of living. But as pointed out earlier, this is a situation inherited from the previous government that created the conditions in which we now find ourselves. For example, it is very difficult to understand just why the previous government rather than paying up for the rights to the high speed internet and then sell user rights to phone service providers , instead prevailed on existing GSM companies to shoulder what should have been GoL’s responsibility.
More besides, corruption and nepotism also played a big part. According to sources, a group of Liberian engineers and entrepreneurs had put together a business plan for the development of high speed broadband internet facilities here in Liberia. According to sources, their attempts were squashed when a son of the former President having gotten wind of the information placed himself at center stage having acquired illegal access to their planned business adventure. Some of these accounts ae detailed in a book written by a Liberian , Dr. Lionel Bernard and the book is entitled “Broad band Coming”.
To make a long story short, the GoL needs to act and act with the view to preserving national stability by undoing those things which could tend to provoke social protests and unrest. And there can be no denying that the cancellation of the “three-day free call” in view of the current worsening state of the economy, if not revised, could have adverse and negative impact on social stability. In the view of this newspaper such matters regarding the LTA not just the “three-day free call” should be included on the agenda of the proposed economic dialogue envisioned by this government. Indeed it is now time for sober thinking and sober reflection.