By Sarr Abdulai Vandi, PhD
The latest LTA Protectionist Floor Price in favour of the Mobile Network Operators (MNOs), has created an Oligopoly in the domestic Liberia MTN and Orange mobile operators and service providers, thus negatively colluding and impacting the sector.
An Oligopoly is a market dominated by preferred and preferential mobile operators, as it is currently done in Liberia. It’s a classic case of State Capture!
State Capture is a form of corruption in which businesses, individuals, entrepreneurs, public servants and politicians conspire to influence a country’s decision-making process to advance their investments and adventures.
State Capture also involves weakening laws and neutralizing any agencies that enforce them.
Unfortunately, oligopolies reduce competition, inhibit innovation and infrastructure advancement, provide poor quality of services, and trade at higher prices for consumers and the nation.
Imposing a Floor Price hampers competitions, and it’s an irregular and illegitimate intervention in an open market sector. And it’s against international best practices and acceptable standards.
The colluding and the levying of Floor Prices by the LTA on mobile voice and mobile data services and the arbitrary levy of an unwarranted new government 5% regulatory fee on the MNOs are abnormal, reckless and inimical!
One of the core requirements of an open market is minimal government intervention. The LTA’s injunction is an overreach and has violated this fundamental ordinance, and the incumbent sector players, aka the MTN and Orange, are reluctant culprits and collaborators and must oblige politely to denounce, abrogate or non-compliant.
Both the Regulatory Régime and the Sector Operators and the Services Providers remain the Usual Suspects to this cruel public caper and a scandalous ripoff of valued and vulnerable customers.
Government Divestiture of LIBTELCO
The so-called national operator, LIBTELCO, is obsolete and dysfunctional, and prospective new entrants in the telecommunications and the info-communications sector will find it challenging and unable to operate.
Perhaps the Government of Liberia (GoL) should divest itself and privatize LIBTELCO, effective immediately, to desist from the financing of an entity that is potentially lucrative and self-reliant as private sector administered.
The POTROL’s 10 February 2019 state of the nation’s address (SONA) puts the national debt at almost a billion United States Dollars (USD987.8M). A whopping USD750M of that amount is borrowed to finance the LIBTELCO’s ACE fibre optic cables, which dropped anchor in the Monrovia-Atlantic Ocean coast in early 2013, but is yet to be fully deployed and operational!
Both the World Bank Group (WBG) and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), recommended same in the revised draft and blueprint of the 2007 National Telecommunications Act, which created the LTA and diversified Liberian telecoms and infocoms sectors.
The propitious GoL divestiture project of LIBTELCO was rejected by the plutocrat and the nepotismo Madame President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, in favour of her godson, a certain Benjamin Wolo, to manage the Ancien and deteriorating state enterprise in the fashion of a State Capture!
Mr. Benjamin Wolo, the conflicted, unfit and indecorous LIBTELCO chief executive, was later dismissed by his godmother in 2016, under dubious circumstances.
The rest is history, including the current and sorry status of LIBTELCO with the legislated moniker, the National Operator; an anomaly and a misnomer in the new and emerging telecoms and the infocoms environment!
Deconstruct and Decommission the LTA
There’s an urgent demand to deconstruct and decommission the useless LTA Board of Commissioners (BoC) and transform it into a lean, skilled and technological directorate, which would be consistent with modern trends in the telecoms industry and the infocoms sector.
The statute for the appointment of the BoC is political and partisan and devoid of the calibre of expertise and experience required by the sector.
Ironically, the five-member Executive BoC for small telecom and infocoms market, in a nation of fewer than five million inhabitants, is an exception to the rule and neither the norm in the sector.
Most countries in the African region and around the world, have a casual and a majority non-executive board of directors, but with the full-time directorate and a singular or two executives BoC to manage and administer the day to day affairs of the Regulatory Régime.
The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC), with its vast population and lucrative telecom and infocoms market, is the exception. It has a five-member executive commission, chaired by a partisan and ranking commissioner nominated by the incumbent POTUS.
Notwithstanding, such is the telecommunications (telecoms) patronage and the infocommunications (infocoms) services in the homeland!
Sarr Abdulai VANDI PhD is University Professor Emeritus, ITU Senior Expert & Former LTA Chairman and CEO.