Sarr Abdulai VANDI PhD
ITU Senior Expert
27 April 2020
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, and thus, colluded and negatively Floors, the sector.
Additionally, the recent and controversial and corruptible LTA and the MFD 5% Covid-19 Slush funds surcharge, rejected by the World Bank Group, under whose auspices and the support of the ITU, the LTA is created. The wretched Covid-19 taxation is an abomination, and it’s correctly and adequately, rejected by the MNOs. The MNOs have my unconditional endorsement and support.
An Oligopoly is a market dominated by preferred and preferential Mobile operators, as it is currently 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 neutralising 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 Floor Prices and the unjust taxations 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 and reckless, and inimical!
One of the core requirements of an open market is minimal Government intervention. The LTA injunction is an overreach and has violated this fundamental ordinance. 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 the 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The so-called national operator, LIBTELCO, is obsolete and dysfunctional, and prospective new entrants in the telecommunications and the infocommunications sector will find it challenging and unable to operate.
Perhaps the Government of Liberia (GoL) should divest itself and privatise LIBTELCO, effective immediately, to desist from the financing of the 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. Still, it 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 the Liberia telecoms and the infocoms sector.
The propitious GoL divestiture project of the LIBTELCO was rejected by the plutocrat and the nepotismo Madame President, Ellen John-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 and unfit and the indecorous LIBTELCO chief executive, was later dismissed, by his godmother in 2016, under dubious circumstances.
His successor is Sebastian MUAH, a long time régime collaborator and foot soldier and Praetorian Guard, who allegedly attempted to mortgage and trade LIBTELCO’s scarce resources and deteriorating assets to the defunct NovaFone, and for crooked shares in a notorious Racketeer Casino in Bangui, the Central African Republic (CAR). He was summarily dismissed.
The rest is history, including the current and sorry status of LIBTELCO, 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 into a lean and skilled and technological directorate, consistent with the modern trends in the telecoms industry and the infocoms sector.
The modified and new 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 Africa 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, and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
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; and the Ancien Minister of Posts & Telecommunications, R.L. The article is a modified version of an earlier manuscript.