All Bharti Airtel subscribers can remember receiving an SMS message declaring that all calls are now being taxed at Le 6.83 for in network and Le 11.62 for outside network by the minute respectively. They added that this was a NATCOM law.
Guess what? Last time I checked it was parliament that made laws and imposed taxes too.
Admittedly through delegated legislation other bodies can be empowered to make laws on technical matters. This has procedures to be observed including being laid before parliament before that instrument can be passed as law.
The question is whether NATCOM followed these rules to the letter or just did a kangaroo pronouncement that is now costing mobile users in an already over-taxed economy. Did it do twenty-one (21) days before parliament? Was the fourth estate aware of the pending tax law? If both answers are No then this is nothing short of bigotry on the part of national public officers who think they can take such decisions without reference to the people.
There is also the issue of whom this tax was directed at. Governments normally tax income streams in the business sector and also tax consumption of users. Was this targeted as an income tax that should be absorbed by the mobile operators in which case it is morally and possibly legally wrong to transfer this to the consumer who gets the opposite of income in this arrangement?
If it is indeed a consumption tax then the users must bear the brunt of it. Would it not have been expedient for NATCOM to engage consumers at large through its national footprint (Offices in every city) to sensitise them of these pending changes?
As to date only Airtel has informed its client base, so it may seem that only they are affected by this new NATCOM tax. The others have been mute but may have also started charging without disclosing it. So much for human rights and democracy in Sierra Leone.
We also know that Sierra Leone is at the bottom of the digital world with serious access problems. Mobile phones have helped to increase ICT penetration greatly but rising costs will undermine this trend and render it prohibitive to common citizens. We need to find ways to reduce costs and make it a national goal for mobile usage to rise up to 100% with each citizen owning or having access to a mobile device. The national Telco is incapable of nationwide coverage so it is imperative that government policy seeks to establish equity among all stakeholders.
By Samba Jombor Bundu
Friday July 18, 2014