The Telecommunication War: The Beginning Of The Real Liberian Suffering Pt.2

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World Bank-Liberia Country Manager, Khwima Nthara

From all indications, it seems like the CDC government is on the path to self-destruction or has a death wish owing to its constant habit of intentionally making life unbearable for its citizens, especially those who are from the slump communities referred to as the downtrodden. The CDC administration is willing to risk it all—popularity, control over state power and most importantly a continued civil disobedience—over a few insignificant millions that are stolen from the people by overtaxing them, to fill the pockets of a few higher-ups in government.

   On April 22, 2020, Mr. Khwima Nthara, Country Manager of the World Bank, wrote an official communication to the Government of Liberia (GOL) on the effects of imposing a Surcharge Regime on the Telecommunications Sector of Liberia and the Liberian people. The warning from the World Bank through a written communication to the Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Samuel D. Tweah, Jr.,  and the Minister of State and Chief of Staff in the President’s Office, Nathaniel McGill, informed the government that the imposition of a Surcharge Regime “would push Liberia up the ranks and make it one of the countries with the highest cost, which would undermine the country’s efforts towards a digital-based economy”.

   According to the World Bank Group, “It is understood that the LTA introduced the 5% Regulatory Fee as a pilot. While this resulted in a rise in costs, Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) have indicated that the industry has adjusted to it and are therefore not opposed to its continuation. At the same time, the proposed Regulatory Surcharge would have significant negative impacts on them and on the consumers. Therefore, while the 5% Regulatory fee can be maintained, the World Bank Group (WBG) recommends that the proposed Regulatory surcharge be discontinued.”

   On May 6, 2020, the Global Mobile Industry Association (GSMA) wrote a letter to the now suspended Board Chairman of the LTA, Ivan G. Brown, informing him about the 270% growth in subscribers over the decade. The GSMA said that Liberia’s telecommunication sector subscriber-base has grown from 844,000 (eight hundred and forty-four thousand) to 2.3 million (two million three hundred thousand). The letter warned the Government of Liberia not to impose the Surcharge Regime on the Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) owing to the negative impact it will have on the Liberian people.

    The communication indicated that a large proportion of the population (54%) remains unconnected to the mobile network. Liberia has a high coverage gap (37%), and an even higher usage gap (54%)—representing the percentage of the population covered by mobile broadband network but are not using mobile internet—compared to the Sub-Saharan averages (30% and 46% respectively). Significant investment will be required from the mobile sector to provide universal mobile connectivity.

   The GSMA, based in Nairobi, Kenya, indicated in their communication to the suspended Chairman of the LTA that, “mobile connectivity impacts the economy positively through its impact on productivity and GDP.  In 2018, mobile technology and services generated 8.6% of GDP in Sub-Saharan Africa and the mobile ecosystem supported almost 3.5 million jobs (directly or indirectly). By negatively impacting the growth of the mobile industry, the surcharge could also reduce the productivity growth and the related increase in GDP supported by mobile connectivity.

   In conclusion, the letter written by Mr. Akinwale Goodluck, Head of Sub-Saharan Africa GSMA and its members, warned the Ivan Brown, and encouraged him to “remove the surcharge on voice and data”, offering their services to find a win-win outcome.    With the World Bank Group (WBG) and the GSM Association of Sub-Saharan Africa (GSMA) making it unequivocally clear about the negative impact a Surcharge Regime would have on the Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) and particularly the subscribers, which the overwhelming majority constitute young people from the very slump communities that the current group of leaders hailed from, one is left to wonder as to the motivation that would cause a group to leaders who came out of the very slump communities to further impoverish and punish their support base.

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