Govt. Protected Lonestar/MTN from Bankruptcy -But Now Pitting Citizens Against Govt, CDC Claims

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As the ongoing telecommunications war brews between Liberia’s two mobile network operators and the government’s regulatory agency, the Liberia Telecommunications Authority (LTA), over recent increments in voice and data surcharges, the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) says it frowns on the ongoing melee and calls for a speedy resolution in the matter, while specifically singling out Lonestar Cell MTN as the mastermind behind pitting the citizens against the government of Liberia in a manner that smells of economic sabotage.

According to the National Chairman of the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change, the LTA’s policy of floor pricing was intended to protect Lonestar Cell MTN from an aggressive price raise from the bottom that was being waged by Orange Liberia, a competition that would have led to Lonestar Cell going out of business.

“The government worked to protect Lonestar Cell in order to provide a level playing field in saving hundreds of Liberian jobs that would have been redundant by Lonestar Cell MTN,” Chairman Morlu said, lamenting further that, sadly, it is the very Lonestar Cell that is acting in a manner contrary to the interest of the Liberian people, thereby ignoring the positive intervention of the government of Liberia to save them from potential bankruptcy.

Regarding the current impasse between the LTA and the two GSM operators, Chairman Morlu called on the LTA and the GSM companies to resolve all disagreements in the soonest possible time to provide relief for Liberians, noting that the breakdown in negotiations between the two mobile network operators, Lonestar Cell MTN, and the LTA, has led to litigation culminating into the recent Supreme Court ruling favoring the Government of Liberia.

“We believe, despite this ruling, both sides should return to the dispute resolution mechanism enshrined in the Act establishing the LTA, or to other suitable frameworks that place the Supreme Court ruling in its proper context,” Chairman Morlu stated.

He emphasized that the CDC wants the GSM companies to refrain from any form of political machinations or collusion, which is a crime of economic sabotage, that indirectly place the ordinary people against their own government.

“While do not aim to dwell on details of recent pronouncements by GSM companies, the recent price changes announced by both companies have elements of collusion and unlawful profiteering, which is punishable under the laws of the Republic of Liberia. We remind the GSM companies that it is always the interest of the Government of Liberia to protect businesses and their investments, but to do so in a way that enhances the interest of the Liberian people,” Chairman Morlu emphatically stated.

“The CDC reminds Liberians that LTA’s policy of floor pricing was intended to protect Lonestar Cell MTN from an aggressive price raise from the bottom that was being waged by Orange Liberia, a competition that would have led to Lonestar Cell going out of business. The government worked to protect Lonestar Cell in order to provide a level playing field in saving hundreds of Liberian jobs that would have been redundant by Lonestar Cell MTN. Sadly, it is the very Lonestar Cell that is acting in a manner contrary to the interest of the Liberian people, thereby ignoring the positive intervention of the government of Liberia to save them from potential bankruptcy,” Chairman Morlu averred.

Meanwhile, the CDC has called on the LTA to exercise prudence when announcing policies that have implications on the Liberian people and that may pose risks to the reputation of the Government of Liberia.

It can be recalled that on October 8, 2020, the LTA issued a press statement saying its attention was drawn to the illegal and arbitrary increase in cost of service (voice and data bundles) by both Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) Lonestar Cell MTN and Orange under the pretense of complying with the surcharge order.

“The LTA regards this act as illegal price fixing, collusion, and antitrust conspiracy. Under relevant provisions of the Liberia Telecommunications Act of 2007, no ‘Term Services” can be increased without approval of the LTA,” the telecommunications regulator stated.

The LTA said order 0016-02-25-19 resulted in the introduction of a Floor Price on Voice and Data, under which the MNOs eliminated the “3 days free call” package and a windfall of over 104 Million USD in extra revenue.

“The New Term of Services which is being implemented by the MNOs now is far in excess of what is required for implementation of any order and designed for profiteering and political purposes,” the LTA stated.

But in the wake of the LTA position statement, a former executive of one of the Mobile Network Operators, Mr. Kimmie Weeks, sharply condemned the LTA statement as dishonest.

“I have read, with great dismay the statement issued by the LTA that there had been no imposition of surcharges to voice and data services and that GSM companies are acting on their own accord. I’m honestly not sure how they could issue that statement with a straight face. Here is section 4 of the LTA order which was signed by the Commissioners and speaks specifically about the imposition of surcharges. Did they forget this? Did they forget the recent Supreme Court ruling which stated that the LTA could proceed with the implementation of the surcharge in its order? Not sure who the LTA is trying to hoodwink or lie to… is it the President or it the Liberian people?

According to Part IV of the LTA Order 0016-02-25-19 establishing price floors for on-net voice and data services and a regulatory fee on telecommunications goods and services, “On the sixth monthly anniversary of this Order, being October 15, 2019, there shall be automatically imposed a surcharge on on-net voice in the amount of US$0.008 for each minute of call.”

Section 4.2 states that “on the sixth monthly anniversary of this Order, being October 15, 2019, there shall be automatically imposed a surcharge on mobile data in the amount of US$ 0.0065 for each megabyte of data.”

Section 4.3 states that “the surcharges to this Subpart shall go into immediate effect on the specified date with no additional notice or Order required, subject only to any determination arising from a review and analysis of market indicators that me be pursuant to Sections 5.1 and 5.2 in the sole discretion of the LTA.”

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