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General News of Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Source: myjoyonline

Sakyi-Addo slogs it out with communications minister

The Chief Executive of the Ghana Chamber of Telecommunications (GCT), Kwaku Sakyi-Addo and the Minister of Communications, Haruna Iddrisu turned the launch of the GCT into ‘verbal battle ground’ using the occasion to express their disagreements on industry policies.

None of the two eloquent gentlemen pulled back punches as they each took turns to defend their somewhat entrenched positions on the “rich subject of poor quality service”, as Mr. Sakyi-Addo put it.

They each put the august audience in different moods at different stages of their presentations, causing Vice President John Dramani Mahama, for instance, to stick to his prepared speech to avoid the temptation of commenting on each of their calm but “explosive” presentations.

Kwaku started it all by using his welcome address to catalogue the immense contribution the telecom operators had made to national development in the face of militating conditions, and how the regulatory environment had not been fair in judging them on quality of service.

He noted that mobile phone companies had invested over US$5 billon dollars in Ghana since the mid-nineties and they currently employed directly and indirectly over 1.5 million people.

Kwaku said nearly 38 per cent of all the revenues of mobile phone companies went to government; 10% of all government income came from mobile phone companies; telecoms directly accounted for seven per cent of capital investments in Ghana, and according to the Ghana Statistical Service (GSS), telecoms was responsible for a third of GDP growth in 2010.

He noted that the National Communications Authority (NCA) was largely funded with fees from telecom operators, and the Ghana Investment Fund for Electronic Communication (GIFEC) was also completely funded by mobile operators – each operator contributes one percent of their revenues.

The GCT Boss said in spite of the immense contribution of the telecom operators to national development, the policy environment was fast turning into one in which the industry appeared to be cash cow, rather than a development partner.

He noted that the telecom operators had signed onto a set of quality of service parameters intended to enable them deliver ‘First World’ standards of service, but they faced ‘Third World’ challenges such as power outages, cable and diesel theft, fibre cuts, resistance to the siting of towers in some suburbs, and others which the telecom operators had very little control over, and yet those were largely to blame for the quality of service breaches for which they were usually fined heavily.

“Since the beginning of this year alone, mobile operators have suffered over 400 cable cuts. Many of these are due to road construction; some are due to theft, and sometimes even to bush-fires,” he said.

He noted that those cuts cost telecom operators around US$140,000 a month each to repair, plus revenue loses to operators and government due to the inability of subscribers to access the network, and above all, the damage to the reputation of operators by justifiably furious subscribers.

“The Communications Minister indicated recently that he’ll set up a panel to address this problem. We would encourage him to treat this matter with First World dispatch and efficiency,” Kwaku said.

Kwaku also noted operators faced discriminatory charges by the MMDAs in their effort to deploy infrastructure to deliver on the quality service standards they signed up to.

He said in one district, for instance, the annual business operating permit (BOP) for insurance companies was Ghc200; commercial banks GhC700; ECG Ghc1,000; mobile phone companies, Ghc9,000.

“In another district, the BOP for a large industry and mobile operators was Ghc2,000 in 2009. The following year, whilst the others remained the same, that of mobile operators was increased to a total of Ghc22,500,” he said.

The GCT boss said recently one operator paid nearly US$400,000 to Ghana Highways Authority for a permit to lay a fibre optic cable, which ran for about 400 km, and each district assembly was also levying an additional charge for the cable running through their towns.

“One district has ordered the operator to pay an extra Ghc420,000 and has stopped the operator from carrying out the job,” he said.

Kwaku also mentioned the 20% copyright tax on SIM card with the “erroneous assumption” that SIM can be used to store copyright material.

He said Ghanaians would have to make up their minds whether they wanted the mobile phone services in their communities or not, and whether they wanted improvements in the quality of service or not.

Those words rattled the cage of the Minister, who noted that in the same way the telecom operators thought they fed government with money, so did the public also fed the operators with money and received poor quality service.

He said in the face of continuous public complaints about poor telecoms services, government would rather be on the side of the public than on the side of the telecom operators.

Haruna Iddrisu said government would no more tolerate the slightest poor quality service by any telecom operator because that could have grave implications for life and business.

The Minister also accused the telecom operators of disrespecting the regulator in delaying the payment of recent fines for poor quality service and urged the Chamber to impress upon its members to pay up in 24 hours or lose their operational licenses.

Haruna Iddrisu also accused the telecom operators of hampering government’s efforts at monitoring international gateway and fighting SIM box fraud, saying that one operator pulled out of the prosecution of a SIM box fraudster three weeks after that operator caused the arrest of that fraudster.

“Are telecom operators committed to the fight against SIM Box fraud”? he asked.

The Minister however went soft towards the end of his presentation and assured the operators of government’s commitment to re-engineering some inimical laws and charges by the MMDAs to create a more friendly environment.

He promised that beginning from next year, government would give tax incentives to operators who extend data and voice services to the remote parts of the country.