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Opinions of Friday, 18 October 2019

Columnist: Kabu Nartey

Talk Tax: The history of milking the cattle and the fulani herdsmen

This week, the Minister for Communications, Madam Ursula Owusu-Ekuful has been talking tough. It has been towards the telecommunications networks who started deducting in an upfront way, the increment in the communication service tax (CST). The tax popularly known among many as the talking tax was reviewed from 6 percent to 9 percent.

The Minster describes the instant deduction as into-the-face- of consumers and a breach standard practices like how similar taxes as VAT, NHIL, GETFUND levy are charged.

On the other hand, lawyers and some industry players say the directive will yield very little action from the telcos because increment is increment regardless how it is collected, and whether or not the telcos instantly notify consumers when they recharge, there is still deduction. They say the damage control could have been avoided in the first place if government had not adjusted the tax upwards.

In the past days, I have tried to search history to provide a historic perspective to the CST but to no avail. Last year, while on my journalism readings, I came across a narrative which suggested a similar increase in taxes in communication in this country in one of the regimes past, perhaps one of the regimes in the fourth republic.

The literature was either ‘I Spoke for Freedom” by Kabral Blay Amihere or “…Professional Journalism Standards” by Diedong 2016. But the increment was met with fierce outcry and advocacy by journalists and political activists, in fact I recall reading the author write the citizens fought the tax with their last breath because it was considered an upfront to free speech.

It is also difficult to recall if this tax cost that government of the day (as it were).

But in all this CST debate, I was much interested in the directive by the minster to telcos to renew expired bundles anytime consumers recharge. At the end of the producer-consumer chain is the citizen. Until today I (in fact many Ghanaians) were not conscious of the taxes we paid for just saying hello or sharing our pictures on social media.

As a student and a researcher, I have had quite an interesting journey with network operators in this country. I would call their help lines regularly and express my frustrations on how they are milking my student self. But very little has changed, hence, just like many citizens, I am forced to hop from one network to another in order to survive this internet communication age.

My first network I used was Kasapa but this will non-scoring in this epistle because though I cannot recall if I bought credit and made calls with my own money, I recall the money I spent was too small to complain. In fact, a phone was a trendy possession, so anything boys would to keep the phone functioning, we would, and this also meant getting a rubber tie to fasten the phone in order to keep the keypads from falling off.

I actively began my communication journey in the 2012s, and the network I used was Tigo. Its colourful and interesting adverts showed on tv especially, appealed to the youth like my SHS self. I fell in love and in no time, I began recommending it to my peers in an off the cuff fashion, as if I was going to be tested on their services.

I liked something about Tigo, the Tigo Number 1 (or so) offer, which gave users unlimited time to speak to a loved one with a Tigo number. But the shortfall, which is was a rather key issue at this period was its limited coverage area. I was cut out of communication when I changed my location to the rural areas.

MTN on the other hand capitalized on this ‘everywhere’ connectivity. I was tempted to use MTN in early days but I had noticed that only ‘rich people’ used this network, and as a hustler, believe or not, I didn’t want to be a ‘rich dairy cow’ to be milked that early.

So I decided to wait and gradually mature with Airtel. Airtel was the golden mean for me, i.e it lied between the so-called rich network users and the ‘under-hustlers’. But just like Tigo, airtel would have a bundle and credit that expired. Consequently, I was not surprised of myself doing forced calls just to ensure that the credits were better wasted by oneself than it is lost to an expiry date configured by some providers.

Good that today, Airtel and Tigo have merged and agreeably, the leading example of no bundle expiry.

The surge of electronic money like mobile cash, forced me to reconsider MTN due to efficiency and wide usage. However, I dared not use this for browsing and surfing because I witnessed how they could frustrate one with high charges and deduction when its ‘seizure seasons’ are triggered. After all, should you stop using it, they would replace you with one of their over I million subscribers.

I subscribed to Vodafone to save me from exorbitant phone and internet charges. For a start, they gave me attractive internet offers when I dialed *530* (made for you package) But soon after they realized that has become my preferred option, they withdrew such options on the menu. When I call almost every two weeks to complain bitterly, they say they had not withdrawn such offers, but till today, I still haven’t seen this option since June.

Indeed, nowhere has been easy, in addition, every one of them can sing the ‘out of coverage area’ song even when simple calls should as a matter of proximity go through.

And so in the face of fresh milk (tax increment), it is only wise the fulani herdsmen (government) insist that quality services are restored to reinvigorate the dairy cattle.