Sierra Leone’s telecoms regulator, the National Telecommunications Commission (NATCOM), has fined mobile operators Lintel SL (Africell SL) and Zain Sierra Leone USD50,000 each for violating the Telecommunications Act of 2003, local daily Concord Times reports. The duo were penalised for increasing the price of their recharge cards without first consulting with NATCOM, which is the only body permitted to approve tariff increases, 30 days after an operator has notified it in writing. ‘Section 52 [of the Telecommunications Act] says GSM operators should notify the commission in writing before any increase is made, while 53 says the commission should give approval,’ NATCOM’s public affairs manager, Abdul Kuyateh, explained.
The price hike was reportedly a response to the introduction of a new Goods and Services Tax (GST) tax on 1 January 2010, which led to confusion about pricing and subsequent shortages of calling cards. It is believed that some mobile operators increased the cost from SLL1,700 (USD0.43) for 50 units to SLL2,000 after the introduction of the GST, raising protests by consumers and a rebuke by NATCOM, which ordered cellcos to restore prices to previous rates until legal issues were resolved. Kuyateh stressed that cellco Comium SL does not have to pay the fine because it agreed to reduce its tariffs immediately after a meeting with the minister of information and communication. Lintel SL and Zain have been given until 18 January to pay their respective fines, or face further action from NATCOM.