Lonestar Cell-MTN under fire for alleged ‘political manipulation’ to control Liberian market

11 Sep 2015

Liberian mobile operator Lonestar Cell-MTN, a 60%-owned subsidiary of South Africa-based MTN Group, has been accused of attempting to use political manoeuvring to counter the threat of rising competition from the likes of Cellcom Liberia and Novafone. In what Front Page Africa terms ‘an unprecedented move’, Lonestar Cell-MTN – whose chairman Mr Benoni Urey is a presidential candidate in the upcoming elections in 2017 – has approached the national Senate in a bid to prevent its rivals from offering cut-price promotional offers to its subscribers. Deputy CEO Louis Roberts sent a letter to the Senate on 26 August complaining that its rivals’ free calls promotions are ‘negatively impacting’ on its ability to generate revenue and causing the government to lose ‘millions of dollars in revenue’, imploring the House: ‘In view of the above, we pray your indulgence for consideration in addressing our pleas and concerns.’ But industry watchers have criticised the tactics, saying: ‘MTN is playing politics to control the free market, which it has dominated for over a decade.’ One unnamed source said: ‘For MTN to even insist that free call promotions will cause a loss of revenue to government is not only disingenuous, but intended to mislead the government. If you are given something for free, that does not mean that you would be willing to pay for that thing if it was not available for free. Free calls only promote higher volume of calls because they are free. But if the free calls were stopped, there is nothing to suggest that consumers would make the same volume of calls.’