Liberia: House Passes Bill Increasing LIBTELCO’s Operations, Sends to Senate for Concurrence

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The bill, when passed into law, will provide employment opportunities, and will enable LIBTELCO expand its services by becoming a GSM service provider.

Capitol Hill, Monrovia – The Plenary of the House of Representatives on Tuesday passed a bill expanding the functions of the Liberia Telecommunications Corporations (LIBTELCO).


Report by Gerald C. Koinyeneh, [email protected]


The bill, introduced by Rep. Isaac Blalu Roland (District #3, Maryland County) who is Chairman of the House Committee on Post and Telecommunication, seeks to amend certain portions of the Telecommunications Act of 2007 to increase the functions of LIBTELCO.

Plenary’s decision was based on the recommendation from the Joint Committee on Post and Telecommunications, Ways Means and Finance and Judiciary, stating that the amendment will enable LIBTELCO provides world-class telecommunications products and services to meet its customers’ needs and to make fitting contributions to the national budget for execution and implementation of the government’s Pro-poor Agenda for Development and Prosperity (PAPD).

Background

The bill is entitled, “An Act to Amend Provisions of the Amending Section 12 (2), (3), (4), and (5) and Section 13 (1) & (2) Relating To Licensed Service Providers and to Expand the Functions of the National Operator in Schedule A of the Act Relating to Functions and Structure of the Liberia Telecommunications Corporation.”

Following the reading of the bill in Plenary on July 9, 2020, Plenary mandated the joint committee to review it and report within two weeks.

In its recommendation, the committee stated that when the Telecommunications Act of 2007 was enacted into law, the ‘National Operator or LIBTELCO, a government-owned corporation, was not given all rights and privileges as ascribed to national operators like the British Telecom, China Mobile and Deutsche Telekom (German Telecom).

Owing to this, the committee said LIBTELCO is being incapacitated to viably compete in the telecom sector and to make fitting contribution to the national budget.

“In an effort to counter the devastating impact of COVID-19 pandemic on the economy and to support maximum returns on internal resources government for economic recovery, we strongly believe that amending the provisions of the Telecommunications Act of 2007 to expand LIBTELCO’s functions as a national operator, will have a positive effect on the economy and will enable growth of various sectors, such as education, healthcare, banking, energy and serving the masses, at large,” the committee urged plenary in its report.

Meanwhile, speaking to reporters on Tuesday at the Capitol, Rep. Roland, said the bill, when passed into law, will provide employment opportunities, and will enable LIBTELCO expand its services by becoming a GSM service provider.

“In an effort to counter the devastating impact of COVID-19 pandemic on the economy and to support maximum returns on internal resources government for economic recovery, we strongly believe that amending the provisions of the Telecommunications Act of 2007 to expand LIBTELCO’s functions as a national operator, will have a positive effect on the economy and will enable growth of various sectors, such as education, healthcare, banking, energy and serving the masses, at large.”

House Joint Committee on Post and Telecommunications, Ways Means and Finance and Judiciary

The Telecommunications Act of 2007 divides the telecommunications sector into three faucets: The Ministry of Post and Telecommunications as the policy arm, the Liberia Telecommunications Authority (LTA) as the regulatory segment and LIBTELCO as the operation arm.

Rep. Roland said while the act defined the roles of the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications and the LTA clearly, it limited the functions of LIBTELCO.

The passage of the bill by the House to expand the functions of LIBTELCO comes on the heel of series of court actions between the Government of Liberia and Orange Liberia — one of the major GSM service providers in the country.

In June 2020, the Supreme Court’s Associate Justice Jamesetta Howard Wolokollie declined to grant Orange Liberia a Writ of Prohibition on the surcharge on voice call and mobile data bundle as the GSM Company remains adamant on adhering to the LTA regulation.

Though the GSM Company, having lost an initial petition filed with the lower court and was awaiting a hearing into the appeal filed with the Supreme Court, Orange has filed for another Writ of Prohibition upon receiving an invoice from LTA as the implementation of the surcharge took effect in March this year.

The surcharge of US$0.008 for each minute of voice call and US$0,0065 for each megabyte of data was expected to take effect March this year – six months after the cancellation of the famous three days ‘free call’ and the introduction of a new floor pricing system.

The LTA maintains that the cancellation of the US$1 for three-day ‘free’ call was done in order to make the GSM market more vibrant, eliminate dominance and restore competition in the sector. The promo which had run for over three years was also affecting government’s revenue generation in the sector.

What’s next?

The bill has been sent to the Liberian Senate to either concur, amend, or reject. If the Senate concurs, it will be sent to the President where he is expected to approve with his signature or veto. If he signs, the bill, which now becomes an act, will subsequently be printed into handbill by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

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