Grand Kru Electoral District #2 Representative, Jonathan Fonati Koffa, has termed as total nonsense recent “exploitation” of the people by the Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) by increasing voice and data surcharges by over 300 percent, on the heel of a 20 percent increment by the regulator (LTA). It could be recalled that several months ago, the LTA issued LTA Order: 0016-02-25-19, which imposed surcharges of US$0.008 for each minute of on-net voice calls and US$0.00065 for each megabyte of data. Both Lonestar MTN and Orange Liberia Inc. challenged this LTA Order for many reasons, among which was that the surcharge was a tax and only the Legislature has the power to impose tax.
However, only Orange- Liberia Inc. challenged the LTA Order in court by filing a Petition for Judicial Review with the Civil Law Court for the Sixth Judicial Circuit in April, 2019. The Civil Law Court issued a Prohibition or Injunction on the LTA Order and mandated that the LTA Order shall not take effect until the matter before it was finally determined. After a hearing at the Civil Law Court, the Court ruled that the LTA had the power and authority to issue the LTA Order. In response to this Ruling, Orange Liberia appealed to the Supreme Court. That appeal, according to legal experts, placed its own Prohibition or Injunction on the Civil Law Court's Ruling pending a final determination by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court also in early September affirmed the Civil Law Court's Ruling by saying, among other things, that the surcharges imposed by the LTA Order are not a tax; but "additional costs"; which the LTA, in keeping with its powers under the 2007 Telecommunications Act, has the authority to impose.
But the latest outcome of that ruling that result to the company to adhere to the LTA’s order by imposing extra high fees on voice calls and data charges did not go down with Liberians, as many of them expressed serious opposition to the decision through different media. However, as the pressure were piled on the shoulders of the Liberian government, the LTA and the MNOs held series of meetings that resulted to what has been described as compromises to include the LTA Order and other taxes. Speaking at a news conference in Monrovia on Thursday, October 15, 2020 with some Legislative reporters, the Grand Kru County lawmaker, in an angry tone, said the compromise is not a victory for the GSM companies who did “nonsense” to save their faces by putting the people against their government. He urged the companies to speedily do all it can to give back to Liberians what they took away during the past one week.
“This is not a victory for the GSM companies. All the nonsense they are pouring is to save their faces. They should give back what they have taken from the Liberian people. Had the people not been sensible, they would have gone against their government in this kind of fragile state, and that could undermine our peace and security,” he stated. Rep. Koffa, who is also the Chairman of Judicial Committee of the House of Representatives, welcomed the licensing of the Liberia Telecommunications Company (LITELCO), stating that this will help safeguard the security of the state. “For international companies controlling the telecommunications of a country is risky for the country and we just saw that. Within no time, they were able to put the people against the Government of Liberia,” the prominent Liberian lawyer asserted. However, both Orange-Liberia Inc. and Lonestar Cell MTN have rolled back the surcharge implemented on voice and data following discussion with the LTA.
In its message to its customers, Orange-Liberia Inc. said: “ We would like to inform our customers who purchased bundles between October 8 & October 14 that they will receive the difference in minutes and data between the allowances they received after 8 October versus the allowances in place before October 8 within 10 days.” For Lonestar Cell MTN, it said: “We are pleased to inform you that we have rolled back the surcharge implemented on voice and data following discussion with LTA. Please be advised that every Lonestar cell MTN customer who bought a bundle between October 8, 2020 and October 14, 2020 will receive a refund of the difference in what you used to get before the surcharge adjustment and what you got during the adjustment. You were heard. We’re #Good Together.” Meanwhile, commenting on the overall performance of the 54th Legislature, of which he is a part, the Grand Kru County lawmaker disclosed that the Legislature did well in the execution of its statutory duties and responsibilities.
“I grade the legislature moderately higher this year of the issues that have been tackled. The Special Emergency Sessions, 12 financial instruments that will benefit the people of Liberia were passed, the maritime law and the lottery law were all amended. The legislature did well in delivering the best to the people. We had very tough environment,” Rep. Koffa, among other things, intoned.