Players in the tele-communications industry have lobbied members of Parliament (MPs) to reject the draft Communications Bill until crucial components in tandem with emerging issues in the communications sector are tackled.
The operators’ call comes days after the Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) Malawi Chapter also appealed to the MPs to reject the Bill which it described as “adulterated” due to the omission of some recommendations and general consensus from various stakeholders.
Cabinet dismissed several amendments to the Bill, among them, a proposal to reduce the President’s powers in the appointment of boards for Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) and Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (Macra).
The Bill came for debate in the House last week, but MPs referred it to the House’s Media and Communications Committee for more scrutiny and consultations.
But the operators, through the Association of Telecommunication Operators Limited (Atol), say they are surprised that most crucial inputs and stakeholder consensus have been shot down or are inappropriately reflected in the final Bill.
The stakeholders formed a task force that drove the developmental process of the Bill, the last stakeholder workshop being one held in November 2012, under the leadership of Macra.
“Much as we do appreciate that not all input from the task force and the stakeholders can be taken on board, we are surprised that some of the most crucial input and stakeholder consensus has either been removed from, or not been reflected, or improperly reflected in the final Bill,” argue the operators in their communiqué.
The communiqué has been signed by Faizal Okhai, managing director (MD) for Access Communications Limited, Harry Gombachika, chief Executive officer for Malawi Telecommunications Limited, Charles Kamoto, acting MD for Airtel Malawi and Douglas Stevenson, MD for TNM plc.
The task force included representatives from the Law Commission, the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Malawi Law Society, consumer bodies, the academia and the telecommunications, broadcasting, postal as well as courier sectors among others.
The new Bill introduces several new components under enforcement and compliance, economic regulation, management of scarce resources, consumer protection, universal access and offences and enforcement.
Among others, the operators want ministerial directions at Macra to be removed so that the body remains independent and appointment of director-general of Macra should not be done by the minister or the President.
They also protest additional fees and levies under the Act such as numbering fees and universal access levy—sections 52(1)(e) and 161(a)—to avoid overburdening the already overtaxed consumers.
Further, the operators also want to be given locus standi to commence action against Macra or government for any discriminatory treatment or irregular exercise or commission from their powers under the Act.
However, in her presentation, Macra deputy director (consumer affairs-legal) Thokozani Chimbe argues that the amended Act will fulfil fundamental role of providing a conducive legal framework for the communications sector.
In the presentation titled Communications Bill 2015: Facilitating ICT Development in Malawi, Chimbe says the Communications Bill proposes economic regulation that covers competition regulation and adopts emerging issues in the sector in line with global trends.
“The Communications Bill 2015 offers solutions to current drawbacks in the communications and is vital that it be passed, if Malawi is to develop,” she said.
Misa Malawi chairperson Thom Khanje said in an interview on Sunday that it was important for government to go back to the stakeholders other than making unilaterally changes to the Bill.
“Once the stakeholders agree they have to maintain the Bill in its original format because it’s not good for 20 politicians in the Cabinet to change things that have gone through thorough consultations which took time and consumed a lot of time, it’s not on in democracy,” said Khanje.
Government spokesperson Jappie Mhango said recently Cabinet did not consider other changes because it did not want the Act to be inconsistent with other provisions of the Constitution.
Protests to amendments in the Communications Bill come at a time government is facing similar criticism from stakeholders on the Access to Information (ATI) Bill. n