When Malawians complain about paying high telephone tariffs and point out that telecommunication companies are exploiting them, government and Macra choose to drift into ‘we do not care’ attitude. Now that the results of a survey done by the Research ICT Solutions (a company commissioned by the Malawi Communication Regulatory Authority (Macra) to carry out the research into telephone tariffs, revealed that Malawi is one of the African countries with the highest cost of making phone calls and internet usage, government will do something about it.
All long, it has been mentioned that telecommunication companies are overcharging customers and government and Macra needs to act. But such calls have fallen on deaf ears. While lack of competition is cited as a major contributing factor for high tariffs, other factors should be considered. Malawi is one country where service providers collude such that even if you have several players in the industry, the charges are not different. They do not really compete because their charges are almost the same. This means service providers will charge almost or slightly lower than their competitors and offer similar serves. It is almost a cartel.
Although the regulatory framework is weak to address concerns of high tariffs, Macra and government should discuss with telecommunication companies to reduce their tariffs. It is not always a question of legal framework, but moral suasion. The evidence from the research is enough ground to hold serious discussion with telecommunication companies to lower their charges. Perhaps, had Macra started using the Consolidated ICT Regulatory Management Systems (Cirms), which irresponsible people call spy machine, they could actually have tracked how companies ‘steal’ from subscribers.
Minister of Information and Tourism Kondwani Nankhumwa does not focus on what happens in his sector and so, he has never spoken against the high phone tariffs. Yet, these telecommunication companies make billions of kwachas in a few months. But they do not want to improve their services.
Macra should not wait for the Communications Act to be reviewed to address the concerns. Both Nankhumwa and Macra CEO Andrew Kumbatira should pluck courage and discuss with elusive and defensive management of these companies to reduce their tariffs.
Unfortunately, they cannot lie that they are making losses because they publish their mid-year and annual statement of accounts and everyone is able to know the billions in profits they are making. The only reason one can give for their outrageous profits is greed.
It is only fair that these companies should reduce their tariffs so that Malawians have more time to speak. After all, communication is a human right which should be enjoyed by all. Companies (including telecomm-unications) are used to overcharging because they take advantage of weak authorities and lack of strong bodies to speak against the high tariffs and exploitation. NGOs that deal with socio-economic justice such as the Consumers Association of Malawi (Cama) and the Malawi Economic Justice Network (Mejn) are not strong enough to mobilise the people to take action against profiteering.
The pricing of goods and services in Malawi is highly exploitative.
For example, whenever the price of fuel goes up, immediately bus and mini bus fares go up and companies increase the price of goods and services in huge proportions, but when the price of fuel goes down they are reluctant to bring down prices. They give all kinds of silly and absurd excuses.
The kwacha depreciated in November/ December and prices of goods and services sky-rocketed. The kwacha has appreciated against the dollar and it is now stable. The price of fuel was reduced a few weeks ago. But no business organisation has slashed prices. One would have expected the government through Ministry of Trade and Industry and Ministry of Finance to discuss and urge the business community to act rationally by reducing prices for the benefit of consumers. A good and responsible government fights for its people and ensures that exploitation in whatever form is checked. Malawians are sheep without a shepherd.