Liberia: Orange Liberia Seeks Audience With LTA to Solve Surcharge Row

Monrovia — Orange Liberia has disclosed that it is prepared and ready to meet with the Liberia Telecommunications Authority (LTA) in an effort to amicably resolve issues surrounding increment in the cost of service (voice and data bundles) through the imposition of surcharges.

It can be recalled that recently Orange Liberia circulated messages to its customers informing them of placing "additional cost" (surcharge) in the amount of US$0.008 for each minute of on-net voice and US$0.00065 for each megabyte of data, citing the Liberia Telecommunication Authority (LTA) Order; 0016-02-25-19 as a reliance.

The Mobile Network Operator (MNO) argued that with the imposition of the LTA order 0016-o2-25-19, the entity is left with no other alternative but to add the amount to the customers' cost on grounds that the surcharge is not a tax but rather an "additional cost" and that the entity's revenue can't even foot such payment.

"Orange Liberia assumes that the surcharges were tax which should be imposed by the Legislature only, but the Supreme Court ruled t hat the Surcharges are not tax but instead "additional cost" which the LTA pursuant to the 2007 telecommunications Act has the authority to impose.

After the final judgment of the Supreme court, Orange Liberia engaged the LTA to implement the LTA order by placing the surcharges "additional cost" on top of its own cost to its customers, collect it and remit it to the LTA," a statement from Orange Liberia noted.

It added: "Instead of the LTA agreeing to meeting on how to roll out this scheme of the LTA order, the LTA sent Orange Liberia invoices in the amount of approximately US$16.5 million for the period March, 2020 through August 2020, to be paid by October 21, 2020 or Orange Liberia license will be suspended and Orange Liberia will be taken to court.

As a law-abiding entity, the statement indicated, "Orange Liberia moved to comply with the LTA order by calculating the surcharges/ "Additional costs" and placing it on top of its own cost to be paid by its customers, collected by Orange Liberia and remitted to the LTA."

However, LTA said it regards the act by Mobile Operators as " illegal price fixing, collusion, and antitrust conspiracy," informing the public that under relevant provisions of the Liberia Telecommunication Act of 2007, no 'Term of Service' can be increased without approval of the LTA.

The regulatory body noted that its order 0016-02-25-19 resulted in the introduction of the Floor Price on Voice and Data, under which the MNOs eliminated the "Three-Days Free Call" package and a windfall of over US$104 million in extra revenue.

According to the LTA, the ensuing Term of Service, which is being applied by the MNOs, is far in excess of what is required for implementation of any order and designed for "profiteering and political purposes."

Meanwhile, the acting Commissioner of the LTA, Edwina Zackpah, in an interview on State radio over the weekend, frowned on the unilateral decision by MNOs to implement increment without the consent of the regulatory body.

"One of the key things here is the fact that they implemented the increment without the LTA seeing the figures, because the LTA would never approve these numbers and they know it," she said.

Zackpah explained that the floor price surcharge order was implemented in September of 2019, on grounds that the sector was taking a nose dive because of the lack of quality service being provided to the public.

She added that there are three components of the order that include, flow price, regulatory fees and surcharge intended to stabilize the market and provide quality service to the clients.

According to Zackpah, prior to the implementation of the LTA Order 0016-02-25-19, which prohibits MNOs from selling below their cost, was greeted with applause from MNOs that subsequently saw increment in their revenue and also improvement in the quality of service being provided by them.

She stated that prior to the floor charge being ordered, there was a nose dive in the sector; leaving the sector simply dying.

Accordingly, Orange Liberia claimed that the LTA is demanding that the surcharges "additional costs" should be paid by orange Liberia from its revenues/assets, not by Orange Liberia customers which, according to them, is tantamount to running Orange into bankruptcy, as its revenues cannot under any circumstances afford such huge amount.

"LTA wants Orange Liberia to pay surcharges or "additional costs", which Orange Liberia never collected from its customers and which Orange Liberia could not collect during the pendency of the petition for judicial review lawsuit, because the law is that the effectiveness of the LTA order was suspended while that matter was in court," the release from Orange Liberia said.

Orange stressed in the statement that by the LTA demanding now that orange Liberia should pay the surcharges or additional costs in the amount of US$19.3 million, which was never collected by Orange from its customers, the LTA is effectively ordering Orange Liberia into bankruptcy, which is unacceptable to Orange Liberia.

The entity asserted that it has paid all 5% regulatory fees, annual license fees, numbering and spectrum fees, $0.14/ minutes and $0.05, minutes on international incoming and outgoing calls, goods and services tax and continued to comply with its obligations under Liberian laws.

"Orange Liberia is ready to open its record in Substantiation of the fact that a payment of US$19.3 million will bankrupt the company; if surcharges or "additional costs" were to be paid from Orange Liberia's owns revenue, Orange Liberia will not be a profitable enterprise in Liberia because it does not generate that amount of revenue from its own costs," Orange Liberia cited.

Liberians as well as residents are anxiously waiting for an amicable solution to the matters that have the propensity to deepen the current economic crisis in the country.

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