Mascom Wireless Botswana has lost with costs a case in which it had sought a review of the lawfulness of a directive promulgated by the Botswana Communications Regulatory Authority (BOCRA), to regulate the Mobile Termination Rates (MTRs) in Botswana. Mascom wireless says the rates as set by BOCRA are very low and wants them increased.
Many in the industry see Mascom’s bitter fight as an effort to protect the revenue it was making from Mobile Termination Rates (MTRs) since it has the largest subscriber based when compared to other operators. The directive sets out charges that mobile network operators charge each other for network interconnection. Botswana telecommunications Corporation Limited (BTCL) and Orange Botswana were also cited as second and third respondent but they chose to be spectators in this regulatory dispute.
Mascom wanted the court to determine if in issuing regulatory directive No1 of 2017 on the 24th March 2017, determining the charges that the mobile network operators have to charge each other for network interconnections, BOCRA had acted in accordance with its statutory obligations to take regulatory decisions in the open, transparent, accountable, proportionate and objective manner in terms of the Communications Regulatory Authority Act.
The mobile operator was also skeptical as to whether BOCRA acted duly in terms of its common law duty, arising under public administrative law, to act fairly and in accordance with the legitimate expectations it had created with the operators that it would, regarding the charges in case, complete the consultation process in which it was engaged with the operators. In essence Mascom Wireless is of the view that the directive that was issued by BOCRA is illegal, irrational, improper and wanted it reviewed and set aside.
On 24th March 2017, BOCRA issued a directive that set Mobile Termination Rules that were to apply on 1st June 2017 and further directed operators – Mascom, BTC and Orange – to review their prices to remove the Off Net Mobile voice calls by 1st June 2018. The Judge, Leburu was informed that Mobile Termination Rates (MTR) are wholesale rates per minute that the operators charge each other for voice calls that terminate in their respective networks, but that originate from one of the other operators’ networks.
Explained further, if a mobile telephone customer of Mascom makes a voice call to a customer of Orange, Mascom has to pay Orange for enabling the Mascom customer’s call to be connected to the Orange customer’s mobile telephone device via Orange network. The stated purpose of the said directive was to implement the final recommendations of the 2016 Cost Model and Pricing Framework Study. The said Study was conducted by a United Kingdom firm of consultants named Interconnect Communications Ltd. There was a consultation process following the final report which was preceded by an interim report in March 2016 and the draft final report was delivered in September 2016.
“Before the draft reports and final draft report were submitted, consultation with the operators, spanning 14 months was done and presentations were made to the operators during information sessions about the project or study,” the court was told. It was further revealed that following upon public notice to all relevant stakeholders about the study, BOCRA initiated a one-on-one project meetings with each of the operators in January 2016. At this meetings a presentation was made to each of the operators, including Mascom.
It was shared in court that data from Mascom and other operators was used as inputs to populate the first Draft Cost Model. In March 2016, BOCRA issued the interim Report on cost modeling and pricing framework. Evidence presented before the court indicates that on March 22nd 2016, a stakeholder consultative workshop was held whereat all stakeholders were granted an opportunity to make presentations, responses and input on the issues described in the interim report. “Mascom elected not to make oral presentations at the workshop. Instead, it chose to subsequently submit written comments on the interim report on 11th April 2016.
“Mascom acknowledged as a starting point that the approach in the interim report was “well balanced and sensible approach with respect to the considerations made on the key issues that underpin the development of costs models and a pricing framework suitable for Botswana.” It further made its presentations with respect to potential remedies to the pricing issues on off-net compared to “on-net” voice tariffs. BOCRA then made a consolidated report based on the submissions made by all including Mascom.
After a collective meeting with Mascom, Orange and BTCL whereat a presentation on the project status was given to the operators, a draft final report which set the preliminary results of the study was issued by BOCRA on September 2016. All stakeholders including Mascom were once again given an opportunity to make presentations and Mascom obliged through its written representations on the 24th October 2016.
Mascom at this stage made complaints that it had not been furnished with full access to the cost model, for purposes of verifying and validating the costs results; Mascom also complained that the level of the MTRs set out in the draft final report were too low. BOCRA however proceeded and came up with a draft final report and shared it with Mascom and other stakeholders on 29th November 2016. On 17 January 2017 BOCRA held a meeting with Mascom to afford it an opportunity to raise its concerns on the Draft Final report.
Mascom further raised its concerns on the study and arising from such concerns three teleconferences between Mascom and consultants were conducted and one was on the 31st January 2017. BOCRA Board on 6th March 2017 adopted the final report but modified the recommendation of a three year glide path and adopted a two year glide path. “It was the reduction from the three years to the two years that formed Mascom’s casus belli, hence the present review application.”
According to Mascom, at all relevant times during the consultation period, the consultants and BOCRA executive management team, conveyed to the operators that a reduction in the MTRs will be implemented over a three year glide path period. Mascom contended that the three year glide path period was effected by the BOCRA Board without prior notice or consultation and further that it legitimately expected that a three year glide path would be implemented and that if BOCRA was minded to vary same, it should have give Mascom a further hearing. Mascom argued that the consultation process was incomplete.
“Although attacking the entire process leading to the issuance of the said directive, is not seeking to set aside the entire directive. Mascom’s sharp pointed arsenal is directed at paragraphs 11.2 and 11.3 of the said directive dealing with MTRs,” observed Judge Leburu. Currently Mobile Termination Rates excluding VAT stand at 0.295 and by 1st June 2017 they were at 0.220 and on 1st June 2018 MTRs will be 0.130. Mascom wants these provisions set aside on grounds of irrationality, unlawfulness and unfairness. “Interestingly, other operators Orange Botswana and BTCL have adopted a passive role and have filed notices to abide by the court’s decision,” Judge Leburu noted.
JUDGE QUASHES MASCOM
Judge Leburu found that the regulator in BOCRA invited relevant stakeholders to participate in the study at formative stages before the directive was promulgated. He also established that several documents that information was shared by the regulator, its consultants and the operators. He further pointed out that workshops were held in addition to telephone and teleconference ng. Further drafts interim reports were prepared, shared and revised up until version 13 (Draft Final report). The Judge noted that Mascom fully participated in the consultation process, right from inception of the study, up to including the preparation of the Draft Final Report.
“The process of consultation was thus open and transparent.” He dismissed Mascom’s assertion that the consultation process was incomplete and inchoate, “in my view, it is bereft of substance,” he said. The Judge also noted that it is in the public interest that a consultation process must at some point come to an end so that certainty and predictability can prevail. He said the directive was issued for public good, particularly the reduction of MTRs rates as well as Off-net and On-net tariffs.
“The decision by BOCRA, within the context of its decision making powers in my view, demonstrates that a reasonable and rational choice and decision was made by BOCRA.” Mascom’s application was dismissed with costs, inclusive of costs related to engagement of Senior Counsel.
An international report complied in South Africa dubbed ‘Legal Gender Recognition in Botswana’ says that the transgender and gender non-conforming people in Botswana live a miserable life. The community experiences higher levels of discrimination, violence and ill health.
In this report, it has been indicated that this is because their gender identity, which does not conform to narrowly define societal norms, renders them more vulnerable. Gender identity is a social determinant of health, which means that it is a factor that influences people’s health via their social context, their communities and their experiences of social exclusion. The Ministry of Health and Wellness has recognized this, and transgender people are considered a vulnerable population under the Botswana Second National Strategic Framework for HIV and AIDS 2010-2017.
In a recent study that shed light on the lived experiences of transgender and gender non-conforming people in Botswana, transgender persons often experience discrimination because of their gender identity and expression. The study was conducted by the University of Cape Town, LEGABIBO, BONELA, as well as Rainbow Identity Association and approved by the Health Ministry as well as the University of Botswana.
Of the 77 transgender and gender non-conforming people who participated in the study, less than half were employed. Two thirds, which is approximately 67% said that they did not have sufficient funds to cover their everyday needs. Two in five had hidden health concerns from their healthcare provider because they were afraid to disclose their gender identity.
More than half said that because of their gender identity, they had been treated disrespectfully at a healthcare facility (55%), almost half (46%) said they had been insulted at a healthcare facility, and one quarter (25%) had been denied healthcare because of their gender identity.
At the same time, the ‘Are we doing right’ study suggests that transgender and non-conforming people might be at higher risks of experiencing violence and mental ill-health, compared to the general population. More than half had experienced verbal embarrassment because of their gender identity, 48% had experienced physical violence and more than one third (38%) had experienced sexual violence.
The study showed that mental health concerns were high among transgender and gender non-conforming people in Botswana. Half of the transgender and gender non-conforming study participants (53%) showed signs of depression. Between one in four and one in six showed signs of moderate or severe anxiety (22% among transgender women, 24% among transgender men and 17% among gender non-conforming people).
Further, the study revealed that many had attempted suicide: one in three transgender women (32%), more than one in three transgender men (35%) and three in five gender non-conforming people (61%).
International research, as well as research from Botswana, suggests that not being able to change one’s gender marker has a negative impact on access to healthcare and mental health and wellbeing. The study further showed that one in four transgender people in Botswana (25%) had been denied access to healthcare. This is, at least in part, linked to not being able to change one’s gender marker in the identity documents, and thus not having an identity document that matches one’s gender identity and gender expression.
In its Assessment of Legal and Regulatory Framework for HIV, AIDS and Tuberculosis, the Health Ministry noted that “transgender persons in Botswana are unable to access identity documents that reflect their gender identity, which is a barrier to health services, including in the context of HIV. In one documented case, a transwoman’s identity card did not reflect her gender identity- her identity card photo indicated she was ‘male’. When she presented her identity card at a health facility, a health worker called the police who took her into custody.”
The necessity of a correct national identity document goes beyond healthcare. The High Court of Botswana explains that “the national identity document plays a pivotal role in every Motswana’s daily life, as it links him or her with any service they require from various institutions. Most activities in the country require every Motswana to produce their identity document, for identification purposes of receiving services.”
According to the Legal Gender Recognition in Botswana report, this effectively means that transgender, whose gender identity and expression is likely to be different from the sex assigned to them at birth and from what is recorded on their identity document, cannot access services without risk of denial or discrimination, or accusations of fraud.
In this context, gays and lesbians advocacy group LEGABIBO has called on government through the Department of Civil and National Registration to urgently implement the High Court rulings on gender marker changes. As stated by the High Court in the ND vs Attorney General of Botswana judgement, identity cards (Omang) play an important role in the life of every Motswana. Refusal and or delay to issue a Motswana with an Omang is denying them to live a complete and full-filing life with dignity and violates their privacy and freedom of expression.
The judgement clarified that persons can change their gender marker as per the National Registrations Act, so changing the gender marker is legally possible. There is no need for a court order. It further said the person’s gender is self-identified, there is no need to consult medical doctors.
LEGABIBO also called on government to develop regulations that specify administrative procedure to change one’s gender marker, and observing self-determination process. Further, the group looks out for government to ensure members of the transgender community are engaged in the development of regulations.
“We call on this Department of Civil and National Registration to ensure that the gender marker change under the National Registration Act is aligned to the Births and Deaths Registry Act to avoid court order.
Meanwhile, a gay man in Lobatse, Moabi Mokenke was recently viciously killed after being sexually violated in the streets of Peleng, shockingly by his neighbourhood folks. The youthful lad, likely to be 29-years old, met his fate on his way home, from the wearisome Di a Bowa taverns situated in the much populated township of Peleng Central.
CEO of Khato Civils Mongezi Mnyani has come out of the silence and is going all way guns blazing against the company’s adversaries who he said are hell-bent on tarnishing his company’s image and “hard-earned good name”
Speaking to WeekendPost from South Africa, Mnyani said it is now time for him to speak out or act against his detractors. Khato Civils has done several projects across Africa. Khato Civils, a construction company and its affiliate engineering company, South Zambezi have executed a number of world class projects in South Africa, Malawi and now recently here in Botswana.
About ten (10) Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) parliamentary candidates who lost the 2019 general election and petitioned results this week met with UDC Vice President, Dumelang Saleshando to discuss the way forward concerning the quandary that is the legal fees put before them by Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) lawyers.
For a while now, UDC petitioners who are facing the wrath of quizzical sheriffs have demanded audience with UDC National Executive Committee (NEC) but in vain. However after the long wait for a tete-a-tete with the UDC, the petitioners met with Saleshando accompanied by other NEC members including Dr. Kesitegile Gobotswang, Reverend Mpho Dibeela and Dennis Alexander.