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.
Botswana Police Service (BPS) has indicated concern about the ongoing trend where the general public falls victim to criminals purporting to be police officers.
According to BPS Assistant Commissioner, Dipheko Motube, the criminals target individuals at shopping malls and Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) where upon approaching the unsuspecting individual the criminals would pretend to have picked a substantial amount of money and they would make a proposal to the victims that the money is counted and shared in an isolated place.
“On the way, as they stop at the isolated place, they would start to count and sharing of the money, a criminal syndicate claiming to be Criminal Investigation Department (CID) officer investigating a case of stolen money will approach them,” said Motube in a statement.
The Commissioner indicated that the fake police officers would instruct the victims to hand over all the cash they have in their possession, including bank cards and Personal Identification Number (PIN), the perpetrators would then proceed to withdraw money from the victim’s bank account.
Motube also revealed that they are also investigating a case in which a 69 year old Motswana woman from Molepolole- who is a victim of the scam- lost over P62 000 last week Friday to the said perpetrators.
“The Criminal syndicate introduced themselves as CID officers investigating a case of robbery where a man accompanying the woman was the suspect.’’
They subsequently went to the woman’s place and took cash amounting to over P12 000 and further swindled amount of P50 000 from the woman’s bank account under the pretext of the further investigations.
In addition, Motube said they are currently investigating the matter and therefore warned the public to be vigilant of such characters and further reminds the public that no police officer would ask for bank cards and PINs during the investigations.
Botswana Congress Party (BCP) leadership walked out of Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting this week on account of being targeted by other cooperating partners.
UDC meet for the first time since 2020 after previous futile attempts, but the meeting turned into a circus after other members of the executive pushed for BCP to explain its role in media statements that disparate either UDC and/or contracting parties.
The Director General of the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crimes (DCEC), Tymon Katlholo’s spirited fight against the contentious transfers of his management team has forced the Office of the President to rescind the controversial decision. However, some insiders suggest that the reversal of the transfers may have left some interested parties with bruised egos and nursing red wounds.
The transfers were seen by observers as a badly calculated move to emasculate the DCEC which is seen as defiant against certain objectionable objectives by certain law enforcement agencies – who are proven decisionists with very little regard for the law and principle.