Controversy has ensued in Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (Macra) after some board members have confided in Nyasa Times that they are being bulldozed in granting a licence to another mobile operator.
In 2008 the Macra board looked at the bids of six companies in an international tender process.
During the bid Milcom scored highly with 90.5 percent, followed by Expresso Telecom Group of Dubai which scored 82 %.
Then VivaCell MTS Consortium from British Virgin Islands scored 81%, Lebanon-based multi-national telecommunication provider Comium Group scored 75%, Lacell of Singapore got 60 % and Forward Ranchers got 60%.
However, despite Lacell, which uses the brand name Smart Mobile, scoring lowly, the board was being “bulldozed” to allow it roll out its services.
Macra boss Andrew Kumbatira has however said Lacell linked to Farook Sattar is being awarded “based on current information.”
He said the other frontrunners were either disqualified or pulled out.
Minister of Information Kondwani Nankhumwa said the new board would like to “renegotiate” with Lacell on terms and conditions of licensing,
But board members confided with Nyasa Times that they are being bulldozed by Malawi government “most powerful” man Ben Phiri from State House to give Lacell the licence “in whatever situation.”
Phiri who is special aide to the President could not answer his phones when contacted several times.
The other cellular network operators in the Southern African country are Airtel Malawi, a subsidiary of Pan-African mobile operator Balti, and TNM, which is owned by Malawian conglomerate Press Corporation.
The two established mobile phone network service providers share a market of over 1, 5-million subscribers, and the Malawi government intends granting further mobile phone network licences in order to increase the number of phone users in the country, which has a 13-million-strong population.
A BBC report recently said International Telecommunications Union (ITU) puts on average Malawians use more than $12 (£7.70) a month on mobile phones.
This is more than half of what an ordinary Malawian earns in a month.
Marca’s Ben Chisonga says the government might have to intervene to bring down the tariffs.
“We are thinking of introducing more data players in the market,” he says.
“For the current players, we are thinking of reducing the interconnection rates, which are about four cents per minute, which we believe, is the highest in the continent.”
Meanwhile, after Nyasa Times reported that Macra board was divided over the overpricing of the ‘spy machine’ upgrade, the regulator’s deputy director general Francis Bisika has confirmed that board members expressed reservations during the meeting.
However, Bisika claimed in The Nation that they changed their mind after an explanation but the paper said board members maintained the board rejected the upgrading price of the machine after being briefed on the development.
The board members added that Macra was warned that the price increase for mere upgrading was dangerous as it would sway the public opinion against government considering the economic challenges the country is facing.
“The issue was just bulldozed because it seems some people have personal interests,” the paper quoted a board member whose identity was shielded.
Many observers have noted underhand tactics in the issue of ‘spy machine’ upgrade and mobile operator licence.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :