Some 250 operators in the communication sector are not following their license regulations of honouring their annual license fees and owe Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA) K9.4 billion.
At a press conference on Monday, MACRA Director General, Daud Suleman said currently there are 12 license holders — in broadcasting; telecommunication; postal and courier services — who risk having their licenses revoked if they do not meet the deadline they gave themselves to pay their arrears.
Topping the list are players in the telecommunication, who owe MACRA over K8.2 billion with over K800 million by broadcasters and K377 million by the postal and courier service providers.
Suleman said the debt date back as far back as 10 years go (2012) and dismissed reports coming from the license holders, who insinuate that MACRA is just witch hunting on political grounds.
He emphasized that as a regulator, they are just executing the mandate which the Communications Act and that as provided by the law, they first engage the delinquent lice holders holders, who — upon agreeing to what they owe the regulator — are given a leeway to honour their debts on a maximum period of six months.
As of December, February, March and April, MACRA summoned to hearings some 37 operators and 31 have been heard and are being monitored after pledging to pay within their specified period while one had its licence revoked.
Suleman also indicated that they also can re-issue a revoked licence after the operator has paid their debt in full and that the players are at liberty to pay their annual obligations in installments.
He also indicated that they are about to prune out some broadcasting licences — especially radio — which were granted as national but the operators are just using a district level.
“This pruning is also to help the operators comfortably pay their annual fees since that of a national licence is higher,” he said, while disclosing that there are some radio frequencies that were granted to some operators but are not in service.
This, Suleman said, is denying others who might want to apply for radio frequency especially in the congested urban areas of Blantyre and Lilongwe.
Suleman also allayed fears that revocation of broadcasting licences might render a lot of people lose their jobs, saying MACRA is just aiming at making the Industry as vibrant as possible so that as they realise good returns, they might employ more experts currently being trained at Malawi Institute of Journalism (MIJ) and at Malawi University of Business & Applied Sciences (MUBAS) — formerly the Polytechnic of Malawi.
From their survey, Suleman said most of these industry players lack governance expertise, saying honouring legal obligations such as the MACRA license fees is one of them.
“We want the broadcasting industry as vibrant as possible so that when it grows, it should contribute towards economic and social development of the people of Malawi through job creation.
“At the same time, when all operators pay their fees, the Government is able to provide the essential services such as providing good health services and medicine; improving education standards and many other amenities the government is supposed to honour.
He thus emphasised that what MACRA is executing has nothing to do with political witch-hunting but rather just following their mandate as enshrine in the Communications Act.
Last week, when MACRA revoked the Television Content License for Rainbow Television over a substantial breach of failing to pay annual license fees, MACRA’s Communication Manager, Zadziko Mankhambo clarified that there is no clandestine motive behind the revocation as MACRA are only acting upon powers vested in the Communications Act.
Mankhambo had reiterated that TV broadcasters to pay an annual fee currently pegged at $5,000 (approx K5.1 million) and
Rainbow TV’s majority shareholder if Prophet Shepherd Bushiri and in an interview with Malawi News Agency (MANA), Station Manager, Aubrey Kusakala, attributed the delays of payment due to ownership wrangles between Bushiri and former owner Omar Kaisi.
Kusakala told MANA that “Prophet Bushiri was non-committal to settle dues as ownership [arrangements] of the station was not completed at the time, as such, after an agreement with MACRA, we agreed to pay them in installments,” he said.
“We paid K4 million in December, 2021 and also the same amount in February 2022. We committed to finalise the remaining amount by 31st May, but due to the current financial climate, we recently asked for an extension of 90 days which was not responded to.”
Kusakala further alleged that many television houses have been struggling to generate income and it is not only Rainbow TV owing MACRA outstanding payments, others are yet to settle bigger remittances.
“Many media houses made their pledges to MACRA during a meeting in Mangochi to which we were not invited. If we go off air, over 80 employees supporting 400 households will be rendered destitute,” he had said.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :