Prominent businessman, Leston Mulli’s National Bus Company reportedly sought court intervention which granted the company a stay order pending judicial review, which stopped Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA) from revoking its courier licence in March.
As MACRA continues it campaign to recover debt over K9.4 billion of annual license fees which 250 operators in the telecommunications, broadcasting and postal/courier services sector are owing it, National Bus Company is one of the 27 companies currently in the red in failing to honour their regulatory annual license fees.
In a public notice issued on July 14, 2022 by Director General, Daud Suleman, National Bus Company applied for licence renewal on condition that it pays outstanding fees amounting to K14.950 million, which was supposed to be paid by the deadline of March 21, 2022.
Having engaged internally with the various telecommunications, broadcasting and postal courier services players who were failing to honour their legal obligations, MACRA has now brought them to the public attention, saying section 173 of the Communications Act mandates the Authority to enforce by imposing relevant regulatory sanctions against non-compliant licensees or applicants.
Out of the 27 on the list, just Mibawa Television and Radio Maria are on track having submitted post-dated cheques. Mibawa submitted K16.770 million for its content service licence whose deadline is July 31 while Radio Maria (radio broadcasting licence) was owing K15,250,861, whose deadline is November 12, 2022 but submitted post-dated cheques for the whole amount — but if not honoured by both will lead to licence revocation.
Zodiak Broadcasting Station (ZBS) is reported to be failing to rectify transmitters to start using the frequency assigned to it, whose deadline was Wednesday, July 7 and are under further regulatory sanctions.
ZBS was also ordered to start using the frequency for Bangula within 3 months, whose deadline is September 13 but has not been done — thus risking frequency withdrawal.
Malawi Post Corporation’s Post Courier was also in the red and its licence renewal application was pending payment of outstanding fees of K23.8 million, whose deadline was June 30 but submitted a payment plan after also paying K11.5 million.
Malawi Digital Broadcast Network Limited (Kiliye Kikiye) owes a staggering K89 million as signal carrier and has been given deadline of May 12, 2023. It was also under further regulatory sanctions to submit a rollout plan within 14 days, whose expiry was May 27, 2022.
In the public notice, Suleman said the decision “was taken following disciplinary hearings against the licensees held between January and April 2022, where the Authority took into consideration undertakings made by the licensees in determining the duration for compliance.
He reiterated that “in accordance with sections 31 and 122, it is illegal to provide any form of telecommunications, broadcasting or post/courier services without a valid licence issued by the authority — contravention of which may attract criminal sanctions whose liability is up to K5 million and imprisonment for five years”.
He further said the published list is not conclusive as these were those called for disciplinary hearings before the Board, saying “other non-compliant licensees are scheduled to appear before the Board”.
Suleman also emphasized that “failure to comply with the regulatory requirements as notified in writing to each licensee or applicant in this notice within the stipulated timelines will imply that the affected party is no longer interested in providing the said communications service and as such, the Authority shall proceed to take further regulatory action — including revocation or shutting down the associated service without further reference to the licensee or applicant”.
He also said “once a licence is revoked, the applicant my re-apply for another” and that section 174 of the Communications Act “provides that any person aggrieved with an order or any decision made by the Authority may appeal to the High Court within 30 days from when the order was made” — in this case being July 14, 2022.
Rainbow TV, owned by Prophet Shepherd Bushiri, had its broadcasting licence revoked on June 8, 2022 for failing to pay annual license fees applied for judicial review with the High Court, by it was rejected — with the court determining that it was indeed “in breach of its broadcasting licence by failing to pay licence fees” as ordered by Justice M.A. Tembo.
During a press conference last month, Suleman said topping the list of defaulters 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 ago (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 licence 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 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 had 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 had said.
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