DRC regulator under fire over prices

By Issa Sikiti da Silva, in Kinshasa, DR Congo

The telecommunications regulator of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Autorité de Régulation de la Poste et des Télécommunications du Congo (ARPTC), has come under renewed fire for continuing to ignore international recommendations and court decisions not to set the prices of telecom products.

A call between two cellphone networks in this central African nation costs US$ 0.037 for the period of 2013 to 2014, US$0.034 for the 2014-2015 financial year, and US$0.031 USD for 2015-2016.

These prices are set in advance by ARPTC - to the dismay of mobile operators, which insist that telecoms prices should be set by the networks.

The matter was taken to the High Court of Kinshasa last year to force the regulator to set aside these prices and cease any interference in the pricing of telecoms products. The court reprimanded ARTPC, reiterating that the regulator violated the law by setting the telecommunications prices.

Regulating the principles of pricing does not mean in any way setting the prices, because the regulator has the duty to put in place technical and commercial mechanisms that operators would base their pricing on, the country’s High Court said.

But the regulator continued to ignore the court’s decision and insisted that its prices be respected and its instructions about interconnection be followed.

During his recent visit to Kinshasa, the secretary-general of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), Dr Hamadou Touré, issued a plea to the government not to interfere with the telecoms prices, saying this killed competition and obstructed consumers in making their own choice based on the offers.

Dr Touré insisted that pricing of telecoms products should be liberal, competitive and affordable to suit the pocket of consumers.

Many observers said it was not surprising that the regulator continued to ignore everybody’s recommendations because the DRC government is always seen as being above the law.

A government source told Biztechafrica that though the regulator was only taking orders from ‘the top’, the whole matter has embarrassed the organisation and destroyed its credibility.

“In most so-called democratic countries in Africa, governments tend to ignore all court decisions that go against them. How can potential investors put faith in the regulator and other government institutions if the top people bark instructions that hurt the organisation that is supposed to be independent?” said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

 

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