Following a technical audit, it is alleged that Sierra Leone’s telecom regulator NATCOM promoted favouritism and unfair competition within the telecommunications industry between January 2015 and July 2018.
This is understood to have cost the country approximately US$68-million.
The full audit report was prepared by members of the African Organisation of English-speaking Supreme Audit Institutions (AFROSAI-E) in South Africa, including three Auditor Generals from Ghana, Kenya and Tanzania, and presented to the finance ministry on 2 April 2019.
It implicates operators Africell, QCell, as well as national carrier Sierratel and fibre optic management company SALCAB.
An excerpt from the report reads: “NATCOM arbitrarily charged US$150,000 per year to all the mobile operators without any statutory instrument.”
It adds that over Le7.0 billion (about US$800,000) of the UADF (Universal Access Development Fund) was used to cover salaries and administrative expenses instead of its intended use for improving infrastructure to enhance universal access to telecom services.
Operators have until 30 June 2019 to refund monies owed.
Emmanuel Greywoode, a Microsoft certified trainer and IT specialist serving Sierra Leone government agencies, said it is clear that the UADF has not been utilised for the benefit of local citizens.
“Our ICT penetration rate is still very low and we have not seen tangible development in the sector, like in the case of Rwanda where tremendous strides (have been made) in improving its citizens’ life by using ICT as a vehicle is a reality. We should be looking at expanding connectivity in the rural areas in the country and the judicious utilisation of the Universal Access Fund basket at NATCOM will help us achieve that.”
Former NATCOM chairman, Momoh Konte, did not immediately respond to requests for a comment at the time of publishing.