World Bank weighs in on Africa gateway fees

The World Bank is speaking out about the international gateway license-fee impasse between mobile phone service providers and African governments

World Bank officials are speaking out about the international gateway license-fee wrangle between mobile phone service providers and African governments.

Service providers say the high fees for licences to provide international calls make it difficult for competition to thrive and for new services to be developed.

The World Bank is now weighing in on the long-running dispute, with a view to spurring economic development in the region.

International gateway license fees are a barrier to the development of telecommunications in Africa, World Bank country manager for Zambia, Ohene Nyanin, said in a published statement last week. The World Bank is pushing African governments to reduce the colossal license fees for the international gateway licenses.

"Why is it is so difficult to make a decision where, by a stroke of a pen we can reduce the cost of making telephone calls by 50 percent?" Nyanin said at a recent industry forum in Lusaka.

But Zambian Minister of Finance and National Planning Ng'andu Magande told the IDG News Service that the Zambian government is being careful. The government does not want to make a decision to hurriedly reduce the license fees.

"We do not want to risk giving the license cheaply today and only to realize later that the companies are making billions of dollars per weeks and to start renegotiating," Magande said.

He said the Zambian government has resolved for now to allow mobile phone service providers to make a joint application and share the cost for the license.

However, the Zambian permanent secretary in the Ministry of Commerce, Trade and Industry, David Chilipamushi, also said the government is being cautious in awarding international gateway licenses to avoid causing the collapse of the Zambia Telecommunication Company (Zamtel).

Zamtel is a government-run communication utility company, providing fixed and mobiles phone services, and collects revenue from other service providers for using facilities including the international gateways and satellite technology.

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Michael Malakata

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