Botswana’s telecoms tariffs lowest in region

Botswana Telecommunications Authority (BTA) chief executive officer Moses Lekaukau took members of the Press by surprise when he announced that no other country in the region offered cheaper rates in telecommunications.

“We are the cheapest on tariffs,” the outgoing CEO said.

Lekaukau’s comments contradict a hard-hitting report published by the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA), which said that communication in Botswana was a factor that contributed to the uncompetitiveness of most local industries.

But Lekaukau is unfazed by critics that Botswana had fared unfavourably high in telecom rates.

Asked about the reported high costs, he maintained that Botswana was the lowest in the region and provided documentary proof for mobile prepaid tariffs in eight Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries.

“We have the official SADC report given to regulatory associations,” he said.

Lekaukau said they have not yet compiled data for regionally fixed line telephony. According to the SADC report, Botswana had the lowest tariff call to the United Kingdom at P5,40, with Zimbabwe at Z$12 871,13 per minute, South Africa at R10 (about P8,57) and Zambia at US$1,42 (about P8,49) per minute.

However, the SAIIA comparative analysis suggested that Botswana ranked the highest in the region. The SAIIA report noted that it was more expensive to call Europe from Botswana than from any other SADC country.

SAIIA analysis indicated that it cost P4,04 per minute to call Europe, with Kenya at P4,00, Mozambique (P3,60), South Africa (P2,21) while Namibia trailed behind at P1,23 per minute.

The high disparities have been referred to as one of the most problematic factors for doing business in the country.

On other issues, the BTA boss, who will be retiring from service in December, said the corporation was preparing for the neutral service licence, which would allow mobile phone operators and Botswana Telecommunications Corporation (BTC) to operate both fixed lines and mobile phone services.

“Government has taken a decision that instead of bringing in another mobile operator, BTC, Mascom and Orange will have a neutral service licence to operate both services,” he said.

He said current licences offered to BTC specifically allow the corporation to operate fixed lines only, while mobile operators Mascom and Orange have specific licences to operate mobile services only. “Other interested operators will be licensed in 2009,” he said. He, however, noted that the market has the potential to accommodate a third mobile operator.

“This was discussed two years ago in the Ovum report,” he said. He noted that the country’s population might be small, but the buying power could accommodate another operator.

Published in 2004, the report ‘ named after telecom consultants Ovum and commissioned by BTA in the same year ‘ recommended that BTA should not issue a third nation-wide mobile licence but rather explore the implications of issuing a third mobile licence without rollout conditions.

“Our analysis suggests that the market is too small for a third nation-wide mobile operator. Issuing such a licence could lead to excess capacity, reduced prices and returns on investment for all three operators which are inadequate to justify further investment in new services,” reads the Ovum report in part. The report further notes that licensing a third mobile operator only in the main towns reduces, but does not, eliminate the risk.

Meanwhile, an official from Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation (CTO) said Africa should take advantage of the information revolution as it has missed both the agricultural revolution and industrial revolution.

“We have the opportunity to catch up with the rest of the world,” CTO chief executive officer Ekwow Spio-Garbrah said. He noted that Africa plays an integral part in linking the world between the “knows” and the “know-nots.” He said: “Through knowledge-sharing defence, we bring the knows and the know-nots together.”

CTO is an international partnership between Commonwealth countries and non-Commonwealth countries, and business and civil organisations with the objective of bridging the gap to achieve economic development and Millennium Development Goals.

In another development, Botswana’s Members of Parliament have unanimously approved a P104 million loan from Chinese Import-Export Bank to build Dutlwe-Morwamosu Road.

Botswana’s Minister of Finance Baledzi Gaolathe commended MPs for their contributions during the debate on the Bill.

He allayed MPs’ fears that the Chinese were going to bring their manpower to the country to deny Batswana employment opportunities. He said it would be too expensive to bring Chinese workers. He assured the MPs that many Batswana would get jobs in the construction of the road. He added that local companies would be sub-contracted to do road markings, construct culverts, link roads and other jobs.

Gaolathe explained that because of the international contracting standards of big projects like the Dutlwe-Morwamosu Road, government had to limit its input on who should be involved because of the risks. If government were to tell the Chinese contractor to employ 100 percent Batswana, then it was going to bear the costs should anything go wrong because the contractor would shift blame.

He said the main contractor would take all risks involved in the construction and, therefore, would be forced to strive for a perfect job.

August 2006
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