By Kenneth Kwama
Confusion has hit the mobile phone sector after it emerged that people other than the Head of State may have authored a letter purportedly suspending implementation of lower Mobile Termination Rates (MTR).
The letter reported to have been written by President Kibaki had petitioned the Ministry of Information and Communications to suspend the rates, a decision that some industry players are now claiming had cost them dearly.
Focus has now turned to the president’s private secretary Nick Wanjohi, who signed the letter and some top Government officials said to harbour strong personal interest in the outcome of the interconnection rate debate. The question now is whether Wanjohi was acting on behalf of the President when he authored the letter.
The mail has thrown the communications industry into a spin, effectively blocking the implementation of MTR, which was in line with the Government stated policy reforms in communication industry.
The mystery deepened last Friday when State House, through head of Presidential Press Service Isaiah Kabira declined to respond to queries over the origin of the correspondence and instead referred Business Weekly to Information and Communications PS Bitange Ndemo to who the letter in question was originally addressed.
“I will not be able to respond to these questions. We shall, however, deal with the issue next week,” wrote Ndemo in response to questions Business Weekly e-mailed to him.
Dr Ndemo, however, declined to state whether he knew who the author of the letter was and instead asked Business Weekly to talk directly to the President’s private secretary, Nick Wanjohi, who signed it.
MTR is the amount of money mobile firms pay to each other for calls that terminate in a rival’s network. Kibaki, through a letter signed by Wanjohi, directed that the rates remain unchanged until an all-inclusive study of costs is undertaken and forwarded to his office for consideration.
“I am directed, therefore, to inform you that until an all-inclusive study of costs and other relevant issues is undertaken and forwarded to this office for His Excellency’s consideration, the status quo should remain,” read in part the letter signed by Wanjohi.
The controversy over the new interconnection rates deepened after reports emerging that some stakeholders could be planning to go to court to challenge the President’s action. Consumer watchdog — the Consumer Federation of Kenya (Cofek) — has dug in and termed the move to suspend the implementation of lower interconnection rates illegal.
“It’s illegal on the basis of the Kenya Information and Communications Act Section five (b), which states and we agree that ‘except as provided for under (the) Act or any other law, the Commission shall exercise its functions independent of any person or body.’
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