BEFORE the liberalisation of the Zambian economy, regulation of the many critical services provided to Zambian consumers was undertaken by departments in the government.
All the airports and airfields for example were under the Department of Civil Aviation. The insurance and pension industry was under a controller based at the Ministry of Finance, the energy sector was under the Energy Department in the Ministry of Transport and Communications and later in the Ministry of Water and Energy. Phones and other communications used by the public were under government ministries as well.
Today, to ostensibly improve the services rendered to consumers, several statutory authorities have been created to take over the functions of the various government departments that previously provided regulatory oversight.
I am certain that I speak for many Zambians when I state today in this column that the performance of the statutory bodies is nothing to write home about. They have just added an extra cost to the consumers who have to absorb the levies demanded on the service providers by the regulators.
I have heard many Zambians complain about the poor services provided by the many regulatory bodies that are superintending service providers.
My colleagues and I have had our own frustrations with the Pension and Insurance Authority which has encouraged and protected the theft of funds from private pension schemes by private fund managers at the expense of retirees.
Many people have also questioned the performance of the Energy Regulation Board. People wonder whether the ERB is there just to increase tariffs and raise fuel prices.
My concern though today is with the Zambia Information Communication Technology Authority (ZICTA). The mobile service and internet providers in this country are robbing the public and ZICTA must act to stop this daylight robbery.
Across all networks, we are charged exorbitant fees for data, but half of the time, the connection is not available and they do not extend the subscription. I was required to send some money to a friend who had an emergency yesterday and it was so frustrating that I went to four or five kiosks before I found one which had a network connection.
The other day, my cousin sent me some money from abroad by Western Union and I could not believe that none of the providers had a connection in the Central Business District. I had to go over to Levy Junction to collect the funds.
I can’t understand why our internet service is this bad. The other year, I travelled to Egypt during the Arab Spring. The internet service was superb despite the upheavals at that time in that country. We were even converting our United States dollars and Euros through ATM machines,
I again travelled to Ivory Coast soon after the civil war in that country, the services were so good I even bought a SIM card from the market. I was able to call Zambia and also connect to the internet from my room at Hotel Pergola without any difficulties.
The only problem was the high cost which I have found to be common in all African countries.
To make matters worse, the quality of voice calls in this country seems to be deteriorating every day. You initially get through to the number that you are calling and then, in the middle of the conversation, you cannot hear each other. In the meantime, your precious airtime is getting chewed.
Recently, ZICTA imposed very severe penalties on the mobile service providers and we thought the situation would improve, but alas, it’s not getting any better.
Were the penalties just a fund raising exercise to meet the needs and wants of the luxurious lives of the fat cats who run ZICTA? We the consumers are the ones who foot the levies that ZICTA collects from the mobile service providers because that burden is passed on to us through the cost of airtime. It is therefore incumbent upon ZICTA to ensure that the service providers give us the best value for our money. I am beginning to think that we Zambians should consider forming associations to monitor the performance of service providers and if we are unhappy, initiate our own corrective actions. I know in one African country, the consumers agreed to boycott a service provider for a certain number of hours per day until that provider improved its service.
ZICTA must act to stop this rip off. It cannot go on forever. Enough is enough!
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