By Jariatu S. Bangura
The 2021 Auditor General’s report has implicated Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that, they owe the Universal Access Development Fund (UADF) an amount of Le12, 662,897,160.96 and Le21, 412,122,288.34, as levies for the financial year 2020 and 2021 respectively.
The report states that there was no evidence of penalties for non-payment during the audit inspection and that such act contravenes Section 7(1) of the Universal Access Act of 2019 which stipulates that MNOs and ISPs should pay levies based on 0.75% of gross income attributable to income tax on 1st January for the previous year’s operation, and Sections 3(a)3(b) which requires that MNOs and ISPs, who fail to comply, will pay penalties and interest of not more than 25% and 5% of the levy, respectively.
The report notes that, the non-payment of arrears will significantly affect UADF’s ability to sustain services and to implement the activities for which it was established.
“We recommended that the Chief Executive Officer in collaboration with the National Telecommunications Authority and their supervisory Ministry (Ministry of Information) should ensure enforcement of the law and consider imposing strict additional penalties on defaulters,” the report recommends.
Meanwhile, an official response from UADF was that, they have made tremendous efforts to collect the arrears in question, which involved working in Parliament to which they have taken MNOs for outstanding debts and have kept sustained collaboration with parliament which could result in enforcing penalties and interest as in the UADF Act of 2019.
According to UADF, there has been considerable improvement on the payment of levies in 2021 and 2022 and that evidence showing their collaboration with Parliament to induce and expedite the collection of levies by MNOs is available for verification.
But auditors noted that there was no evidence of efforts made by the UADF to recover the arrears from MNOs and ISPs and that, evidence of penalties imposed on MNOs and ISPs for non-payment of the levy was not submitted for auditing.
The report notes that all Mobile Network Operators and Internet Service Providers are required to submit their Financial Statements to the UADF at the end of every accounting period in order to enable the UADF to calculate the levy to be collected from those service providers.
“Also from a review of the financial records of the UADF, auditors however observed that some MNOs and ISPs didn’t submit their 2021 Annual Financial Statements to the UADF, despite several requests from same. In the absence of these Financial Statements, they could not ascertain the accuracy and completeness of the 2021 revenue disclosed in the UADF’s Financial Statements,” the report states.
It was recommended that the CEO should request the Financial Statements from the MNOs and ISPs to recalculate the expected revenue and adjust the Financial Statement accordingly.
But in an official response efforts are being made so that penalties are included in the upcoming Revised UADF Act or Electronic Bill, 2022 for fines to be levied on MNOs and ISPs for non-submission and late submission of Financial Statements.