West Africa mobile regulators urged toprioritise consumer rights

0
2326

By Hassan Gbassay Koroma
The Minister of Communication, Technology and Innovation, Salima Mornorna Bah, has called on the body of mobile regulators in West Africa, to prioritise consumer rights, promote fairness and equity, as well as enhance transparency and accountability in their regulatory frameworks.

She made the call yesterday during the official opening of the 21st annual general meeting of the West Africa Telecommunications Regulators Assembly (WATRA) held at the Radison Blu Mammy Yoko Hotel in Freetown.

“Let us create accessible complaint resolution mechanisms for redress, empower consumers drive demand, fuel innovation, and contribute to sustainable growth. Let us listen to their voices and prioritise their well-being,” she called.

She said the AGM symbolises the collective determination and commitment of regulators within the region to shape a dynamic and inclusive digital future and urged them to embrace a unified vision of fostering innovation, connectivity, and progress across West Africa.

She said as government regulators, one of the most vital issues that demand their immediate attention is how to meet the pace of technological evolution and that they stand at the cusp of transformative advancements that range from the imminent rollout of 5G networks to the vast potential of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Internet.

She said those innovations are rapidly transforming the way people communicate, work, do business and  live and that they  hold the promise of revolutionising industries, fostering economic growth, enhancing efficiency, and improving quality of life.

 “With a very young population coming of age during the Fourth Industrial Revolution, our region cannot afford to be left behind. It is even more vital as these emerging technologies provide us with the opportunity to not only catch up to, but leapfrog more developed countries,” he said.

She said Sierra Leone like many other countries within the region, has established and launched several digital transformation programs and innovation initiatives that are central to the national development agenda.

 She said as government stakeholders, they consider access to food, healthcare and education  as fundamental and basic human rights, noting that the transformative impact for mobile technologies and internet penetration to improve education, healthcare, entrepreneurship, and democratic participation is undeniable.

 The minister stated mobile technologies alone have generated 1.7 million jobs and contributed $144 billion to the continent’s economy, which is about 8.5% of GDP.

Director General of the National Telecommunication Authority (NaTCA), Amara Brewah, said collaborating and working together as ICT regulators give them an opportunity to discuss best practices, challenges, and proffer solutions to the ever-changing dynamics of the emerging advancements in the telecommunications ecosystems.

He said the country has made improvement in connectivity and bridging the digital divide and as primary source to international connections and access to high-speed internet through the Africa Coast to Europe (ACE) submarine fibre optic cable has quadrupled internet service providers since 2018.

He further stated that mobile data penetration has significantly increased from 15.05 % in 2018 to 24.82% as at December 2023, making a percentage increase of 64.92% and the percentage increase in mobile data penetration further underscores the provisions in the national broadband strategy for digital penetration for effective and efficient service delivery.

He said since 2018, they have crafted five telecommunications regulations, which have opened the licensing and regulatory space, recording impressive geographic network coverage of 98% for 2G, 93.62% for 3G and 82.98% for 4G, as at December 2023.

He said the Authority was also working in collaboration with the Bank of Sierra Leone to improve connectivity for the digital financial market, including mobile money operations, leading to improved Digital Financial Services (DFS), greater integration and more partnerships among DFS providers.

“The regulation of emerging technologies poses a significant challenge that requires our concerted efforts. As we navigate the complexities of AI, Data Analytics, Mobile Technology Neutrality and other ground-breaking innovations, we must strive to create regulatory framework that fosters innovation while ensuring consumer protection, data privacy, and cybersecurity,” he said.

Executive Secretary of WATRA ,Aliyu Yusuf Aboki, said over the past few years, WATRA has embarked on a transformative journey, marked by significant strides towards achieving the goals set out in their  Strategic Plan for 2022-2025.

He said d they have seen remarkable progress, notably with the ratification of the revised WATRA constitution.

He said a major milestone in their journey has been the inaugural and commencement of work by the first-ever three WATRA working groups, namely Consumer Access and Experience, Infrastructure Development, and Cyber Security and Those groups have become critical drivers in our activities, with the unwavering support from our Secretariat.

He further noted that the work of those working groups is instrumental in shaping the future of telecommunications in the region, addressing the most pressing challenges and leveraging opportunities for growth, innovation and development.

He said financial sustainability remains a key priority for them and it is heartening to see many members complying with the new membership dues structure, which has significantly improved the organization’s fiscal health Iindependence.

 He said they have made significant improvements in the efficiency of their operations, embracing digital capabilities to enhance transparency, accountability, and engagement with their members, noting that their new digital platforms are designed to facilitate easier interaction and ensure that their members have access to the resources and support they need.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here