Mulli’s National Bus Company courier license renewal withdrawn but appealed

Prominent businessman Leston Mulli’s National Bus Company reportedly sought court intervention which granted the company a stay order pending judicial review, which prevented the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA) to revoke its messaging license in March.

As MACRA continues its campaign to recover the debt of more than K9.4 billion in annual royalties owed to it by 250 telecommunications, broadcasting and postal/courier operators, the National Bus Company is the one of the 27 companies currently in the red in case of failure. to honor their statutory annual license fees.

In a public notice issued on July 14, 2022 by Chief Executive Officer, Daud Suleman, the National Bus Company requested renewal of its license on the condition that it pay unpaid fees in the amount of K14.950 million, which were to be paid by the March 21 deadline. , 2022.

After engaging internally with the various telecommunications, broadcasting and postal courier services players who were not complying with their legal obligations, MACRA has now brought them to the attention of the public, claiming that Section 173 of the Communications Act requires the Authority to enforce by imposing relevant regulatory sanctions. against non-compliant holders or applicants.

Of the 27 on the list, only Mibawa Television and Radio Maria are on track after submitting post-dated checks. Mibawa submitted K16.770 million for its content service license with a deadline of July 31 while Radio Maria (broadcasting license) owed K15,250,861 with a deadline of November 12, 2022 but submitted post-dated checks for the full amount – but failure to honor both will result in license revocation.

The Zodiak Broadcasting Station (ZBS) reportedly failed to rectify transmitters to start using its assigned frequency, which had a deadline of Wednesday July 7 and is subject to new regulatory sanctions.

ZBS was also ordered to start using the frequency for Bangula within 3 months, the deadline of which is September 13 but was not made – thus risking the withdrawal of the frequency.

Malawi Post Corporation’s Post Courier was also in the red and its license renewal application was pending payment of unpaid fees of K23.8 million, the deadline of which was June 30, but submitted a recovery plan. payment after also paying K11.5 million.

Malawi Digital Broadcast Network Limited (Kiliye Kikiye) owes a staggering K89 million as a signal carrier and was granted the deadline of May 12, 2023. It was also subject to new regulatory sanctions for submitting a 14-day deployment plan, which expired on May 27. 2022.

In the public notice, Suleman said the decision “was made following disciplinary hearings against the licensees held between January and April 2022, where the Authority took into consideration commitments made by the licensees. license to determine the duration of compliance.

He reiterated that “in accordance with Articles 31 and 122, it is illegal to provide any form of telecommunications, broadcasting or post/courier services without a valid license issued by the authority – violation of which may result in criminal penalties including the liability is up to K5 million and five years in prison”.

He further stated that the published list was inconclusive as they were those called for disciplinary hearings before the Board, saying that “other non-compliant licensees must appear before the Board.”

Suleman also pointed out that “failure to comply with the regulatory requirements as notified in writing to each licensee or applicant in this notice within the time limits provided will result in the affected party no longer having an interest in providing said communications service and , as such, the Authority shall proceed with further regulatory action – including revoking or closing the associated service without further reference to the licensee or applicant”.

He also said “once a license is revoked, the applicant may apply for another” and that Section 174 of the Communications Act “provides that any person aggrieved by any order or decision made by the Authority may appeal to the High Court within 30 days of the date of placing the order” — in this case July 14, 2022.

Rainbow TV, owned by Prophet Shepherd Bushiri, had its broadcast license revoked on June 8, 2022 for failing to pay the annual license fee requested for a judicial review at the High Court, by which it was dismissed – the court determining that it was indeed “in breach of its broadcast license by failing to pay the license fee”, as ordered by Judge MA Tembo.

At a press conference last month, Suleman said top of the list of defaulters are telecom players, who owe MACRA more than K8.2 billion with more than K800 million from broadcasters and K377 million K by postal and courier service providers.

Suleman said the debt dated back 10 years (2012) and dismissed reports from licensees, which insinuated that MACRA only hunts witches for political reasons.

He pointed out that as a regulator, they are only carrying out the mandate of the Communications Act and that, as required by law, they first engage the delinquent licensees, who – by accepting what they owe to the regulator – have leeway to honor their debts over a maximum period of six months.

In December, February, March and April, MACRA summoned some 37 operators to hearings and 31 were heard and are being followed up after pledging to pay within the time limit as one of between them had their license revoked.

Suleman also indicated that they are about to prune some broadcast licenses – especially radio – which were granted at the national level, but the operators only use a district level.

“This pruning also aims to help operators comfortably pay their annual fees since that of a national license is higher,” he said, while revealing that there are radio frequencies that have been granted to certain operators but are not in service.

This, Suleman said, deters others who might want to apply for a radio frequency, especially in the congested urban areas of Blantyre and Lilongwe.

Suleman also allayed fears that the revoking of broadcast licenses could cause many people to lose their jobs, saying MACRA is simply aiming to make the industry as vibrant as possible so that as they make good returns , they can employ more experts currently trained in Malawi. Institute of Journalism (MIJ) and at the Malawi University of Business and Applied Sciences (MUBAS) – formerly the Polytechnic of Malawi.

According to their survey, Suleman said most of these industry players lack governance expertise, saying that meeting legal obligations such as MACRA license fees is one of them.

“We want the broadcasting industry to be as vibrant as possible so that when it grows it contributes to the economic and social development of the people of Malawi through job creation.

“At the same time, when all operators pay their fees, the government is able to provide essential services such as providing good health services and medicines; improving education standards and many other amenities that the government is supposed to honor,” he said.

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