NATCOM DG Restores Sanity And Public Trust

In August 2018, when the Chairman and Commissioner of the National Commission for Telecommunications (NATCOM), Dr. Prince Alexander Harding introduced to staff of the institution the newly appointed Director General and Deputy Director General, Maxwell Hingha Massaquoi and Daniel Kaitibi, he informed the staff that following his appointment as Chairman, he ordered for an intensive audit of the systems and processes at NATCOM for him to know the status of the administrative, financial, logistical and other sections of the sole telecommunications regulator in Sierra Leone.

Dr. Prince A. Harding declared that he had no doubt that Maxwell Hingha Massaquoi and Daniel Kaitibi would bring to NATCOM a wealth of experience and knowledge in ITC and related fields that would see the Commission becomes bigger and more capable of managing the ever-widening and increasing telecommunication traffic in order to be competitive in this age of ICT. He emphasized that no country would grow faster than its ICT development.

In his brief remarks, Mr. Maxwell H. Massaquoi averred that with their cooperation, loyalty and dedication to service, NATCOM would be transformed into a stronger institution capable of independently carrying out its mandate without interference. The new Director General however lamented that certain legal and other aspects have hampered the viability of NATCOM to make its impact felt by both service providers and consumers.

Mr. Maxwell Massaquoi stated that in some countries, data services and other statistics are published daily for the information of consumers, but however stated that in Sierra Leone, the situation has left most subscribers with the feeling that they are being cheated and nothing is done about it. To take NATCOM to higher heights, the Director General appealed to the entire staff for their total cooperation in taking the institution forward.

Mr. Massaquoi in his motivation drive promised that he would do everything within his power to ensure that staff morale, welfare and other aspects that would improve the institution’s operations are reviewed and sustained.

It could be recalled that since Mr. Massaquoi was appointed by His Excellency President Julius Maada Bio as the new Director General of NATCOM, he has brought in remarkable operational sanity into the Commission.  The discovery of the massive Sim box fraud, coupled with other stringent and prudent measures he has embarked upon as telecoms regulator, for instance, show Mr. Massaquoi’s determination to implement what is drafted in the NATCOM Charter when he was the lead consultant early in the Commission’s formative stages.

Privileged to be appointed by President Bio to head NATCOM at what he called its critical stage of its evolution, Mr. Massaquoi’s aim is to move the telecommunications sector forward by fortifying NATCOM’s regulatory governance space.

In an exclusive interview, the Director General said disclosed that NATCOM would be looking at the fifty indicators that ITM has put out as check lists for efficient regulation. “We are not going to be boastful of accomplishing all the fifty parameters or indicators but we will strive to meet those indicators,” Mr. Massaquoi assured.

The aim, he furthered, was to see NATCOM’s overall scores move upwards by 2019. “We are going to establish a better regulatory space for the sector. This is to ensure parity and liberalization to the fullest, and also to ensure that when revenue is due to government, it is secured,” the Director General said.

One notable success of the new NATCOM DG was the discovery last year of a fraudulent Sim box operation. NATCOM apprehended and confiscated Sim boxes, hundreds of thousands of Sim cards and equipment. “We will not relent in our duty to minimize and finally eliminate this fraudulent activity as it is antithetical to the development aspiration of the President,” the NATCOM DG vowed.

According to Mr. Massaquoi, “We intend to put the requisite expertise and experience in place to help identify such operations in order to prevent such fraud in the future. We intend to eliminate this Sim box fraud to the barest minimal level. The Sim box fraud discovery is a start of positive change by NATCOM.”

On how they intend to improve the quality and reduce the cost of telecom tariff in line with the “New Direction” philosophy that is people-oriented, Mr. Massaquoi responded that the tariff being paid is a social contract between telecom operators and the consuming public, noting that quality and standard service is enshrined in that contract. Operators, as per license, he stressed, are required to meet a certain threshold in the services being provided through the respective network system.

“For instance,” the Director General said, “we have the Quality Services (QS) criteria being established by the Commission for operators to meet for quality services. We inherited from the past regime a lull in the provision of such reports.”

Mr. Massaquoi however disclosed that they quickly re-ignited the process and generated, through a third party vendor, a quantum of reports for August, September, October and November. He further disclosed that they are seeing steady improvement in quality service which he said they have achieved due to their resolve to continuously relate with the MNOs like Sierratel, Africell, Orange and QCell.

“We will continue to push the MNOs to meet the KPI criteria to ensure that the average user realizes that the quality of service has drastically improved,” the DG said.

On NATCOM’s relationship with other similar telecom regulators in the Sub Region in particular and Africa in general, Mr. Massaquoi reiterated that Government is continuity. He confessed that they met existing relationships which he described as good.

Hear Mr. Massaquoi: “I say kudos to our predecessors, even though we have to revamp some of these relationships. We have healthy relationships with Africa Telecommunications Union (ATU), International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and West Africa Telecommunications Regulatory Assembly (WATRA). Even at the Mano River Union (MRU) level with our closed neighbors, Guinea and Liberia, we have warm relationship with the telecom commissions. We have sound, firm and solid relations with these organizations.”

Asked how he sees the immediate future of NATCOM, beginning from its formative days when he was a Consultant and now as the new DG, Mr. Massaquoi said they are going to change the dynamics and dimension of the Commission. “We are going to make NATCOM a functional, effective and efficient regulator,” the DG assured. “We will change NATCOM to a better regulator with no hidden agenda; an agency that will regulate the sector with openness, fairness and transparency.”

Mr. Massaquoi therefore passionately appealed to the public to shrug aside whatever aspersions and perceptions they held before about NATCOM and allow it to prove itself under his new leadership. “Hold us accountable in a year or two from now on our stewardship and grade us,” the DG said. “Let people judge our outputs in the next couple of months and tally these outputs to the desired expectations.”

Mr. Massaquoi informed that the major policy direction of the Commission is the establishment of an effective, sound and dynamic licensing regime that is responsive to industry demands; and the regulation of the activities of telecoms operators aiming at promoting efficiency and fair competition; ensuring expansion in investment in the sector; and, adopting rules and procedures that guarantee and protect the rights of users of telecoms services.