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Cameroon considering new law to disconnect undeclared digital devices

By , Freelance Investigative Journalist
Cameroon , 24 Nov 2022

The government of Cameroon is mulling over a Draft 2023 Finance Bill which, if passed, will compel MNOs to disconnect imported mobile phones and other digital devices that bypass customs clearance.

If vetted by parliament, the law will be enforced from 1 January 2023 and accordingly, MTN Cameroon, Orange Cameroun, Nexttel and Camtel will have to configure their systems in a way that restricts non-compliant users from connecting to their network.

The Bill also forces importers of mobile devices to declare hardware at border posts and pay required taxes to customs officials. Customs administration is obliged to communicate full identification details of all cleared devices to operators.

Devices not cleared by the customs will have to be disconnected by mobile operators, with the exception of mobile phones of tourists and visitors on short stay in Cameroon. Phones and digital terminals already in the country and connected prior to the law being officially enforced will also be exempt.

The anticipated law originated in 2018 and adopted in the 2019 Finance Law and the government tried to implement it by mid- October 2020.

The plan was to deploy an automated system for the collection of customs duties and taxes on imported mobile phones, which shifts the burden of payment to the end user in the case of default by the importer. It also required that MNOs deduct 200 Francs CFA from subscribers for each application they download.

But following outcry by consumers and technical glitches, the law was shelved.

Official statistics from Cameroon’s Ministry of Finance and custom officials shows that customs duties and taxes on phones stand at 33% of their factory gate price and approximately four million phones are imported annually.

The Ministry believes the move will broaden the tax base and help the country address an estimated loss of US$21.5-million annually to irregular custom clearance and smuggling of phones into the country.

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