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Central African MNOs warned to stop deducting airtime as payment

By , Freelance Investigative Journalist
Africa , Cameroon , 03 Nov 2020

The Bank of Central African States (BEAC), the sole central bank within the membership-based Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC),has called on MNOs in the sub-region to stop deducting airtime for payments.

In a correspondence dated 29 October 2020 sent to the President of Cameroon Association of Telephone Mobile Operators (CATMO), BEAC Governor Abbas Mahamat Tolli insists communication airtime is not a recognised mode of payment within CEMAC.

He said subscribers’ airtime should only be deducted for communications and data subscription.

“In effect, please note that communication airtime is a commodity, product or service, which only serves for telephone services and, even though they have a market value, they are not a mode of payment or currencies. They are created by companies which are not payment service providers authorised to issue and manage means of payment.”

The governor added that mindful of the applicable regulations within the monetary community, communication airtime is neither fiduciary money, electronic money, nor an instrument or means of payment.

In recent times, network service providers operating within the sub-region, comprising Cameroon, Chad, Central African Republic, Congo, Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, and their third parties have deducted users’ communication airtime to pay for value-added services such as ringtones, medical consultation, game of chance, music, news, amongst others.

The central bank wants this to stop as its persistence may give users the false notion that communication airtime is a legal means of payment within the sub-region.

BEAC also responded to Cameroon’s plan to utilise telecommunications services providers to automate the collection of import duties and relevant taxes on mobile phones and other electronic devices.

Officials had set 15 October 2020 as the date to roll out a new collection platform managed by Artificial Intelligence Technology (ARINTECH) SARL.

The platform was expected to be interconnected with the servers and network systems of mobile network operators in Cameroon.

Once a phone connects to any of the networks, the platform will automatically detect its IMEI number and if it realises that it is a first-time connection, a message will be sent to the phone owner notifying him/her of the amount of customs duties and taxes to be paid.

Users would then have the option of making a once-off payment in full or in instalments, using their airtime.

However, the project has now been deferred following national outrage.

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