(Business in Cameroon) - The association of Cameroon’s mobile network operators (AOTMC) recently got a taste of its own medicine. Indeed it recently referred to the Bank of Central African States (BEAC) for its arbitration in a project initiated by the Cameroonian government. The said project was aimed at collecting customs duties on mobile phones and tablets by directly deducing users’ airtime (ed.note: the said project was finally abandoned).
The BEAC’s reply was somehow unexpected. The central bank first disproved the Cameroonian government’s project but it also asked operators not to deduce users’ airtime for any other purpose than communications and data subscription.
“Please note that airtime credit is a commodity, product, or service, which can only be used for telephone services and, although they have a market value, they are not payment means or currencies. They are created by companies that are not payment service providers authorized to issue and manage means of payment. Airtime credits are therefore not, in the state of the applicable Community regulations, either paper money, electronic money, or payment instruments or means,” the governor of the BEAC wrote in a letter dated October 29, 2020.
“The BEAC takes this opportunity to instruct members of your association and all of the mobile service providers in Cameroon and the CEMAC region, in general, to avoid presenting, exploiting or using airtime credits as electronic money confusing users who would assimilate it with the legal currency in force in the CEMC member countries,” the governor adds.
Let’s note that, in Cameroon, many telecom experts were astounded by some of the arguments provided by operators to disprove the government's project.
First, the operators presented the technical problems of the platform developed by the government’s partner in that project (Arintech). They also indicated that there were threats to the protection of subscribers' data and claimed they would lose up to 20% of their turnover because of the reform.
Finally, they explained that airtime credit is not a payment means in the CEMAC region. Yet, most of these operators and their partners use those credits as payment means for value-added services.
Such services include sports and road safety news, medical advice, and music. With the BEAC’s reminder, operators and their partners will have to devise a new payment means for those added-value services much to the delight of users, some of whom usually complain about the abrupt depletion of their airtime credits.
Brice R. Mbodiam