Information and Broadcasting Services Minister Dora Siliya says government will engage online social networking sites like Facebook and WhatsApp to share the benefits realised from internet calling.

And Siliya says government will compel telecommunication companies to disclose their annual earnings starting next year.

Speaking during an interview programme on Diamond TV, Wednesday, Siliya said African countries had to come together and demand payment from western countries which were reaping big from social media networks.

“The cost of doing business will not be limited to those four million only. We are saying we still have a deficit of 70 per cent of Zambia to be able to access 4G and government cannot just sit back and while we continue on an international level to engage these big, big multi-billion dollar companies which are even challenging governments in Europe, governments in America and we are saying as African governments, let’s get together because the growth of the mobile industry telecommunications industry in the future is in Africa because we don’t have that high penetration yet. So, this is where the growth will be. So those companies will have to come to us so that we can negotiate. And we are saying we can’t do it country, by country. There will be divide and rule, as a continent, let’s have a position. While we are still engaging to charge the source, we are saying that there should be that charge. We want to make the companies outside our jurisdiction who want to by-pass us, pay to us,” Siliya said. 

“But, now listen to me, while we are doing that, there is increase in penetration in our own country. Right now, we have 4 million on smart mobile phones. In the next two years that could grow to six million, but [our] own infrastructure will not be able to carry that increase so we are saying we need to be able to ensure that even tomorrow, you can make a WhatsApp call. If we don’t invest in this infrastructure, you alone will not be able to make a smart call because there will be an overload. But also, we will not be able to expand at the rate that we should, especially to rural areas. Zambia is not just about us in Lusaka, there are many citizens around Zambia who desperately need to also have access to the internet.”

She said the 30 Ngwee user fee would also be used to improve internet connectivity in the country.

“We are saying look, out of these 4 million using WhatsApp and can make the WhatsApp call, we will put a 30 ngwee user charge so that we can continue to make sure that these 4 million will use these WhatsApp tomorrow,” Siliya said.

“I was just in Eastern Province, you could see that there is an overload. The mobile signal keeps dropping. You move from one point to another within your yard, the service keeps dropping. It means that we need more investment. And that is because we need more investment and that is because rural areas, they are not even enjoying the 4G that we are enjoying here. So, government has to look at this matter in totality. Yes, these 4 million who have smart mobile phones will be affected by this user charge. But this user charge is so that we can provide the benefits for the bigger good. For all the Zambians. One makes sure that these companies, because this money will be ploughed back in the telecoms sector.”

And Siliya said government would compel telecommunication companies to disclose their annual earnings starting next year.

“Government will by next year put in place network monitoring system to ensure [that] just like in that mines, when these mobile network providers declare that this is what they made, the number of phone calls, internet usage, that government can verify that. Because government does not want to see a leakage of even one ngwee from the people of Zambia. These companies operate in the Zambian space they pay operational taxes. They pay all the tax they have to pay and when you use them you also pay the various taxes on your bundles and talk time. But we are saying people now try to by-pass these companies by making over the top voice on internet protocol phone calls which deny these institutions the fees government set through the statutory instrument. By WhatsApp and Facebook having access to you through your mobile phone, they are by-passing the use of infrastructure which you again as a Zambian has invested in,” said Siliya.