A war of words appears to have broken out in Burundi following the decision by the authorities to close operator Smart.
One reason for the shutdown by regulator Agence de Regulation et de Controle des Telecommunications (ARCT) has been given as failure by Smart to settle its tax arrears.
This has led to a second issue. Smart's license, contracted in 2007, was for 15 years. It expired on 27 July. Smart had filed to have its licence renewed in March this year but didn’t offer a certificate of non-accountability requested by the Burundian Revenue Office. This certificate is meant to confirm that the company owes nothing to the tax authorities.
As TeleGeography's CommsUpdate reports, Smart was asked to cease operations on 18 August at which point it allegedly owed around US$3.2 million in arrears.
Interviewed by the Iwacu news service, the commercial director of Smart has apparently accepted that there are payment arrears but says some arrears have been paid – and seems to be arguing that Smart has been overcharged. He has also alleged that Smart's bank accounts have been closed for three months, company vehicles are no longer available and that the decision to close the Smart network is political and aims to benefit Viettel-owned operator Lumitel.
The Director General of ARCT has in turn pointed out that when, in March, a request for renewal of the operating license was filed by the Smart company it had just gone more than two years without paying its taxes to ARCT.
Assuming Smart can pay whatever monies it stil owes, however, renewing an operating license will apparently take time requiring, among other authorisations, a presidential decree.
It’s not clear how many subscribers will be affected. ARCT figures suggest that In the first quarter of 2022, the Burundian telecom market had 7,798,885 subscribers shared among four companies: Econet Leo, Lumitel, Smart and Onatel. Smart has not provided figures, though it is likely to be third or fourth in the rankings.