Telecommunications companies receive notice of payment of about $180 million a year in Congo

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The Democratic Republic of Congo has ordered mobile phone companies operating in the African country to pay a tax estimated at around $180 million a year, people familiar with the matter said.

Operators including Orange, Vodacom Group, Airtel Africa and Africell Holding received invoices sent by the regulator through a consultancy, 5C Energy, the sources said, asking not to be identified as the matter is private. The amount is based on the invoice the companies received for a period of seven weeks, they said.

Years of corruption and mismanagement have left the public finances of Congo, one of the world’s largest copper producers and main source of cobalt, in shambles. This prompted the President Felix Tshisekedigovernment to find ways to broaden its tax base and increase its revenues.

Congo’s four mobile operators – “Africell, Airtel, Orange and Vodacom – have been charged various amounts by the regulator following the introduction of taxes”, said the Fédération des entreprises du Congo, the main business association. “As it stands, all carriers in the DRC have rejected these invoices as irregular and therefore unenforceable.”

The industry body said it wanted to continue discussions with the government and the regulator to avoid raising prices.

The additional charges include an amount charged on every voice minute, message and megabyte of data used by customers, the people said. The levy cannot be passed on to users, they said.

Vodacom could not immediately comment on the matter, while Airtel and Orange declined to comment. Several calls, emails and messages to the Congolese government and 5C Energy went unanswered.

Last year, Congo scrapped a plan to tax mobile phone operators, following public opposition, because it could lead to higher costs.

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