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Airtel Africa, others receive notice to pay $180 million to Congo

The Democratic Republic of Congo has ordered mobile-phone companies operating in the African nation to pay a levy estimated at about $180 million a year, people with knowledge of the matter said.

The operators including Orange SA, Vodacom Group Ltd., Airtel Africa Plc, and Africell Holding SAL received invoices sent by the regulator through a consultancy, 5C Energy, the people said, asking not to be identified because the matter is private. The amount is based on the invoice the firms received for a seven-week period, they said.

Years of corruption and mismanagement has left government finances in Congo, one of the world’s biggest producers of copper and the main source of cobalt, in shambles. That’s prompted President Felix Tshisekedi’s government to find ways to broaden its tax base and boost its revenue.

Congo’s four mobile carriers — “Africell, Airtel, Orange and Vodacom — have been invoiced various amounts by the regulator following the introduction of levies,” the Federation Des Entreprises Du Congo, the main business association, said. “As things stand, all the carriers in the DRC have rejected these invoices as irregular and therefore unenforceable.”

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

The additional fee includes an amount charged on every voice minute, message, and megabyte of data used by customers, said the people. The levy cannot be passed onto 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 Congo government, and 5C Energy remained unanswered.

Congo last year dropped a plan to tax mobile operators, following opposition from the public as it could lead higher costs. Bloomberg

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