Stephen Blewett, CEO, MTN  Ghana, addressing delegates at the 3i Africa Summit
Stephen Blewett, CEO, MTN Ghana, addressing delegates at the 3i Africa Summit
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MTN calls for rethink of tax structure

Telecommunications giant, MTN, has called for a rethink of the country’s tax structure to allow for more investment in critical infrastructure in the mobile telephony industry.

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Taking his turn at the maiden 3i Africa Summit in Accra, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of MTN Ghana, Stephen Blewett, highlighted the impact of high taxes on the mobile industry and urged policymakers to reconsider the levels of taxes in the sector.

“Taxes take about 30 per cent of the revenues in the industry and are a major barrier to critical infrastructure and other investments,” he stated. Mr Blewett said without the appropriate fiscal incentives, the funding needed to modernise and expand digital infrastructure into higher technologies such as the five generation (5G) which made services more affordable and accessible to mobile internet would not materialise.

“We must not sacrifice long-term growth for short-term gains,” the MTN CEO, who assumed office on April 1, this year said.

Summit

The summit, which was on the theme: “Unleashing Africa’s Fintech and Digital Economic Potential,” brought together leaders, policymakers, regulators, innovators and change makers across Africa to provide an essential platform for fostering collaboration, driving innovation and building momentum to transform the continent.

MTN Ghana and MobileMoney Ltd headlined the sponsorship of the three-day summit, a collaborative initiative of the Bank of Ghana, the Development Bank of Ghana, and the Monetary Authority of Singapore.

Mr Blewett explained that the success of services such as MTN’s Mobile Money as well as Vodafone and Safaricom’s M-pesa provided sufficient evidence of the ability of fintech to revolutionise business on the continent and provide millions of people with access to essential financial services.

Right balance

The MTN Ghana CEO, who has over 20 years of experience in the telecommunications industry, said policymakers and regulators must strike the right balance between investment, innovation and revenue generation.

“Our ability to put in the required investment calls for concerted and sustained support from all stakeholders and it is encouraging to see that the people who can make it happen are in this room,” Mr Blewett said.

He said in spite of the gains in digital revolution, Africa lagged far behind the world in mobile adoption and innovation. The continent, Mr Blewett added, was bedevilled with constraints of low infrastructure coverage, affordability of data, smartphones and the lack of digital skills training.

“These constraints continue to inhibit access to the Internet among vulnerable groups, especially women,” he said. He called on policymakers to make every effort to remove the bottlenecks and close the usage gap by improving data coverage and lowering the cost of data and data-enabled devices, especially in rural and low-income areas and enhance digital literacy.

“To achieve this, it is imperative for us as leaders, innovators, businesses, financiers and investors to come together to facilitate the implementation of the solutions needed to accelerate this transformation and create a sustainable and inclusive digital economy for Africa,” the CEO of MTN Ghana stated.

Mr Blewett also urged business leaders to invest in new products and services to enable affordable remittance solutions, digital payments, savings, lending, insurance and investment products.

These services offer considerable opportunities for start-ups and SMEs which form the backbone of Africa’s economy. The MTN CEO admonished African leaders to help shape the future through transparent and forward-looking policies and regulations while building the requisite institutional capacity.

He said policy and legal frameworks must encourage the establishment of innovation hubs and digital sandboxes to provide the platform for incubating, testing and rolling out new products.

Such hubs, he pointed out, would be the channels for mentoring and nurturing the next generation of African entrepreneurs while providing the necessary resources, environment and training.

Think tanks must produce research to support advocacy and decision-making while multilaterals must put in place the relevant frameworks and protocols that will facilitate continuous dialogue and inter-governmental action.

Mr Blewett also spoke on the issue of sustainability and urged business leaders and policymakers to contribute to ensuring that the right Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) practices remained key in their commercial activities.

“We must not lose sight of the impact that our actions have on our environment and society and strive towards creating shared value in business outcomes. We must progressively reduce our carbon footprints by investing in renewable energy and other energy-efficient tools and technologies that lead to efficiency,” he said.

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