BLANTYRE (The Southern African Times) – Malawian regulators fined the local unit of Indian telecom giant Bharti Airtel $2.6 million on Wednesday (29) for withholding mobile phone credits owed to consumers in one of the world’s poorest countries.
The Competition and Fair Trade Commission imposed a 2.1-billion-kwacha (US$2.6 million) fine on mobile operator Airtel Malawi for engaging in “unconscionable conduct” in withholding the airtime calling credits owed as part of a loyalty programme.
Airtel Malawi said it would challenge the ruling in court, denying the charges.
It is part of Bharti Airtel Limited, an Indian multinational that operates in 18 countries across Asia and Africa.
The commission’s acting executive director Apoche Itimu told a news briefing that the commission launched an investigation into Airtel Malawi on September 16, following several complaints from consumers.
“It was alleged that the Airtel Malawi stopped automatically crediting customer accounts with monthly bonuses” of airtime, she said.
Instead, consumers had to request their free airtime on the 14th of every month. Those who failed to do so lost their bonus.
Itimu said the company made a financial gain of about 2.1 billion kwacha by “engaging in unconscionable conduct in the trade of goods and services”.
The commission fined Airtel Malawi the same amount.
Bharti Airtel’s annual revenue of $14 billion is almost double the size Malawi’s entire economy.
In a statement, Airtel Malawi managing director Charles Kamoto “denied the charges levelled”.
“The company is pursuing the matter further in court,” he said. “Airtel complies and continues to fully comply with the relevant and applicable laws.”