Sunday, March 26, 2023

Mascom accused of dumping phone booths in people’s yards

The Mascom telephone booths that were erected around the country have become an eyesore to many, with some having been vandalized and left unmaintained.

The payphones, which were erected in 2001, included the standalone structures and wall mounted units that were connected to power on the local grid (BPC) at the Airports, Schools, Shops, and Bars, Boarder Posts, Tribal Administration offices and Spaza shops.

It was a requirement by the then Botswana Telecommunications Authority (BTA), now BOCRA, to provide public pay phones to people before an aspiring network provider got a license to set up transmitters. Mascom went on to install the phone booths around the country.

However, immediately after the commissioning of phones by BTA and having acquired the license, Mascom abandoned these structures.

Information reaching Sunday Standard shows that when Mascom put up the payphones it had no long-term intention to service the public phones instead it was just a way of getting the license from BTA.

Thirteen years later after putting up the payphones around the country the payphones have become a blot on the landscape. The telephone earpieces, the glass panels of the booths are missing. In many instances the booths’ roofs that are supposed to protect clients from the sun have been broken off completely. Investigations show that no single booth is working although some are still connected to electricity even if they are not working.

Interviews conducted with some of the premises owners where the booths were erected have brought about shocking revelations. Information that emerged shows that the phone booths worked for two months after being commissioned by BTA. In addition Mascom only provided the scratch cards for two months; after they got their license they dumped the booths.

The agreement between Mascom and the owner of the premises stated that the premises owner would get 15 percent commission that they would use to pay off electricity. However the owners have not received anything instead they have footed Mascom electricity bills.

One premises owner, who identified himself as Kenny, said he has approached Mascom several times but to no avail.

“I have approached Mascom a number of times and they say they know nothing about the phone booth and that they have nothing to do with the booth,” he said.

Kenny said he is equally surprised that Mascom disowns its own property.

“Mascom put up this booth and they disappeared now they indirectly tell us to find the property owners though its written Mascom,” said Kenny.

Kenny bemoaned the high electricity bills he has incurred when the booth was connected to electricity. “The bills were very high and I had no option but to cut the cable,” he said.
An old woman who identified herself as Gladys said Mascom has cheated her.

“People from Mascom came to my house and asked me if they could install their booth. I agreed because they promised me they would give me commission so that I could pay electricity. That was the last I saw those people. I paid electricity for them and they never refunded me,” said Gladys.

She added that the high electricity bills have jeopardized her relationship. “My husband ran away because he was angry that he was paying electricity for Mascom,” she said.

Gladys said she has approached Mascom several times but nothing concrete has come up. “I’m still waiting for them to come they must come to me and pay me then they take their machine,” she said. Gladys had to cut the power cables connecting the phone booth.

The booths, painted blue and yellow, the Mascom corporate colours, have become a source of easy cash for scrap dealers in some areas.

Another lady, who identified herself as Opelo, has the booth installed by her shop. She said she has complained to Mascom twice requesting that the booth be removed, the last time was last year in November.

“I was not allowed to see the big bosses; the only person I spoke to was the receptionist who then told me to remove the booth and put inside the yard,”

Some of the premises owners have contested that if Mascom is ISO compliant why has it not removed the vandalized phone booths or maintained them.

“The phone booths should be removed according to ISO regulations on the disposal of the equipment,” said one lodge owner who preferred anonymity.

A questionnaire concerning this issue was sent to Mascom in April and subsequent calls to their Public Relations Office yielded no results.


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