Botswana Telco Billing System Called Costly, Faulty

GABORONE, BOTSWANA (03/22/2000) - A costly new billing system recently installed by Botswana Telecommunication Corp. (BTC) is not working properly, according to a government official here.

The 62 million pula (about US$13,478,000) computer system, described by the BTC as state-of-the-art, has for more than 8 months either not billed customers at all, or done so erroneously, according to Mapula Johnson, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Communication.

While the BTC's public relations office declined comment on the most recent charges, last November it acknowledged in a press release that the system was ineffective and inefficient. However, it attributed the poor functionality to teething problems that would soon be under control. Earlier this year, another BTC press release claimed that some millennium rollover hitches had affected the billing system, but that a dedicated team was working to resolve the issues.

Other sources close to the matter say that the system was poorly installed, and that there have been integration and networking problems. BTC has been flying in IT specialists from overseas, yet the problems persist, the sources say.

In the wake of the problems, some customers are refusing to honor bills from BTC, and Vista Cellular, one of two mobile service providers here, has publicly contested BTC 's bills. The result is that lack of payments is forcing the telco into a financial quagmire.

Meanwhile, the government has not yielded to BTC's call for financial help, and instead has called several meetings, some at the cabinet level, to discuss the issue.

BTC last year reported net profits of 74 million pula (US$16,087,000) on revenues of 386.3 million pula.

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