Point of Sale operators in the country have protested plans by the Federal Government to sanction them for allegedly colluding to hike their transaction charges.

This came as the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission asked PoS operators to desist from any move to hike PoS transaction charges.

According to the commission, it is currently investigating price-fixing attempts by PoS agents and will sanction them if they are found guilty.

It said, “To the extent that any combination of undertakings, including AMMBAN indeed met, agreed or decided to impose uniform or coordinated fees/tariffs for services this announcement should serve to ensure such undertakings cease and desist from that arrangement or similar discussions/conduct.”

The development followed recent announcements by PoS agents under the aegis of the Association of Mobile Money and Bank Agents in Nigeria, Lagos Chapter, to increase their transaction charges.

According to the association’s Public Relations Officer for Lagos Chapter, Stephen Adeoye, PoS agents now have new price lists in the state and are working to create a task force to enforce the changes.

When enforced, customers will need to pay N100 for withdrawals from N1000–N2,400; N200 for N3500 to N4000; N300 for N4,100 to N6,400; N400 for N6,500 to N7,900; N500 for N8500 to N10,900; N600 for N11,000 to N14,000; and N700 for N14,500 to N17,900.

Commenting on the enforcement of the price list, he said, “To enforce this new price list is easy because we have a good relationship with the Lagos State Command, Police Force, and all the DPOs in the area. Very soon a task force will be set up in each zone so that they will work along with it.”

In a related development, the National Public Relations Officer, Association of Mobile Money and Bank Agents in Nigeria, Oluwasegun Elegbede, confirmed that other states were also working on new price lists. He told The PUNCH that operators in Ogun and Edo states would soon come up with their new fees.

However, the FCCPC in a statement, signed by its Executive Vice Chairman/Chief Executive Officer, Babatunde Irukera, on Wednesday noted that price fixing is against the law and distorts the market, prevents innovation and efficiency, and impacts consumers negatively.

It said, “The Federal Competition & Consumer Protection Act (2018) (FCCPA) recognises indeed encourages the prerogative of businesses to organise in, and as trade associations for acceptable purposes, such as ensuring and enforcing applicable standards and best practices, as well as a measure of self-regulation within the profession or trade.

“However, the same FCCPA copiously and extensively limits the scope and extent of such collaboration, particularly to exclude coordination with respect to scope or supply of services and price of services.

“The FCCPA expressly prohibits any price-fixing or agreement among undertakings (whether bilaterally or multilaterally) or by undertakings acting in consensus on the platform, or under the aegis of an association to fix prices, coordinate supply or any other commercially sensitive factors that can limit or substantially prevent competition; or otherwise distort the market.”

The commission stated that the FCCPA provides stiff penalties for cartels or any similar coordinated or collusive conduct among competitors, even at association levels.

 It said it was ready to enforce the law to its fullest extent.

According to the commission, it is opening an investigation to ensure statements purported to have been made by AMBAN (as regards price changes) is true, and where evidence demonstrates that these statements are true, it will take appropriate regulatory steps to address the conduct accordingly.

Meanwhile, AMMBAN on Wednesday stated that the increase in service charges was to ensure that PoS operators can survive and remain in business.

The association explained that the Central Bank of Nigeria is the market regulator, and its efforts are not aimed at changing the prices of transactions fixed by the CBN for the operators.

It stated, “It is important to note that there are two aspects of agency banking: the regulatory part overseen by the CBN and the Small and Medium Enterprises side.

“As an association, AMMBAN is not a regulator and has no intention of usurping such powers. However, the SMEs side of the industry, which includes the agents, often bears the cost of operations, including the standard rates set by the CBN, even though they are registered under a provider, sometimes at a fee.”

AMMBAN said its recent action was in direct response to the current economic realities in the country. It argued that since the services of its members are not subsidised by the CBN or any of the operators, the burden of the current economic reality is being borne by agents.

It said, “Today, the average agent faces numerous challenges, including surging inflation, overhead costs (such as the source of funding, rent, staff salaries, POS paper costs, data subscriptions, security, multiple taxation/levies), and various risks such as loss of funds through licensed operators’ channels, fraud, and robbery.”

AMMBAN added, “We understand that there is no Agency Banking without agents. Therefore, they should not be treated as if their lives do not matter.”

Commenting recently on the proposed increase in PoS charges, the Director, Corporate Communications, CBN, Isa AbdulMumin, said the apex bank was aware of the development, adding that it was working to resolve the issue. He told The PUNCH, “CBN is very much aware and working towards resolving the issue.”

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